Orban, Germany's Kohl talk refugees in controversial visit

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a fierce critic of Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-door refugee policy, met with former chancellor Helmut Kohl on Tuesday in western Germany.

Kohl, the architect of German reunification in 1990, has been in poor health for several years and rarely appears in public. He welcomed the Hungarian leader at his home in the city of Ludwigshafen in a visit that some had interpreted as a snub to Merkel.

Once Kohl's protege, Merkel fell out with the long-serving head of government when she called for their party - the Christian Democrats (CDU) - to distance itself from him over a party financing scandal.

Orban has butted heads with Merkel over her insistence that EU member states should honour their asylum commitments. The Hungarian premier has rejected her call for binding quotas and sealed off his country's border with a fence.

After the meeting, Orban said that he had come to Germany to pay his respects to the former chancellor on behalf of his country and that Kohl shouldn't be pulled into the day-to-day political debate about refugees.

"He stands above active politicians," Orban said.

Kohl's office put out a statement acknowledging that the former chancellor had spoken to Orban about the refugee crisis, but insisting that their stance was not in opposition to Merkel's efforts to stem the influx.

Asked about the meeting at a press conference, Merkel said that Kohl and Orban had a friendship lasting several decades and that talks on topics including the refugee crisis and a common European approach to dealing with it were "absolutely essential and important."

Merkel's Social Democrat (SPD) coalition partners and the opposition Greens called on Kohl to act as a moderating influence on Orban in relation to his refugee policies.

"If others in Europe recognize that [Kohl,] the bloc's honorary citizen, is a good partner for conversation, then there's no harm in that," Peter Tauber, secretary general of the CDU, told public broadcaster ARD on Tuesday.

Last update: Tue, 19/04/2016 - 16:48

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