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Macron focuses on common ground with Orban on Budapest visit

December 13, 2021

The French president has said there is a "will to work together" with Hungary despite political rifts between the EU and Budapest over rights violations and rule of law.

Emmanuel Macron and Viktor Orban
Macron is the first French head of state to visit Budapest in 14 yearsImage: Stephane Lemouton/Pool/abaca/picture alliance

During his visit to Budapest on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that he and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban acknowledged their "political disagreements", but found "the will to work together for Europe."

Macron's visit to Hungary was the first by a French leader since 2007 and took place during a summit of the Visegrad group (V4) of central European countries comprising Hungary, Czechia, Poland, and Slovakia.

The French president has been outspoken in his criticism of Orban, at times calling him "illiberal" the symbolic leader of Europe's anti-immigrant nationalists.

Looking for common ground with Hungary

However, the two leaders struck a conciliatory tone, and both highlighted what they had in common, such as a wish for a common European defense policy and their stances on nuclear power and agriculture.

The French president affirmed his commitment to reinforcing the EU's external borders, a point of agreement with Hungary's right-wing prime minister.

"We have political disagreements that are known, but we have the will to work together for Europe and to be loyal partners," Macron told reporters.

He said that "there is a clear convergence of views" with V4 leaders to limit the flow of migrants from one EU country to another and speeding up the process of sending failed asylum seekers back to their home countries.

The French president called them "people who have no right to stay in the EU."

Orban said that "we will agree for sure on three things, first that we both love our countries, second that we are both working to make Europe stronger, and we also agree that Europe needs strategic autonomy."

Macron visits grave of 'Orban opponent'

Before meeting with Orban, however, Macron made what was seen as a highly symbolic gesture when he visited the grave of Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller and laid flowers. 

Macron described Heller as "a committed woman, a role-model, and an opponent of Orban's."

The Hungarian prime minister has often been at loggerheads with EU leaders in Brussels over rights violations and the rule of law.

Macron said that "respect for the rule of law, media pluralism, and the fight against discrimination are at the heart of the European project."

Recently, Orban has been fervent in his support for neighboring Poland as it fights Brussels in court over a number of controversial laws that critics say hamper the independence of the judiciary.

Hungary: Opposition unites to oust PM Orban

jc, es/jsi, wmr (AFP, Reuters)