Stop bashing Trump, Hungary’s foreign minister tells Europe

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Criticizing the U.S. will only backfire on European countries, according to Hungary’s foreign minister, who stressed the need for the EU to stop “bashing” the current administration.

Speaking to CNBC in Paris Thursday, Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Peter Szijjarto described positive engagement as the only way to avoid economic pain brought on by trade tariffs.

“I always urge our friends in the European Union not to play this new sport art which is created which is called bashing (the) United States, you know, because the more our European friends bash the U.S., the more negative impact they will cause with that,” he said.

The Donald Trump administration on Thursday announced that the EU, Canada and Mexico would no longer be exempt from sweeping metals tariffs that impose 25 percent and 10 percent duties on steel and aluminum imports, respectively. EU leaders expressed staunch opposition for the move, and plan retaliatory measures on American goods.

Trump reportedly also has plans to restrict German luxury car imports to the U.S., a prospect that scares the Hungarian minister. The central European country has enjoyed robust investment inflows thanks to its large manufacturing base, particularly in the autos sector, for whom Germany is its biggest export market. The U.S. is Hungary’s largest trading partner outside the EU.

“Now you can imagine a position of an export-oriented country when the number one export market and the number one non-EU export market go into a trade war,” Szijjarto said, speaking from the sidelines of the annual Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) forum. “It can be very, very harmful for us.”

Trade issues aside, Hungary’s current government represents a rare source of enthusiasm for the Trump administration within the EU. Its nationalist leader Viktor Orban, re-elected to a third term as prime minister in April, has claimed that “liberal democracy” is over, successfully tapping into voter discontent over issues like migration, border security and traditional family values.

Orban’s critics warn that his populist policies threaten minorities, civil liberties and the rule of law. In light of what many rights groups identify as creeping authoritarian tendencies, the EU has proposed measures that would cut funding to member states whose policies don’t uphold democratic values. Hungary’s government has vocally denied the negative allegations, accusing EU leaders of unfair bias.

Szijjarto described a recent meeting in Washington, during which he told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “we have never been part of the of the U.S. bashing chorus in Europe.”

“(Trump) definitely represents an honest, straightforward way of communication,” Szijjarto said. “He definitely gets rid of hypocrisy and political correctness, but I think the bashing of him and the United States was too much. So what I think is that we need to re-engage in a dialogue with the United States. We should foster, strengthen this dialogue in order to avoid harmful situations.”

Many European leaders have struggled with Trump’s unpredictable “America-first” policies, torn between confrontation and appeasement as a means of dealing with the world’s largest economy.

While opposing the EU’s often vocal criticism of Trump’s policies, the minister weighed in on the metals tariffs decision in a more muted tone, telling CNBC that “all restrictive measures that constrain international trade are detrimental for Hungary.”

He stressed that if the European economy is harmed, so too is the Hungarian economy as 79 percent of the country’s exports go to the EU.

But the Orban and Trump governments share a common disdain for what they deem to be the political establishment, and both have garnered subtle and overt disapproval from the same EU leaders.

“I’m really fed up with the comments that are always being put on decisions of the Hungarian government without knowing anything about the facts,” the minister added. “And sometimes I feel that this is not only done to us but done to others.”

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