Thursday 13 December 2018

Varadkar defends decision to meet controversial Hungarian leader

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has defended his meeting with controversial Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán.

He said there may be suggestions that he shouldn't meet other world leaders, including US President Donald Trump, but the government should engage with them and raise issues where there is disagreement.

Mr Varadkar’s decision to meet Mr Orbán was criticised by Labour leader Brendan Howlin who accused the Hungarian leader of stoking "right-wing populism and anti-migrant sentiment".

Mr Orbán took a hard-line approach to Europe's migrant crisis in 2015 including the construction of a fence on Hungary's southern border.

He has also said in the past that he wants to build an “illiberal state” and has been criticised from within the EU over policies in relation to non-governmental organisations in Hungary and educational freedom.

Mr Varadkar said he raised issues where Ireland disagrees with the Hungarian government at his meeting with Mr Orbán in Budapest today.

But he defended his decision to meet him.

He said there will be people who say he shouldn’t meet the Polish prime minister who also has a tough stance on migration or the new Austrian Chancellor who has formed a government with support from a far right party.

 Mr Varadkar added: “I’d imagine if I met the prime minister of Spain, Sinn Féin would criticise me about that because of Catalonia.

“Lots of the far left don’t think I should travel to America to speak with President Trump.

"And I assume none of them think I should meet the Chinese or anyone in the Middle East.

“So you could have a foreign policy that’s entirely about splendid isolation or you could actually engage with people, find areas of common interest and work on them together.”

He also said you should also “not be afraid to raise and discuss issues where you don’t agree... and those were among the issues that we discussed here today."

Mr Varadkar said he expressed Ireland's support for the EU policy of burden sharing in relation to taking in refugees.

“Hungary obviously has a very different view on that and there were was no alignment on that issue,” he said.

Mr Orbán has been a critic of this plan and said he told the Taoiseach about the historic and cultural reasons why the issue of migration is so important to Hungary.

Mr Orbán also said he was not in favour in what he argued was the “chaos” of the EU response to the migrant crisis and insisted the union's external borders need to be protected.

Mr Varadkar later said that he had expressed Ireland’s commitment to free speech and free association as well as raising European values like academic independence.

The two leaders strongly agreed on opposing any move to harmonise taxes across the EU and the need to protect the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) as the EU begins talks on its long-term Budget post 2020.

Hungary’s corporation tax rate is around 9pc and while Ireland’s is 12.5pc and both Mr Varadkar and Mr Orbán agreed it was important for countries to be able to set their own tax rules to allow for competition among member states.

The pair also discussed Brexit and Mr Varadkar thanked Mr Orbán for the support his government has offered over Ireland’s specific concerns.

Mr Varadkar said both countries regret the Brexit decision, but respect it, and want to see a close relationship between the UK and EU in future including uninterrupted trade in goods and services.

Mr Varadkar will travel to Bulgaria tomorrow where he will meet prime minister Boyko Borissov.

Bulgaria is assuming the Presidency of the EU Council for the next six months.

Online Editors

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