President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday (13 December) France was willing to “work together for Europe” with Hungary despite the countries’ political differences, striking a conciliatory note as Paris prepares to take over the European Union’s presidency.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also held out an olive branch before talks in Budapest. He said Hungary respected the French leader and backed moves by Macron to make the EU more self-sufficient in defence, nuclear energy and farming.
Paris and Budapest are at odds over issues including LGBT rights, the rule of law and democratic standards. But Macron wants other EU states to support the priorities he has set for France’s six-month presidency of the bloc starting in January, including better protection and control of EU borders.
“We have political disagreements which are well known, but we have the willingness to work together for Europe and to be loyal partners,” Macron said after arriving in Budapest.
Setting aside the sometimes harsh rhetoric he has aimed at the Hungarian government, Macron said last week he regarded Orbán both as a political opponents and as a European partner.
“Hungary’s relation towards President Macron is that of respect,” Orbán said in a statement before talks with the French leader.
“France is the home of encyclopedists, they are the best when it comes to definitions, so we accept their definitions: what we heard lately from Mr President is that we are political opponents and at the same time European partners.”
Despite the conciliatory tone of the leaders’ public statements, Macron also sent Orbán a message by starting his trip to Budapest by laying a wreath at the tomb of Agnes Heller, a Hungarian philosopher who opposed Orbán.
He also met later on Monday leaders of the opposition alliance that is set to challenge Orbán in an election next year, and attended a meeting of the Visegrad group, which includes leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Orbán has in the past two months received far-right leaders Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, who are candidates in France’s presidential election next year in which Macron is expected to seek a second term.
Both praised Orbán’s opposition to immigration, and Zemmour hailed his defence of “his country’s identity, sovereignty and borders.”