February 19, 2019 / 12:56 PM / 2 months ago

EU Commission rebukes Hungary's new media campaign as 'fake news'

BUDAPEST/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission on Tuesday rebuked a media campaign by the Hungarian government aimed at European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. businessman George Soros, accusing Brussels of pushing migration plans threatening Hungary.

FILE PHOTO: EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L) meets U.S. financier George Soros as part of consultations on a new Hungarian law that has threatened to force the closure of a university he funds prior to a meeting in Brussels, Belgium, April 27, 2017. REUTERS/Olivier Hoslet/Pool

Orban’s latest campaign, announced in a Facebook post on Monday, depicts smiling images of Soros and Juncker with the text “You also have the right to know what Brussels prepares for!” overlaid in red and white block capitals.

A caption says the EU plans to adopt mandatory relocation quotas for immigrants, weaken the border protection rights of member states and make arrivals easier with a “migrant visa”.

The EU Commission, which is locked in a series of running battles with Orban including over reforms criminalizing support for migrants, dismissed the latest Hungarian campaign as “fake news and disinformation”.

“The Hungarian government campaign beggars belief,” Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a press briefing. “It is shocking that such a ludicrous conspiracy theory has reached the mainstream to the extent it has.

“It is not true that the EU ... undermines national border protection, quite the contrary. And there are zero plans for the so-called humanitarian visas. Member states decide to what level they want to accept legal migration,” Schinas said.

Hungarian-born billionaire Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, has been the subject of a campaign by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Soros’ charitable Open Society Foundations left Hungary last year, while Central European University, a top graduate school based in Budapest, has said it was being forced out of Hungary and would move its main programs to Vienna.

Hungary was the first country in Europe to take a hard anti-immigration line in 2015, when more than a million immigrants arrived, about half of them transiting Hungary en route to western Europe.

Orban’s stance against immigration has bolstered support for his ruling Fidesz party, which is well ahead of its opposition rivals according to the latest opinion polls in the run-up to a May European Parliament election.

Orban has said he hoped anti-immigration parties will gain a majority in the European Parliament elections, which he said could lead to similar changes in the EU executive.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Jan Strupczewski; Editing by David Holmes

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