German official rebukes Hungary for blocking EU criticism of China

BERLIN, June 4 (Reuters) - Hungary's decision to block a European Union statement criticising China's Hong Kong policy was condemned on Friday by a senior Germany official, who said the bloc's foreign policy was being undermined.

"Hungary again blocked an EU statement on Hong Kong. Three weeks ago it was on Middle East. Common foreign and security policy cannot work on the basis of a blocking policy," German Foreign Office State Secretary Miguel Berger wrote on Twitter.

"We need a serious debate on ways to manage dissent, including qualified majority voting."

Hungary blocked an EU statement in April criticising China's new security law in Hong Kong, undermining the bloc's efforts to confront Beijing's curbing of freedoms in the former British colony.

Last month, Budapest refused to ratify a new EU trade and development accord with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, as well as declining to support an EU call for a ceasefire in violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

As part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban's quest to promote what he describes as traditional Christian family values, Budapest has also pushed against any use of the phrase "gender equality" in EU statements.

The European Commission on Friday declined to comment on the latest veto.

Hungary did, however, allow the bloc to sanction four Chinese officials last March over human rights abuses against the Muslim Uighurs in northwestern China.

Asked to comment on the Friday veto, the Hungarian government's media office said EU sanctions on China were "pointless, presumptuous and harmful".

"The EU has so far issued a number of declarations on China and Hong Kong. None has proven to be so successful that now another one should be issued," it added.

Frustration that one member state is able to block joint EU positions on international issues has long been present, but previous attempts to replace requirements for unanimous decisions with a simple majority have failed.

While EU countries hope to be able to agree a joint position behind closed doors, they usually tend to shy away from naming and shaming their peers in public.

The comments from Berlin indicate growing frustration with Budapest, which has clashed with the bloc on key principles of liberal Western democracies from independence of media and courts to the rights of migrants and gays.

Reporting by Thomas Escritt Editing by Paul Carrel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Berlin correspondent who has investigated anti-vaxxers and COVID treatment practices, reported on refugee camps and covered warlords' trials in The Hague. Earlier, he covered Eastern Europe for the Financial Times. He speaks Hungarian, German, French and Dutch.