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Orban vs Le Pen: Why is Hungary's PM meeting the French far-right leader in Budapest?

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By AFP, Euronews
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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L), and Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right Rassemblement National.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (L), and Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right Rassemblement National.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban will on Tuesday meet French far-right leader Marine Le Pen as the two try to hammer home their sovereignist message.

Orban and Le Pen will hold a joint press conference from Budapest at 15:00 CEST.

For Le Pen, this is a highly anticipated meeting, which comes 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.

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.

For Eszter Petronella Soos, a Hungarian political scientist specialising in France, the priority for Orban is now to build an alliance "to the right of the right".

But "negotiations with the Italians and Poles are complicated" and little progress has been made since the July publication of a "joint declaration" between the RN leader and some fifteen allies in Europe, including the Hungarian leader.

'Unacceptable blackmail of the EU'

Unsurprisingly, immigration and sovereignty are expected to be their main talking points on Tuesday.

"For Viktor Orban, this is a winning issue," Soos said. "While he has lost control of the (domestic) political agenda because of the recent opposition primaries", united for the first time to defeat him in the spring 2022 parliamentary elections, "he can reactivate this message which is very useful for him".

Hungary's opposition has united and chosen one candidate, Péter Márki-Zay, to challenge Viktor Orban in next year's election

Already on Saturday, during a demonstration bringing together tens of thousands of people in Budapest, he castigated "the European luminaries".

"Brussels is talking and behaving today with us and with the Poles as it is customary to do with enemies," Orban said. The Hungarian leader issued a government resolution earlier this month in support of 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.

Marine Le Pen also backed Warsaw against "the unacceptable blackmail of the EU", after meeting the Polish Prime Minister last week.

She also spoke of "a whole series of political forces" willing to "push for the end of a European Union that has become a succession of threats, blackmail, and the ruin of national sovereignties" during a television appearance on Sunday. "I am working on it, this gathering is fundamental," she added.

'Resisting the European Union'

However, while there are convergences, ironing out differences will be tricky, analysts say.

Orban, like Le Pen's potential rival, Zemmour, is more liberal on the economic front, and more conservative on societal values than Le Pen.

Zemmour, Maréchal and Orban appeared to be closer ideologically during their September meeting, speaking of the "theory of the great replacement" (conspiracy theory of a replacement of the European population by an immigrant population) and railing against an "LGBT+ lobby". Le Pen, meanwhile, did not take part in France's "Manif pour Tous" protests against same-sex marriage in 2013.

RN spokesman Sébastien Chenu said Monday "We are not here to give good or bad points to Viktor Orban."

"What interests us is the way Hungary is resisting the European Union, the way it is saying: 'We must resist this migratory submersion'," he added.

Historian Nicolas Lebourg, meanwhile, stressed, that Zemmour's current poll standing — he is quickly catching up on Le Pen — shows that she "needs to reinflate her image."

And she needs "to tell the electorate tempted by Eric Zemmour that in terms of authoritarianism, she also has a few stripes," the author of an essay titled "The extreme right in Europe" added.