Germany's Merkel offers Juncker solidarity in Hungary spat

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that the head of the European Union's executive branch has her full support in the face of a new Hungarian government campaign alleging that EU headquarters has purposely weakened the bloc's external borders to let in more migrants.

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The campaign by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government, launched ahead of European Parliament elections in May, has added to long-running tensions between Budapest and Brussels.

Government posters featuring EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-American financier George Soros have recently started appearing in Hungary and in the country's newspapers and magazines.

They claim that EU leaders, who Orban says are carrying out instructions from Soros, "are launching experimental immigration projects with African countries; want to introduce mandatory settlement quotas; want to reduce financial assistance for countries opposed to migration."

EU leaders have rejected the claims, arguing that the EU and Juncker are in fact at the forefront of reinforcing the bloc's external borders.

"Jean-Claude Juncker has my full solidarity, and we will also make that clear in our discussions with Hungary," Merkel told reporters in Berlin.

The campaign has prompted renewed calls for Orban's Fidesz party to be thrown out of the center-right European People's Party group in the European Parliament, but Merkel sidestepped a question on when her patience with Orban would snap. Juncker and Merkel's Christian Democratic Union are members of the EPP.

"I'm very much surprised if I am seeing these posters now spread around in Hungary," Juncker said at a conference in Brussels. "But I'm not giving in. I'm not like that." 

Juncker added that there can be "no progress" in Europe if nations fight against each other. 

"Enough is enough," he said.

Manfred Weber, a German conservative who is the EPP's candidate to succeed Juncker as Commission chief after the EU election, said Orban's campaign and other recent comments were causing "great incomprehension and anger" in the European center-right grouping.

He told Germany's daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung it wasn't right for Orban to be in the EPP and campaign against a Commission president who is also from the party. Orban must "recognize that he is moving further and further away from the EPP," Weber added.

Hungary showed no sign of backing down.

The poster "includes tenable, exact and true statements in all of its elements," said Gergely Gulyas, Orban's chief of staff.

"The past five years have been a failure for Europe as a result of the activities of the European Commission, and the European Commission cannot deflect responsibility for what has happened in Europe," he said, mentioning Brexit and the large influx of migrants.