'Hello dictator,' Juncker says to Hungary's Orban
RIGA - Agence France-Presse
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R) speaks to Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban before the Eastern Partnership Summit session in Riga, Latvia, May 22, 2015. Reuters PhotoEuropean Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker teased Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban over his strongman reputation Friday, jokingly greeting him as "dictator" as he arrived at an EU summit in Riga.
The right-wing Orban has angered and infuriated his European Union peers for years, carrying out sweeping constitutional and institutional changes that critics say have curbed press freedom and judicial authority.
"Hello, dictator," Juncker was overheard to say to Orban in front of the press at the EU-Eastern Partnership summit in Latvia.
Reporters said they had not been able to hear what Orban had said in reply, if anything, but Juncker was clearly in a playful mood as he received EU leaders alongside EU president Donald Tusk and Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma.
Juncker also chided Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras for his dress sense, with the left-winger declining to wear a tie as usual.
The dictator jibe from Juncker recalled a bitter row caused by US Republican Senator John McCain who labelled Orban a "neofascist dictator" in December last year. Orban called McCain's remarks an "attack on national independence".
The Hungarian leader again angered EU lawmakers and officials this week by insisting that Budapest had the right to debate closing the door to migrants and reintroducing the death penalty.
"Hungarians talk straight about tough things. We don't like to beat about the bush. We are a frank people," Orban said on a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on May 19.
Officials in Juncker's office said they had not heard what he had said to Orban.