At the first sight, it would seem that Hungary does not necessarily play a very important role in the French presidential campaign, however, this perception might change in the light of two recent visits to Hungary made by candidate of the French National Rally (NR) Marine Le Pen at the end of October 2021, and almost candidate Eric Zemmour a few weeks earlier. What are the benefits that right-wing French politicians seek from building a stronger relationship with Hungary, and—in particular—with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán? An what are Hungary’s opportunities for increasing the significance of the country and the Central European region in general, with regards to the changing French political landscape.
Looking from the French perspective, it is apparent that Ms Le Pen—in addition to trying to consolidate her domestic political position—is also trying to boost an international strategy by creating new foreign alliances, convincing voters of her increasing international acceptance. It is important to mention, however, that the French right-wing is becoming very fragmented in itself, and it is more and more apparent that we can expect the unveiling of a real competition on this side of the French political spectrum. The person responsible for the upheaval of the French right is the publicist and media personality Eric Zemmour, who has not even announced his candidature yet, but his influence on the political scene cannot be overlooked. As a result, in public speech and also in the polls, his name appears ever more frequently among the runners for the Élysée. It does not, therefore, come as a surprise that after his visit to Budapest, Ms Le Pen realised the need for her to resume her de facto leading role of the French far-right and meet the Hungarian Prime Minister.
A meeting between the Hungarian head of government and the French far-right party leader would have seemed impossible a few years ago, however it became a reality due to the fact that the latter has significantly consolidated her political position. In the bid to win over the majority of the French electorate in the presidential elections of 2022 she has been in the process of orientating towards the centre of the political scale. Nothing proves more her change of approach than the renaming of the party from National Front to Rally. To illustrate this, Marine Le Pen and the National Rally gave up the idea of the Frexit, the French exit from the European Union—or at least from the Eurozone—and set out the objective of reforming the European Union from the inside instead. Now, this approach resembles that of Prime Minister Orbán’s. In parallel, the Hungarian governing party Fidesz’s position has also changed significantly after leaving the European People’s Party (EPP) earlier this year. Open cooperation with the National Rally before that would have been advised against by the French conservative party, the Republicans, and fellow members of the EPP.
During their meeting in Budapest, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Party Leader Marine Le Pen both agreed that there is a pressing need to renew the European right wing
During their meeting in Budapest, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Party Leader Marine Le Pen both agreed that there is a pressing need to renew the European right wing, especially considering that both in France and in most Central European societies there is a trend that the electorate tends to lean more towards right-wing parties and their candidates. The relationship building between Hungarian and French political forces is particularly interesting nowadays, as French presidential elections will take place on 10th and 24th April 2022, while Hungarian parliamentary elections will also be held in spring 2022. On the other hand, in addition to the objective to win the upcoming elections in their respective countries, there is a lot in common between the two leaders. Fidesz and the National Rally both take a similar stance on migration, advocating for the implementation of a more restrictive immigration policy, combined with a higher level of assimilation requirement. In addition to the issue of migration, both parties oppose the possible emergence of any European superstate. In the rhetoric of both politicians, we can find emphasis on sovereignty and freedom. Marine Le Pen said at a press conference after the meeting that Hungary had managed to protect its culture in the midst of the migration crisis, which will most certainly resonate with a great part of the French electorate, as most of them are worried about France losing its identity due to the many fractures brought to the surface by extreme societal changes.
After the rupture between Fidesz and the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, a new framework for cooperation involving like-minded European parties could benefit Orbán’s party in order not to be left without partners in their endeavours to reform the EU. Last summer, sixteen European right-wing populist parties, including the Hungarian Fidesz, the French National Rally, the Polish Law and Justice and the Italian Lega, signed a declaration of mutual support in upcoming debates with the mainstream about the future of the European Union. These parties believe in a Europe of nations and mean to cooperate regarding the issue of migration, sovereignty and culture. Although the National Rally and Fidesz have a lot in common, it is important to say that Prime Minister Orbán is more liberal on the economic front, just like Eric Zemmour claims he would be in case he was in a deciding role. On the other hand, the Hungarian partner is more conservative on societal issues, such as family policy and the rights of LMBT+ community then the NR. Despite the ideological differences and similarities Marine Le Pen clearly wanted to use this visit for reflating her image at home. Moreover, on the European level, the National Rally is hoping to strengthen the European Parliament’s political group Identity and Democracy by trying to convince new partners to join it.
Whatever the results of the upcoming French presidential elections may be, it is certainly beneficial for Hungary that candidates and possible candidates are trying to increase their popularity and convince the electorate of their ability to govern by involving the French-Hungarian relations in their presidential portfolio. Moreover, the Hungarian prime minister can use this new leverage too in order to create new alliances in Europe. On the other hand, current French President Emmanuel Macron has also approached his position to that of Prime Minister Orbán, be it in regards to taking a stance against mass, unregulated migration flows or the integration and assimilation of immigrant communities. As a result, the victory of either candidate from the centre or the right, except for the Republicans of course, would bring several opportunities for future cooperation with Fidesz, not only on the European, but also on a global level.