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Hungary can restore death penalty only if it leaves EU: Barroso

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(BUDAPEST) - Hungary could bring in the death penalty but only if it leaves the EU, former European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has said in response to calls by Hungarian premier Viktor Orban for debate on its restoration.

"If a member state wants to bring it in, then it can do, but in this case it must leave the EU," Barroso, who headed the EU executive arm from 2004 to 2014, said in an interview broadcast Sunday by Hungarian television channel ATV.

"Restoring the death penalty is simply not possible in an EU member. The debate was closed a long time ago, all member states are clear about this," said Barroso, who belongs to the same centre-right European People's Party (EPP) as the Hungarian prime minister.

Orban has repeatedly clashed with Brussels over a number of policies that critics say endanger core EU values, and his remarks on the death penalty have earned him yet more criticism.

Last month, speaking after the brutal murder of a shop assistant during a robbery, Orban said the death penalty "should be kept on the agenda".

During a radio interview Friday he said EU member states should be able to decide on the issue on the national level.

"If we can protect (citizens) without bringing in the death penalty then so be it. But if that doesn't work, then it should be brought back," Orban said.

Barroso's successor Jean-Claude Juncker said Orban could expect a "fight" if he wants to reintroduce the death penalty.

Hungary abolished capital punishment after the end of communism in 1990, fulfilling a key condition for membership of the European Union, which it joined in 2004, and whose treaties ban its use.

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