January 10, 2019 / 10:13 AM / 9 months ago

Hungary's Orban pitches anti-migrant bloc against France and Germany

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday endorsed fellow anti-immigrant European governments and criticised France and Germany in blunt terms, saying he “must fight” French President Emmanuel Macron.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban attends the weekly government news conference in Budapest, Hungary, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo

Speaking at a news conference, he gave full support to an Italian-Polish initiative to form a right-wing alliance for European Parliament elections due in May, in which he wanted anti-immigration parties to gain a majority.

Immigration has been the main political vehicle for Orban since 2015, when he was the first leader on the continent to take an extreme hardline against immigration. He built a razor wire fence along Hungary’s southern border to stop it as tens of thousands of refugees fleeing war and poverty reached Europe’s shores and border.

Orban identified as an adversary French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he called the leader of pro-immigration policies in Europe.

“It is nothing personal, but a matter of our countries’ future,” Orban said of Macron. “If what he wants with regards to migration materialises in Europe, that would be bad for Hungary, therefore I must fight him.”

Orban also said he saw no chance for a compromise with Germany. He said German politicians and media attack him, often brutally, exerting undue pressure on him to admit migrants.

Orban, who won a third consecutive landslide mandate last year, has tightened his grip on power since 2010, defying EU norms and rules and rising to prominence as the continent’s voters increasingly respond to populist agendas.

While Orban made strides in fixing the economy, his critics have said he has done that while eroding democratic checks and balances, turning much of domestic media into mouthpieces, and using EU funds to bolster businessmen friendly to his regime.

Orban’s stance set up the prospect of a southern and eastern European axis against a France-German tandem ahead of the EU elections which could redraw the continent’s political map.

Italian deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini said during a visit to Warsaw on Wednesday that Italy and Poland should join forces in a euro-sceptic alliance.

“The Polish-Italian or Warsaw-Rome alliance is one of the greatest developments that this year could have started with,” Orban said, describing Salvini as a “hero” for stopping migration at the shores of Italy.

“I am pinning great hopes on this.”

Hungary’s goal is to gain an anti-immigrant majority in the European Parliament, then in the executive European Commission, and later, as national elections change the continent’s political landscape, the European Council, where national leaders make the most important EU decisions, Orban said.

Additional reporting by Sandor Peto; editing by Angus MacSwan

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