EU panic: Guy Verhofstadt claims ‘bloc has Hungary problem’ and warns ‘it will get worse’

Hungary: Krichbaum grilled on ‘sickening’ authoritarian rule

Hungary is regularly at loggerheads with Brussels over a raft of issues ranging from immigration and the rule of law to Covid vaccine procurement and Mr Verohofstadt has warned relations would sour further unless action was taken.

The EU has a Hungary problem. It threatens our values, our safety, our credibility and our soul

Guy Verhofstadt

The Belgian MEP, who served as the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, tweeted: “The EU has a Hungary problem.

“It threatens our values, our safety, our credibility and our soul.

“If we don’t face it in full, it will get worse.”

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Mr Navalny was arrested upon his return to Moscow from German capital Berlin where he had been treated for suspected Novichok poisoning in what is widely believed to have been a botched assassination attempt.

A court ordered him to be detained for 30 days for alleged parole violations, which he denies.

Tens of thousands of Russians protested against his jailing last Saturday and are expected to take to the streets again tomorrow.

Hungary’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs insisted Mr Orban, a close ally of Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, had joined the EU in condemning Russia over Mr Navalny’s detention.

A spokesman said: “The government’s position mirrors that of the European Council, which issued a resolution condemning the Russian government for arresting opposition leader Alexei Anatolyevich Navalny.”

Mr Verhofstadt’s comments on social media come as EU border agency Frontex suspended its operations in Hungary following a court ruling it had broken EU laws on protecting vulnerable migrants and refugees.

A spokesman for the agency said: “Following the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decision and after legal assessment and relevant consultations, Frontex has decided to suspend all its operational activities on the ground in Hungary.

“Frontex looks forward to resuming its activities in Hungary after the CJEU decision is implemented in national legislation.”

The suspension, which is likely to be in force until Hungary is again compliant with EU immigration laws, means about 40 Frontex staff including border guards will return to their home units, in Hungary or other EU countries.

The court ruled that Hungary had broken EU laws on protecting vulnerable migrants and refugees by denying them a right to apply for asylum and forcibly deporting people to the Serbian border.

The ruling, which legally requires Hungary to change its policy or potentially face fines, was the latest rejection by EU institutions of Mr Orban’s anti-immigration measures since a migration crisis in 2015.

During the peak of the crisis, Orban ordered Hungary’s southern border to be sealed, blocking a route for hundreds of thousands of migrants and trapping people in so-called migrant transit zones on its borders.

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Mr Orban has also enraged Brussels by sidestepping the EU’s joint Covid vaccine programme and ordering Hungary’s own supplies from Russia and China.

Hungary’s drug regulator gave emergency use approval to the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine, rather than wait for the bloc’s European Medicines Agency (EMA) to give the go-ahead, adding it to a list that also includes the Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines as well as Russia’s Sputnik now approved in Hungary.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the Sinopharm vaccines would be delivered in four batches over four months.

Mr Orban told state radio his government had been monitoring the outcome of mass inoculations using the Chinese vaccine in neighbouring Serbia.

But the Hungarian Medical Chamber (MOK) said Budapest should continue “to follow drug safety rules in a transparent manner and only approve the marketing of products after a review respecting European Medicines Agency rules”.

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