All European Union members face similar challenges in connection with the novel coronavirus, and protective measures are expected to remain in place in the long term, Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said on Monday.
He told the first videoconference of EU foreign ministers that measures by member states to restrict border entry were fully legitimate. At the same time, it is commonly understood that freight transport must be maintained because this guarantees the continuity of supplies, he added. Despite this, tailbacks have formed on many borders because of lorry traffic, he said.
“Common efforts will be needed to overcome this”, he said.
Meanwhile, Szijjártó said it was “in vain to expect” EU coordination in efforts to bring back home the Hungarian citizens stuck abroad. This has been so far organised in line with bilateral agreements and measures by individual member states, he said. Since 5pm on Sunday, an additional 726 Hungarian citizens have been transported back home this way, he said.
On some occasions, other countries helped Hungarians travel back home, which is likely to happen again in the future, he said, adding that Hungary would act likewise. Many hundreds of thousands of EU citizens are stuck abroad and in many countries the restrictions make even travel to the airport difficult, he added.
“A working team helping people return is on the job constantly,” he said.
“Unfortunately, it seems both will stay with us in the long term,” he said. “We will have to protect ourselves against both challenges in the long term,” he added.
He noted the EU had wanted to launch another mission in the Mediterranean to combat the Libyan arms trade. Hungary, he added, agreed with this in principle but only if it did not turn into a rescue operation to bring in illegal migrants from north Africa.
Szijjártó said the activities carried out under this scheme would be reviewed every four months. The approval of all member states will be necessary to carry on with it, which means Hungary has a veto, he added.
“If we find that, similarly to earlier European missions, the operations in the Mediterranean result in the arrival of new migrants to Europe, then we will immediately force it to stop,” he said.
He added that the situation on the Greek-Turkish border was also discussed. An earlier agreement signed by the EU and Turkey must be updated, or a new one signed, in order to prevent Ankara from keeping the gates open to the European Union.
“If it requires a new agreement to be signed, then we should do that,” he said, adding that the EU had earlier promised 6 billion euros to Turkey to handle the refugee situation in the country.
According to Ankara, the EU has so far transferred only 2.7 billion euros, while Brussels says 4.2 billion has been paid so far, he said. Szijjártó said it made no difference who was right because “neither sum is 6 billion”.
He asked the EU foreign affairs representative to clarify the issue, adding that it was still cheaper to pay 6 billion euros now than to allow “the dams to burst” on the Greek-Turkish border.
“The wave of illegal migration is now not only a security or cultural threat but also a very serious health risk,” he said, referring to the novel coronavirus.