Hungary says could quit U.N. talks on migration pact

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary could quit talks on a United Nations pact on migration because its pro-migration tone threatened Hungary’s security interests, the foreign minister said on Thursday.

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban addresses a news conference in the chancellery in Vienna, Austria, January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader

Hungary’s right-wing nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who seeks reelection for a third consecutive term in elections on April 8, has been one of the strongest opponents to the European Union’s migration policy since his government fenced off the country’s southern borders in 2015 to keep out migrants.

Orban has stepped up the anti-migrant campaign since last year, accusing U.S. financier George Soros of stoking illegal migration. Soros has strongly rejected an extended nationwide campaign against him as “distortions and lies” meant to create a false external enemy.

The government says illegal immigration threatens to undermine European stability and its harsh anti-migrant rhetoric has gone down well with voters.

Some analysts said the threat to quit the U.N. migration pact talks was part of Orban’s domestic political campaign aimed at mobilizing voters. His ruling Fidesz party has a firm lead over the opposition in opinion polls.

“The U.N. wants to create a pact that encourages migration, we are of the opposite view, and if the first draft (of this pact) in February takes this line ... the question is why we would have to take part in this debate?”, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto told M1 state television.

Szijjarto said migration posed a global challenge that was dangerous and must be stopped.

In December, the United States quit negotiations on the migration pact because, according to the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, a global approach to the issue was “simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty.”

With a record 21.3 million refugees globally, the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopted a political declaration in 2016, known as the New York Declaration, in which they agreed to spend two years negotiating the pact on safe, orderly and regular migration.

Formal negotiations are expected to start in February over the non-binding pact.

Peter Kreko, director of think tank Political Capital said the anti-UN comments were part of Orban’s domestic campaign, and fit into the narrative of his battles with Brussels over migration.

“It fits into the fight for sovereignty,” Kreko said.

According to a poll released on Thursday by institute Median, Fidesz’ election support dropped to 37 percent from 39 percent, while the strongest opposition party Jobbik gained 2 percentage points to 13 percent. Among decided voters, Fidesz had 53 percent support, down from 60 percent, while Jobbik had 18 percent.

Reporting by Krisztina Than; Editing by Toby Chopra