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Austrian Chancellor calls for fairer attitude towards Hungary and Poland

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Austria/Hungary/Poland – At a time when disputes between Budapest and Warsaw on the one side and EU institutions on the other continue to get worse, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, one of Viktor Orbán’s former EPP partners, called on the EU to stop using double standards when dealing with Hungary and Poland in an interview published on 18 September in the French daily Ouest-France.

Stop using double standards

Asked how the European Union should react “when the principles of rule of law are not respected, as may be the case in Poland or Hungary for example”, the Chancellor from the centre-right conservative party ÖVP, which has been in a coalition with the Greens since January 2020, said: “The principles of rule of law and respect for fundamental European values are paramount to the continued success of the European Union. 

However, I think it is not good that we should talk only about Poland and Hungary. This ought to apply to all countries. Only when these standards are respected everywhere in the same way can we develop the necessary energy.

Currently, there is already the possibility of sanctioning breaches of the rule of law, and this is the right way to go.

In other words, Kurz is calling on his Western European partners to start by putting their own house in order before criticising the Hungarians and Poles, even if his words clearly do not amount to any sort of direct support for the two V4 countries in their conflicts with Brussels. But even such prudent statements seem to be unacceptable to some among liberals and the Left.

Liberal and left-wing reactions 

One such example is that of Austrian liberal MEP Claudia Gamon (NeOs, Renew Europe), who said in a statement sent to APA:

If Kurz thinks it is a mistake to talk only about Hungary and Poland in the debate on the rule of law in the European Union, then I wonder if he has not noticed the illegal processes that have been going on there in recent months and years, and how fundamental rights and human rights are being increasingly dismantled there.

It is totally inappropriate for the Chancellor to stand up for Poland and Hungary.

For his part, the SPÖ spokesman for European issues, Jörg Leichtfried, condemned Sebastian Kurz’s support for the “authoritarian governments of Hungary and Poland”. According to Leichtfried,

such support makes the two countries’ policies of “fighting freedom of the press, dismantling democracy, and attacking the rights of LGBTIQ people” look normal.

Leichtfried believes that “Austrian foreign policy is now hitting bottom”: “Apparently, Kurz is hurt by criticism against Hungary and Poland and wants to protect and relativise his own attacks on the judiciary, the rule of law, and the Church, and also his contempt for parliament.