The planned meeting in Brussels next week between the European Commission’s First Vice-President Frans Timmermans, and Hungarian-American financier and philanthropist George Soros gave rise to a spat at the Commission’s press briefing today. Their meeting on Monday (16 April) is no secret and has been announced in the Commission’s calendar.
The meeting comes a week after the parliamentary elections in his home country where the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration governing party had launched an anti-Soros campaign with anti-Semitic overtones and vilified him as an enemy of Hungary.
Soros, a Holocaust survivor, who made a huge fortune as investor, has donated a large part of his wealth to different philanthropic causes and to supporting civil society and education in post-Soviet countries through his Open Society Foundations.
In Budapest he provided the endowment to the Central European University which now faces possible closure because of new Hungarian legislation.
Asked by a journalist about the purpose of the meeting, the chief spokesperson replied that Timmermans and Soros have known each-other for many years.
“They’ll discuss broader issues of relevance to the EU, such as how to keep EU Member States together. Closer and always together,” he explained.
This resulted in a follow-up question from another journalist: “Are you sure that Soros want EU to stick together?” To which the spokesperson simply replied that he does not speak for Soros but for the Commission and Timmermans.
The Brussels Times contacted Frans Timmermans directly to receive his comment on a question which could have been asked by the Hungarian government itself.
Timmermans confirmed that he has been regularly in touch with George Soros and the Open Society Foundations over the last more than 20 years.
“I have seen firsthand in many different places what his commitment and his contributions have done to help countries rid themselves of their totalitarian, communist past and develop societies based on the same values that were enjoyed by those of us who were lucky enough to be on the right side of the Iron Curtain after WW2 or had the good fortune to liberate themselves from dictatorship earlier,” Timmermans replied.
“Given his and my experience with these issues, it seems to me absolutely logical that we would remain in touch regularly and compare notes about the situation in Europe and beyond.”
“There is no doubt in my mind that his commitment to freedom, democracy and the development of open societies with equal rights for all citizens is genuine and honest,” he said.
Timmermans feels strongly about this commitment. ”It is a commitment I have shared throughout my professional life and a commitment I will stick to until I draw my final breath.”
He finished his reply with a personal credo which also could be seen as a signal to Hungary. “I believe that politics based on the fostering and promotion of fear of the “other”, leading to suspicion, to hate and ultimately confrontation between Europeans should remain firmly in the past.”
The Brussels Times