Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said when it comes to spinning the truth in political campaigning "this is something in a completely different universe." The Hungarian government says its new campaign — launched ahead of May's European Parliament election — is meant to inform citizens about "Brussels' plans to encourage immigration."
"Everyone has the right to know which are the current proposals fundamentally threatening Hungary's safety," the government said. In Hungary, posters have gone up focusing on EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Hungarian-American financier George Soros.
According to the poster, EU leaders, who Orban says are carrying out instructions from Soros, "are launching experimental immigration projects with African countries; want to introduce mandatory settlement quotas; want to reduce financial assistance for countries opposed to migration."
A post on the Hungarian government's Facebook page showed a similar poster but with other claims — "They want to introduce mandatory settlement quotas; they want to weaken the border protection rights of the member states; they would facilitate immigration with migrant visas."
Timmermans said the EU and Juncker were actually at the forefront of reinforcing the EU's external borders. Juncker asked rhetorically what he was supposed to do about Hungary's campaign. "You can't really act against lies," Juncker said Tuesday in Stuttgart, Germany.
Juncker underlined his support for throwing Orban's Fidesz party out of the center-right European People's Party group in the European Parliament. "I don't think the conservatives in Hungary represent Christian democratic values in any way," he said. "There is no overlap at all between Mr. Orban and me ... so I am of the opinion that his place is not in the European People's Party."
Orban's zealous anti-immigration policies allowed him to win his third consecutive term in April and have also won him populist admirers across Europe. In late 2015, at the height of the migrant crisis, Orban had razor-wire fences erected on the country's southern borders with Serbia and Croatia to stop migrants.
Last year, Hungary further tightened its migration and refugee laws, making it nearly impossible for any asylum-seekers arriving at Hungary's borders to have their asylum claims approved. The policies have been widely condemned by the United Nations and rights groups.
Soros, who Orban sees as a key ideological foe, has been the target of government smear campaigns in previous years that critics say are based on anti-Semitic tropes. Orban denies any anti-Semitic aspect to the anti-Soros campaigns.
Pablo Gorondi reported from Budapest, Hungary. Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.