Hungary won't backtrack on laws condemned by European Parliament -minister

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary will not withdraw its laws on asylum seekers, foreign universities and non-governmental organizations, which were slammed by the European Parliament last week, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told Reuters on Monday.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

The European Parliament condemned what it called a “serious deterioration” in the rule of law and fundamental rights in Hungary, at the start of a process that could theoretically lead to Budapest losing its EU voting rights.

It called on Budapest to repeal legislation tightening rules against asylum-seekers and NGOs, and a law on foreign universities that critics say is aimed at forcing Central European University (CEU), founded by U.S. financier George Soros, out of Hungary.

Asked if Hungary would backtrack on any of the three laws, Szijjarto said:

“No. Why should we?”

“These laws belong to national competence, so I think European institutions should refrain from making attempts at interfering with domestic issues,” Szijjarto said at the Reuters Central & Eastern Europe Investment Summit.

The minister also said Budapest was counting on support from its ally, Poland, to veto any sanctions on Hungary. The European Union’s rule of unanimity means the Hungarian government is unlikely to be stripped of its voting rights as Poland could block such a move.

“After the vote we have talked on the phone with my Polish colleague who made it very clear that they would not assist any kind of politically-motivated actions and they do not support the process of threatening any member state with such kind of Chapter 7 issues,” Szijjarto said.

“I have no doubt that Poland would act in a situation (like this) as we would act regarding Poland.”

Since coming to power in 2010, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has eliminated checks on his power by taking control of much of Hungary’s media, curbing the powers of the constitutional court and placing loyalists in top positions at public institutions.

The nationalist-minded government in Poland has followed in Hungary’s footsteps in some areas.

Szijjarto also said the Visegrad countries -- Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia -- should have a common position regarding Brexit talks and that Poland should take the lead in this drive.

“We hope that we can have common positions, the more the better,” he said.

The most important issues are protecting the rights of those who have been working or studying in Britain, and “a tightest possible cooperation agreement regarding trade and economy”, he added.

Reporting by Krisztina Than and Marton Dunai; Editing by Catherine Evans