BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Fidesz party, under pressure from a eurosceptic right, said on Wednesday it wanted to raise the question of a possible reintroduction of the death penalty with its European Union partners.
A European Parliament member dismissed the idea as barbaric, while the Council of Europe said it saw worrisome populist trends in Hungary continuing.
Hungary scrapped the death penalty shortly after the fall of Communism, in 1990. Orban raised the matter anew after the recent murder of a young tobacconist in southern Hungary that stirred anger in the country.
Fidesz parliament caucus leader Antal Rogan told public radio the party was aware European rules precluded capital punishment, but added:
“Even in an EU member state, if that country’s public wants to have the death penalty ...then a substantial debate can be raised on the EU level.”
Orban has taken a hard line on a series of issues recently as his Fidesz loses ground to the far-right, euro-sceptic, anti-immigrant Jobbik party. He said on Tuesday the question of reintroduction of capital punishment should be kept on the agenda in Hungary.
The leftist opposition said Orban was going against European values, while Jobbik Chairman Gabor Vona said the premier was copying his party’s playbook. The junior ruling party, the Christian Democrats (KDNP), spoke up against the idea.
“A religious Christian politician cannot support capital punishment,” KDNP vice chairman Bence Retvari told the web site valasz.hu.
At the European Parliament (EP), Austrian Socialist MEP Joerg Leichtfried called any return to capital punishment “barbaric and an infringement of European law.”
EP President Martin Schulz said he had asked to speak with Orban on the telephone.
Orban also proposed a series of tough measures to stem illegal immigration, telling voters in a letter that the EU’s inability to deal with that problem contributed to a growing threat of terrorism in Europe.
The European rights group Council of Europe (CoE) denounced what it called Hungary’s populist political progression.
CoE Human Rights Commissioner Niels Muiznieks wrote in a statement that the death penalty would be “incompatible with Hungary’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and runs contrary to the values that Europe stands for.”
Additional reporting by Adrian Croft in Brussels; editing by Ralph Boulton