The smiles may be slightly forced when Germany’s Angela Merkel and Hungary’s Viktor Orban meet at Wednesday’s EU summit following a spat between their governments over comments littered with military – and Nazi – analogies.
In response to criticism of his government, Hungary’s prime minister said on Friday he hoped Germany would not send any more “tanks”, as last time “it didn’t work out”.
The clear reference to World War II, and the Nazi occupation from March 1944 onwards, came the day after Merkel said Germany would “do everything to put Hungary onto the right path” – except sending in the “cavalry”.
The Chancellor’s comments are seen as a tongue-in-cheek reference to remarks by the German opposition leader Peer Steinbruck. In 2009 he mentioned the “cavalry” while encouraging measures against Swiss tax havens, and in the discussion with Merkel raised the idea of throwing Hungary out of the EU for alleged undemocratic reforms.
Somehow any irony intended has become lost, and relations between Budapest and Berlin remain strained. The German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has described Orban’s comments as a “regrettable derailment”.
Some European leaders have criticised Hungary’s new constitution, saying it threatens freedom and democracy. Changes include restrictions to the Constitutional Court’s powers and election campaigning.
Orban’s conservative coalition has a two-thirds majority in parliament, enabling it to pass controversial legislation.
The prime minister argues the constitutional changes are necessary to eradicate the legacy of communism from Hungary.