French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday billed himself as the main opponent to hard-right, anti-immigration parties in Europe, seemingly relishing a challenge from Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.
Two of Europe’s most vocal anti-migrant politicians, the Hungarian prime minister and Italian interior minister on Tuesday criticised Macron as they vowed to work together to pursue a new hardline approach to migrants seeking to settle in the EU.
“There are currently two camps in Europe and one is headed by Macron,” Orban said at a press conference after holding talks with Salvini in Milan.
“He is at the head of the political forces supporting immigration. On the other hand, we want to stop illegal immigration,” the Hungarian leader added.
When asked about the comments during a visit to Denmark on Wednesday, Macron told reporters: “If they wanted to see me as their main opponent, they were right to do so.”
France’s pro-European president added: “It is clear that today a strong opposition is building up between nationalists and progressives and I will yield nothing to nationalists and those who advocate hate speech.”
Macron has sharply criticised countries who refuse to cooperate on migration, saying those who benefit from the EU but “claim national self-interest when it comes to the issue of migrants” should have sanctions imposed on them.
The French leader has been especially critical of Orban’s Hungary, which has refused to take part in a European Union scheme designed to ease the pressure on countries like Italy by reallocating migrants across the bloc.
At the Milan talks on Tuesday, Salvini noticeably refrained from criticising Orban for his refusal to take in asylum seekers, instead urging Macron to stop turning back migrants at France’s border with Italy.