Budapest (AFP) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due in Budapest on Monday where she was expected to press Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban over his close ties to Russia and racism in the EU member state.
Merkel’s first trip to ex-communist Hungary since the controversial Orban came to power in 2010 comes two weeks before a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin on February 17.
The right-wing Orban has caused unease in the West for a raft of reforms that critics say have undermined democracy, and he is now seen as one of Putin’s closest European allies.
Hungary has backed European Union sanctions against Russia but Orban last year voiced some unease, saying that the bloc had “shot itself in the foot” by damaging commercial relations with Moscow.
At the same time he has held up Russia as a model of the “illiberal democracy” he envisages for Hungary, while signing a 12.5-billion-euro ($14.1-billion) deal for Russia to expand its sole nuclear power plant.
Germany meanwhile is by far Hungary’s biggest trading partner, with 6,000 German firms active in Hungary including automakers Audi and Daimler, providing jobs for some 300,000 people.
On Sunday some 4,000 Hungarians staged an anti-Orban demonstration in Budapest ahead of Merkel’s visit, calling on the German chancellor to press Orban over his relations to the Kremlin.
“I want Merkel to draw a line and to warn Orban not to get too cosy with Russia,” Maria Miklosi, a 54-year-old chemist told AFP, holding an EU flag.
Racism in Hungary was also expected to be on the agenda, with Merkel’s spokesman last week expressing Berlin’s “concern” about the far-right Jobbik, Hungary’s second largest party.
Merkel and Orban were due to hold a joint news conference at 1210 GMT. Merkel was also due to make a speech at the German-speaking Andrassy University and visit Budapest’s synagogue, Europe’s largest.