April 16, 2016 / 1:00 PM / 3 years ago

Kohl raises refugee concerns before Orban meeting

BERLIN (Reuters) - Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl says he does not believe Europe can absorb millions of refugees and has appealed for more cooperation to deal with the crisis ahead of a meeting with right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

German former chancellor Helmut Kohl attends an unveiling ceremony for German artist Kaethe Kollwitz in Berlin, Germany, in this June 26, 2013 file picture. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz/Files

Kohl, the architect of Germany’s reunification and a leading driver of European integration, will host Orban - who has built a razor wire fence on Hungary’s border with Serbia and Croatia to keep out migrants - at his home in Ludwigshafen on Tuesday.

In a column due to appear on Sunday in the Tagesspiegel am Sonntag newspaper, Kohl described Orban as a friend, adding: “We are aware that we have something to lose and that it is worth fighting for the European project for peace and freedom.”

Conservative allies have brushed off any suggestion that Orban’s visit might be intended as a snub to Chancellor Angela Merkel, Kohl’s former protegee, whose open-door migrant policy has drawn fierce attacks from the Hungarian premier.

“The solution lies in the affected regions. It does not lie in Europe. Europe cannot become a new home for millions of people in need around the world,” Kohl wrote.

The 86-year-old has been in and out of hospital in recent years and has made only rare public appearances. He is largely confined to a wheelchair.

German chancellor from 1982 until 1998, Kohl called on European Union governments to work together to help solve the refugee crisis, while respecting national differences.

“Hungary must not be left out,” he said, thanking Hungary for opening its borders in 1989 to thousands of East Germans fleeing the Communist country in a move that helped to trigger the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have called on Kohl to try to influence Orban, a feisty nationalist whose right-wing government has been at odds with the EU on issues ranging from the economy to immigration since he took office in 2010.

While Merkel was Kohl’s protege in the 1990s, their relations soured after she called on the Christian Democrats to break with its “old warhorse” over a party funding scandal. Since then, Kohl has voiced doubt about some of Merkel’s policies, including her handling of the euro zone debt crisis.

Last month, Orban visited Bavarian conservative leader Horst Seehofer, who has also demanded a tougher line from Merkel on migrants, more than 1.1 million of whom have entered Germany since the start of last year.

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Jason Neely

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