EU veto 'hostage'-taking on foreign policy must end -Germany's Maas

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FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gives a statement ahead of a virtual meeting of EU foreign ministers at the foreign ministry in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany's foreign minister said on Monday the European Union should abolish the right of individual member states to veto foreign policy measures as the 27-nation bloc could not allow itself to be "held hostage".

His comments, which came days after a more junior official criticised Hungary by name, reflect growing frustration in Berlin at the way in which EU member countries can prevent it from acting in matters on which almost all members agree.

"We can't let ourselves be held hostage by the people who hobble European foreign policy with their vetoes," Heiko Maas told a conference of Germany's ambassadors in Berlin.

"If you do that then sooner or later you are risking the cohesion of Europe. The veto has to go, even if that means we can be outvoted."

His remarks amount to a highly unusual rebuke by Germany of a fellow member state. Germany, conscious of its economic and political heft within the EU, is normally very cautious about being seen to throw its weight for fear of seeming overbearing.

Hungary blocked an EU statement in April criticising China's new security law in Hong Kong, undermining EU efforts to confront Beijing's restrictions of freedoms in the former British colony.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on Monday that the European left, led by the German left, was attacking Hungary because of "its refusal to sign a politically inconsequential and frivolous joint declaration on Hong Kong".

These declarations make the EU look like a "pathetic paper tiger," Orban wrote on his official website.

"There must be an end to the preoccupation in Brussels with concocting and flaunting declarations. ... In recent years this common foreign policy approach, motivated by domestic political considerations, has led to the European Union's foreign policy stance becoming a laughing stock," Orban said.

He said the EU's foreign policy should be decided by heads of states and governments instead of what he called bureacrats, citing the latest meeting of the European Council regarding Russia as a positive example.

"As far as Europe's policy on China is concerned, we believe that we must prevent the reemergence of Cold War policies and culture in world politics," the nationalist premier added.

Last month, Budapest refused to ratify a new EU trade and development accord with African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, and also declined to support an EU call for a ceasefire in violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Under Orban, Hungary has pursued closer ties with China, most recently agreeing to host a foreign campus of a Chinese university in Budapest over a chorus of opposition protest.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke, writing by Thomas Escritt, additional reporting by Anita Komuves; editing by Mark Heinrich)