The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt launched a scathing attack against Hungary’s Victor Orban in the European Parliament during which he was accused of violating the values of the European Union and came short of directly calling the Prime Minister a coward.
Likening Orban to Communist leaders Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev, Verhofstadt railed against Orban for abandoning “democratic principles” and wanting to create an “illiberal state”.
“Is it not the time to ask yourself in your soul how you will be remembered in the future? Do you want to be remembered as somebody that liberated your country from Communism – and that you did – or do you want to be commemorated as an eternal enemy of our open European democratic society,” Verhofstadt said. “That’s the choice you have to make now.”
The address to Orban is the latest escalation in a war of words between the EU and Hungary which has simmered for months. Both have been at odds with each other since the start of migrant crisis in 2015.
The EU objects to Hungary closing and erecting security fencing along its border, refusing to abide by migrant quotas, and on Wednesday, the EU formally launched “infringement proceedings” against Hungary over a threat to close a Budapest university funded by George Soros.
Hungary tightened its rules this month governing foreign-funded and foreign-registered universities. The move prompted thousands to demonstrate against the bill and critics accused Orban of wanting to stifle dissenting opinions and place the judiciary, media and other institutions under closer government control.
Critics say the new law could force the Central European University, founded in 1991, to close and leave the country. The head of the university appealed to the EU for help on Tuesday.
Orban, however, said the notion the university would close was “unfounded” and defended the law as a way to prevent the university from awarding dubious degrees. Orban also attacked Soros, the university’s founder, a “financial speculator”.
Verhofstadt, however, told Orban his policies were nationalist, protectionist and even paranoid. He accused him of harassing NGOs, chasing away critical media and wanting to reinstate the death penalty.
He even asked the prime minister if he would consider book burnings on the Lajos Kossuth square outside parliament.
Orban, however has fought back, accusing the EU of condemning Hungary with “untruths”.
“We are not as big and powerful as you are and as big as powerful as George Soros the American financial speculator attacking Hungary, who has destroyed the lives of millions of Europeans with his financial speculations, who has been fined for speculation in Hungary and who is an open enemy of the euro”, Orban said.
He added that despite his differences with the EU, he remains committed to the bloc.
“In many aspects, we are unhappy with how the EU works”, he said. “When we criticise the EU, it’s because we want to correct these mistakes and we want to reform the European Union.”