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Merkel warns Hungary of financial consequences of defying EU on migrants

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, September 13, 2017. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

BERLIN (Reuters) - Hungary could face financial consequences if it defies a European court ruling ordering it to accept its allocated share of refugees arriving in Europe, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a newspaper interview.

The remarks suggest a hardening of Germany’s line on the right-wing Hungarian government of Viktor Orban, who has been outspoken in his opposition to an agreement that each European Union country should agree to take in a quota of refugees.

“Anyone who rejects this solidarity must accept that this will not be without consequences, including for negotiations over future financial support,” Merkel said in the interview with Nordwest Zeitung published on Friday.

Merkel’s tougher line, which comes a week before parliamentary elections in which the conservative is running for a fourth term as Chancellor, mirrors the position of Martin Schulz, her Social Democratic rival, who has long been a fierce critic of Orban’s nativist style.

More than 1.5 million migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe since 2015, many fleeing war in the Middle East.

The EU’s highest court ruled on Sept. 6 that member states must take in a share of the refugees, dismissing complaints by Slovakia and Hungary and reigniting an east-west row that has shaken the Union’s cohesion.

A suspension of financial support could have serious fiscal consequences for Hungary, which has prospered on the back of large claims on EU cohesion and development funds.

Hungary has been allocated 25 billion euros ($30 billion) in European Structural and Investment funds via a range of programs over the period 2014-2020, according to the European Union website.

Orban, who has built border fences and made keeping out migrants a key plank of his re-election campaign for next year, this week announced plans for a “national consultation” on Brussels’ plans to distribute asylum-seekers in the EU.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Hugh Lawson