July 6, 2018 / 1:03 PM / 4 months ago

Hungary decorates sacked French ambassador, calls him a 'friend'

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary decorated France’s outgoing ambassador Eric Fournier with a state award on Friday to recognise his efforts in promoting bilateral relations shortly after the diplomat was replaced over leaked remarks praising Budapest.

President Emmanuel Macron replaced Fournier last weekend after a confidential memo in which the envoy praised Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s hardline immigration policy was leaked to the press.

Macron, a fervent europhile, has traded barbs with Orban and other eastern European leaders, accusing them of not respecting democratic values over their refusal to take in migrants who have come to the EU from the Middle East, Africa and beyond.

Fournier received the Commander’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit, Hungary’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The state award was bestowed by President Janos Ader, who has a largely ceremonial role in Hungarian politics.

Handing over the decoration, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said its was refreshing to see that some diplomats have managed to preserve their common sense during often emotional political debates in Europe, according to remarks published on the government’s website.

He said Hungary, one of the toughest opponents of immigration into Europe, needed allies and that Fournier was a “friend” of Hungary.

Fournier, quoted on the website, said he had tried to explain Hungary to Paris as he gradually came to know it, trying to dispel misconceptions, which he said had shrouded the country in mystery.

Fournier also said he had to fight to make the Hungarian stance better known in an environment where he said states were pigeonholed into rigid categories.

Reporting by Gergely Szakacs and Sandor Peto; Editing by Gareth Jones

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