BERLIN (AP) — Luxembourg's foreign minister says Hungary should be temporarily or even permanently expelled from the European Union over its approach to refugees and other issues, drawing a sharp rebuke Tuesday from his Hungarian counterpart.
Senior officials in other EU countries distanced themselves from Jean Asselborn's suggestion in Tuesday's edition of German daily Die Welt, which came days before 27 EU leaders meet in Bratislava, Slovakia to discuss the bloc's future without Britain.
Asselborn said the EU can't tolerate fundamental values being violated.
"Anyone who, like Hungary, builds fences against refugees from war or who violates press freedom and judicial independence should be excluded temporarily, or if necessary forever, from the EU," Asselborn was quoted as saying. He argued it is the only way to "preserve the cohesion and values of the European Union."
Asselborn said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is "protected by at least one other country," which he didn't identify, and it would be "helpful" for EU rules to be amended so that suspending a member country's membership no longer requires a unanimous vote.
Hungary was among the loudest critics of EU plans to redistribute asylum-seekers in the bloc among its members. Last year, it erected razor-wire fences on its borders with Serbia and Croatia to stem the flow.
Hungary is holding a government-sponsored referendum Oct. 2 seeking support for rejecting any future EU plan to resettle migrants among member states.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said Asselborn was "a frivolous figure."
"He wants to exclude Hungary from the EU but he has long excluded himself from among the politicians who can be taken seriously," Szijjarto said in a statement, accusing Asselborn of "working tirelessly to demolish European security and culture."
Szijjarto said the referendum would give Hungarians the opportunity to voice their opinion about "illegal immigrants, Brussels' quota package and the Jean Asselborn-type figures."
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, an ally of Hungary on refugee resettlement, said talk of expelling EU members was "nonsense."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was visiting Latvia, said he understood that some in Europe are "impatient" with Hungary, German news agency dpa reported.
But "it is not my personal position to show a European member state the door."