Budapest, Hungary – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban hosted France’s far-right leader Marine Le Pen yesterday in Budapest.
While Le Pen has long sought a meeting with Orban to bolster her international and presidential stature and strengthen alliances with other sovereignists across Europe, the Hungarian PM had until now refused to appear side by side with the leader of the National Rally (RN).
France’s Le Pen praises Orban during Budapest talks
Asked in 2019 about a possible alliance with Le Pen, Orban appeared categorically against. “Absolutely not! I have nothing at all to do with Madame Le Pen”.
“When political leaders are out of power, they can slip out of control. I don’t want to get mixed up with any of that,” he added, referring to Le Pen’s lack of governing experience.
Pundits are quick to point that Orban’s sudden change of heart is likely linked to Fidesz’s exclusion, last March, of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), which led to a more acute isolation on the European stage and the need to find new like-minded friends.
“Given Orban’s failure, to date, to forge a new pan-European alliance of Eurosceptics, Le Pen – a leading light in the identity and Democracy Euro-Party – may hold the key to overcoming Fidesz’s parliamentary isolation,” British-Hungarian journalist Alexander Faludy wrote right before their meeting.
“This, combined with the new threat posed by Hungary’s ‘United Opposition’, has clearly caused Viktor Orban to rethink his position: politicians ‘out of power’ may no longer be a red line.”
During a joint press conference after their meeting on Tuesday, Ms. Le Pen lambasted the “ideological brutality” of the EU and praised Viktor Orban’s leadership.
“Hungary in 2021, under your leadership, is once again at the forefront of the fight for the freedom of peoples,” the French presidential candidate said, also refusing to criticize a Hungarian “anti-LGBT law” that saw Orban clash with Brussels in recent months.
Orban, for his part, accused the EU of implementing a new and modernized form of the “Brezhnev doctrine”, a reference to the Soviet foreign policy strategy calling for direct military intervention where communist rule was under threat.
According to several statements made by the French and Hungarian sides, both agreed to strengthen their cooperation in the future, although the meeting appears to have been largely symbolic and didn’t lead to anything concrete.
A self-interested visit?
Despite similar rhetoric on topics like migration and EU sovereignty, Orban and Le Pen do not see eye-to-eye in a number of areas on the economic and social front – differences that were expectedly played down during yesterday’s meeting.
Tuesday’s meeting comes a month after Orban met with Eric Zemmour, a controversial French polemicist expected to run for President next year, and Marion Marechal, Le Pen’s niece and another key figure of France’s far-right movement.
According to sources quoted by French daily Le Monde, Le Pen, now forced to play catch-up after experiencing a drop in domestic polls, tried in vain to arrange for the September meeting between Orban and Zemmour to be scrapped.
The talks come around six months before Orban faces a tough re-election bid at home and Le Pen will once more make a run for the French presidency to try to defeat incumbent Emmanuel Macron.
The Hungarian PM, who launched his campaign last week on the anniversary of the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising, is trying to build an alliance “to the right of the right”, political scientist Eszter Petronella Soos told Euronews.
But despite the publication in July of a “joint declaration” – involving among others Le Pen and Orban, as well as Poland’s Law and Justice and Italy’s League – the long sought-after dream of the Hungarian Premier of building a European alliance of conservative and illiberal forces across Europe has failed to materialize to date.
The talks between France’s Le Pen and Orban expectedly revolved around migration, sovereignty and anti-EU messaging, days after both of them expressed their support to Poland in the ongoing rule of law dispute between Warsaw and Brussels.
But with Orban refusing to take sides between Le Pen and Zemmour in response to a reporter’s question, the Hungarian Prime Minister merely appears keen to keep his options open to see who emerges as the leader of France’s far-right movement.
“Zemmour is a lot more compatible because he is more radical, more radical in his rejection of immigration, more radical in his refusal of Islam and his backwards-looking vision of the EU”, French political scientist Jean-Yves Camus explained.