BERLIN/BUDAPEST Hungary should be excluded from the European Union for anti-migrant policies that undermine EU values, including erecting a razor-wire fence, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said in comments published on Tuesday.
The unusually strong attack on Viktor Orban's government, which prompted a vigorous riposte from Budapest, came three days before a crucial summit intended to project the bloc's unity after Britain's shock decision to leave.
"We cannot accept that the basic values of the European Union are being so seriously breached," Asselborn told German daily Die Welt.
"Anyone, like Hungary, who builds fences against war refugees or breaches press freedom and the independence of the justice system should be temporarily, or if needed forever, excluded from the EU."
The direct call for the exclusion of a fellow EU member state was unprecedented, and underscored the extent of Europe's divisions over sharing responsibility for the more than 1 million migrants and refugees who reached its shores last year.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said his country had defended Europe throughout its history, and described his Luxembourg colleague as "condescending, uppity, and frustrated."
Orban has angered many of his EU partners with his tough rhetoric on migrants and by fortifying his borders to keep them out. He has called a referendum next month in which he is urging Hungarians to vote against future EU quotas stipulating how many refugees each country should take.
The EU could not tolerate such behaviour, and exclusion was "the only possibility to preserve the integrity and values of the European Union," Asselborn said. Humans fleeing from war were being treated almost worse than wild animals, he added.
"The fence that Hungary is building to keep out refugees is getting longer, higher and more dangerous. Hungary is not far from issuing an order to shoot refugees," he said.
In response, Szijjarto told state news agency MTI only Hungarians could decide who they were willing to live with, a right that neither Brussels bureaucrats nor the Luxembourg foreign minister could take away.
He said it was strange that Asselborn, who came from the land of "tax optimisation", and another Luxembourger, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, were talking about shared burdens.
"We understand what it means, though: Hungary has to pay the piper after other people make mistakes," he said.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka sharply criticised Asselborn's comments.
"The discussion these days is focused on the future of the European Union," he said. "Further raising of the barriers and calls for exclusion of member states are, in my opinion, nonsense... Europe must cooperate and stay coherent."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said: "I can understand, looking at Hungary, that some in Europe are getting impatient... However, it is not my personal approach to show a European member state the door."
Lithuania's foreign minister said states should talk with each other, not about each other, especially in public.
"This rhetoric is not helpful," added Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Andreas Rinke and Gederts Gelzis in Riga; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)