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Orbán, Merkel commemorate ’89 Freedom Picnic

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to strike a conciliatory note, largely setting aside the frostier tones that have dominated their recent relations, as they commemorated the 30th anniversary of a key moment in Cold War history on Monday, according to an Associated Press report.

Orbán and Merkel at a joint press conference in Sopron on Monday, after the two leaders had a working meeting (photo: Károly Árvai/ kormany.hu).

Speaking at a ceremony recalling the “Pan-European Picnic” - the peace demonstration held on the Austrian-Hungarian border near Sopron on August 19, 1989, which is considered to have helped precipitate the fall of the Berlin Wall - Orbán and Merkel stressed their countries’ shared history and common European values.

Orbán, one of the fiercest critics of Merkel’s welcoming stance toward asylum-seekers during the 2015-2016 migrant influx, voiced his appreciation for the German chancellor, whose country has strong economic ties with Hungary, particularly through the automotive industry.

Asked about his country’s decision to erect hundreds of miles of fences along its southern borders to prevent migrants reaching the EU, when it had been Hungary that helped tear down the Iron Curtain 30 years ago, Orbán said that “these two kinds of behavior are completely compatible with one another.”

On economic ties, Orbán highlighted the necessity for stronger business relations between Hungary and Germany, according to Hungarian news agency MTI.

“We do not see any future event on the horizon that could disrupt German-Hungarian relations; at the same time, we do see necessities in the world economy that compel us to further strengthen economic cooperation,” the Hungarian leader was cited as saying by official government website kormany.hu. He added that the economy was at the focus of his talks with Merkel, and noted that Germany is Hungaryʼs top investor and trading partner.

Orbán noted that 6,000 German businesses are present in Hungary, employing some 300,000 Hungarians, while there are 17 major development projects by German companies in the pipeline.

For her part, Merkel noted that bilateral trade was balanced and said this was a sign of “extremely close” relations. She added that the achievements of German companies in Hungary have greatly contributed to the success of the German economy.

Referring to the European Unionʼs cohesion and structural funds, aimed at helping convergence within the EU, MTI cited Merkel as saying that “looking at the economic growth rate of Hungary, it is obvious that Hungary has used those funds well to benefit its people.” She added that Germany is happy to have contributed to that welfare through creating jobs, she added, and seeks to further develop scientific, research and innovation cooperation.

Merkel noted that her talks with Orbán also touched upon defense industry cooperation, which she said was extremely important in light of the two countriesʼ NATO membership.