Bulgaria pledges solidarity with Hungary in rights standoff with EU

SOFIA (Reuters) - Bulgaria will support Hungary in its standoff with the European Union, a Bulgarian deputy prime minister said on Wednesday, adding that the countries of eastern Europe had to stand together in their dealings with Brussels.

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The European Parliament, in an unprecedented vote last week, backed sanctions against Hungary, accusing Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s right-wing government of flouting EU standards on democracy, civil rights and corruption.

This could theoretically result in Hungary losing its EU voting rights - but any one member state could veto such a move, and both Poland and the Czech Republic have already said they would do so.

Krasimir Karakachanov, a member of the anti-immigrant United Patriots, junior partner in Bulgaria’s ruling coalition, said the cabinet had unanimously agreed to forge a common position that would oppose any sanctions against Hungary.

“We think that this is a violation of the sovereignty of an equal member state of the European Union,” Karakachanov told reporters after a cabinet meeting.

“Today it is Hungary, tomorrow it could be Poland, and one day it could be Bulgaria in the dock. Central and eastern European countries should act in solidarity and help each other because they have common problems,” he said.

Poland is also being investigated by the EU over its record on democracy and the rule of law.

Bulgaria, although criticized by Brussels for failing to effectively impose the strict rule of law, is not facing any such investigation.

Its center-right prime minister, Boyko Borissov, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the EU, played down the significance of the cabinet agreement, saying it had been taken at an “operative meeting” and had no legal value.

Speaking to reporters upon arrival in Salzburg to attend an EU leaders’ summit, Borissov said his government had agreed that if there were a decision one day to strip Hungary of its EU voting rights, which he thinks could happen in two years from now, Sofia would be against it.

“There is no drama, there is nothing decided,” Borissov told reporters.

Borissov said he believed Orban needed to adjust some of his policies, pointing to restrictions imposed on Hungary’s Central European University, founded by U.S. financier George Soros.

But Borissov’s GERB party voted against the censure motion in the European Parliament last week. He needs the support of the United Patriots to stay in power, while Bulgaria is regularly criticized by the EU over its failure to tackle corruption and organized crime.

Like Hungary and other ex-communist states, Bulgaria has been critical of Merkel’s decision to take in more than a million migrants, mostly Muslims fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, since 2015.

Also like Hungary, Bulgaria has built a fence along its southern border - with Turkey - to deter illegal migrants trying to enter the EU, but has argued that their human rights should be respected.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Gareth Jones and Robin Pomeroy