Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and French far-right leader Marine Le Pen took aim at the European Union's so-called "imperialism" and "migratory flood" at a joint press conference in Budapest on Tuesday.
The sharp criticism comes amid heightened tensions between Brussels and several eastern European countries — notably Poland and Hungary — over the rule of law.
Both leaders have voiced their support for the Polish Constitutional Court's ruling that parts of EU law were not compatible with Poland's constitution and that called on Brussels to respect member states' sovereignty.
For Le Pen, this was a highly anticipated meeting, just a month after Eric Zemmour, a controversial French TV pundit widely expected to run for the April 2022 presidential election, made the same trip. He was accompanied by Marion Maréchal — Le Pen's niece.
"It's all about the symbol," said Jean-Yves Camus, Director of the Observatory of Radical Politics at the Jean Jaures Foundation. The political expert noted it was the second time this month the French far-right leader held talks with a European head of government, after meeting Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki last week.
Orban had thus far avoided meeting Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Rassemblement National (RN). But he seemingly changed his mind following his party's departure from the right-wing European People's Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament in March, following years of criticism over rule of law in his country.
Here are five key takeaways from the meeting of two politicians.
1. EU implementing new 'Brezhnev doctrine,' says Orban
Both Le Pen and Orban attacked the European Union in unusually strong terms at the press conference.
The Hungarian leader even compared the EU's "ideological pressure" on migration and open societies to a new "Brezhnev doctrine," a reference to the Soviet foreign policy calling on Moscow to intervene—including militarily—in countries where Socialist rule was under threat.
While he acknowledged that interventions with Soviet tanks were "much more brutal than Brussels' infringement procedures," he slammed a "modernised form" of the Soviet doctrine aiming to put all EU countries "in a single ideological framework."
Le Pen used similar rhetoric, denouncing Brussels' "centralised" and "authoritarian" rule while championing "the diversity of the people" within a European Union based on sovereignty.
"With the European Union, we are no longer dealing with a desire for cooperation, but with a desire for subjugation, no longer with an intergovernmental organisation, but with a real empire. We believe in the creative force and the diversity of peoples," she said.
2. Building a new right-wing movement on European level
Orban said that he had to leave the centre-right EPP due to the "mainstream leftwing ideology" gaining ground there and referred to the joint declaration published in July for a new political grouping on the right of the right.
He pledged to "speed up the process in the coming months."
Camus said that basically meant "starting from scratch" since "nothing had moved" since the July declaration.
The expert noted that with both leaders busy with their own national electoral agendas, the new political alliance was doomed to make "slow progress."
Orban especially is facing for the first time a "united opposition" in the spring 2022 parliamentary elections, Camus noted, so building a new group at the European Parliament may not be his first priority.
3. Denouncing EU's powerlessness in the face of rising energy prices, migration crisis
Unsurprisingly, both leaders criticised the European Union's powerlessness in the face of migration.
Le Pen said migration was a "scourge from which our nations must imperatively protect themselves" and slammed the "migratory flood that the EU wants to organise."
Orban said that as energy prices were skyrocketing at EU level, the EU was "unable to curb them."
He added that new proposed climate legislation known as "Fit for 55" was "not going to remedy the situation but only make matters worse," allegedly "ruining the European middle class including that of France" through "tax increases."
4. Orban not taking sides in French presidential election
Orban was very careful not to take sides between Zemmour and Le Pen in the upcoming French presidential election.
When a journalist asked which of the two he supported after hosting both of them within a month, the Hungarian leader said: "We shouldn't take a position instead of the French people."
"If guests come from France we always receive them with honour."
5. Playing down disagreements
But according to Camus, even if Orban is right to "hold all the cards," he might ultimately be ideologically closer to Le Pen's rival Zemmour.
"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 and its member countries," Camus said.
On societal issues, such as abortion or LGBTQ rights, Le Pen's positions are also more liberal than those of her Hungarian host.
Despite their disagreements on a range of issues, Orban and Le Pen played down their differences.
Asked if she agreed with Hungary's controversial anti-LGBTQ legislation, Le Pen said it would not come to her mind to "lecture other countries and tell them what to do."