SEEON, Germany (AP) — Bavaria's conservative governor said Friday he wants a closer cooperation with the countries of central Europe, praising Hungary in the face of criticism from the European Union for Budapest's refusal to take in migrants.
Speaking at a meeting of his Christian Social Union party, Horst Seehofer said he plans to launch a "central European alliance," saying Germany's neighbors to the east are bigger trading partners for Bavaria than France or Britain.
Seehofer also praised Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, who attended the meeting, saying "without a doubt (Orban) stands upon ground made up of the rule of law."
Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic are being sued by the European Commission for refusing to accept their share of refugees to be resettled among the block.
Seehofer's comments stand at odds with the stance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose conservative party he is allied with and who has repeatedly demanded a fair distribution of refugees among all EU member states.
Orban said he didn't want to meddle in Germany's domestic politics — currently in limbo as Merkel, Seehofer and their Social Democratic rivals consider extending their governing coalition — but reiterated his government's call for illegal migrants to be deported from Europe.
Bavaria was the entry point for hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers who came to Germany in 2015. The numbers have since declined steeply, but Seehofer's party is eager to be seen to be taking a tougher line on migrants ahead of this fall's state election in Bavaria.
"In the year 2018, the central issue is the final solution of the refugee question," said Manfred Weber, a member of Seehofer's party who heads the center-right EPP bloc in the European Parliament.
"We need legislative answers at the European level. And it needs to be a European solution, because only then can we permanently avoid border checks on this continent," he told public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk.