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As Macron and Orban clash, tensions between France and Hungary escalate

Budapest, Hungary – The deterioration of relations between France and Hungary has been long in the making. But they’ve taken a turn for the worse in recent days as the clash between Emmanuel Macron and Viktor Orban intensifies.

Hungary’s Orban and France’s Macron clash over range of issues

On Tuesday, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán met with Italy’s Interior Minister and leader of the Northern League Matteo Salvini in Milan. During a joint press conference, the two men, who count among Europe’s fiercest opponents to immigration, have pledged to form an alliance to advance the foothold of anti-immigration positions ahead of next year’s European elections.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron was, in that regard, designated as public enemy number one. While Salvini accused him of “preaching lessons to foreign governments” instead of helping them manage the migrants who’ve already arrived in their country, Orbán claimed that “there is currently two main sides in Europe, and [the pro-immigration] one is led by Macron”.

A title that Macron gladly accepted. While on official visit in Denmark, the French President said that “if they want to see me as their main opponent, they’re right”, pledging not to “cede any ground to nationalists and those who advocate hate speech”.

“Threats” and “blackmail”?

Addressing, the following day, the French ambassadors gathered in Paris for the annual Conférence des Ambassadeurs, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that France was “not willing to pay” for countries that won’t respect the “fundamental values” of the European Union, in a thinly-veiled threat to cut EU funds to Hungary, as well as Poland, if they keep disregarding the founding principles of the bloc.

“Every Member state is free to elect the leaders they wish, but our vision of the EU […] is not compatible with governments that […] don’t feel bound by European solidarity”, France’s top diplomat argued, before lambasting their “utilitarian vision” of the EU in which they would only choose what is of direct interest to them.

But the clash didn’t end there. In an interview published on Saturday in the Austrian daily Die Presse, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó strongly condemned France’s “threats” that the allocation of European funds might be withdrawn from members that fail to demonstrate solidarity, claiming that France is endangering the unity of the EU.

Describing M. Le Drian’s recent remarks as blackmail, M. Szijjártó argued that Hungary has significantly demonstrated solidarity over the past few years, especially through its commitment to the protection of the EU’s external borders.

Tensions are high ahead of the crucial European summit to be held in three weeks in Salzburg, Austria, while the four Visegrad countries – Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary – try to show a united front and strengthen their relations with other European partners, including Austria and Italy.