Hungary has sought to ease tensions with Berlin after Prime Minister Viktor Orban asked Germany not to "send in the tanks again" in a recent interview on state radio, AFP reports.
Orban's comments were widely seen as a response to remarks on Hungary by Chancellor Angela Merkel during a televised debate last week with her electoral rival Peer Steinbrueck, but a senior foreign ministry official denied this late Monday.
Gergely Prohle, a deputy secretary of state, told Hungarian news agency MTI that Orban's comments were directed at Steinbrueck, not Merkel.
"The chancellor had in fact been defending Hungary," Prohle said.
Steinbrueck had said Thursday that Hungary, an EU member since 2004, could be thrown out of the bloc for flouting its democratic values over legislation adopted since Orban came to power in 2010.
Merkel responded that "every effort should be made to guide Hungary towards the right path, but expelling the country from the EU should not be an option".
"It is not necessary to send in the cavalry right away," she added.
During his weekly interview on Hungarian state radio last Friday, Orban said: "The Germans have in the past sent in the cavalry to Hungary, in the form of tanks, and we ask them now not to send them again".
"It was not a good idea at the time, it did not work," he said.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Monday that Orban's comments were "deplorable", while the online edition of German newspaper Der Spiegel said Orban had accused Merkel of using Nazi methods.
German forces invaded Hungary -- hitherto an ally of Nazi Germany -- to prevent the country from switching sides to the Allies in March 1944.
Brussels has long expressed concerns about the independence of Hungary's judiciary under Orban, as well as other key democratic institutions. In March the government curbed the powers of the constitutional court.