In this handout photo provided by the Hungarian Prime Minister's Press Office shows Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, right, and Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini observe the border from a watchtower during their visit at the Hungarian-Serbian border near Roszke, 180 kms southeast of Budapest, Hungary, Thursday, May 2, 2019. (Balazs Szecsodi/Hungarian Prime Minister's Press Office/MTI via AP)
Matteo Salvini and Viktor Orban view the Hungary-Serbia border from a watchtower near Roszke © AP

Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, has held talks with Hungarian premier Viktor Orban to seek support for the alliance of far-right parties which he leads, ahead of the European Parliament elections later this month.

During a trip to Hungary on Thursday, Mr Salvini joined Mr Orban in viewing a 500-kilometre fence that was built on the country’s southern border in 2015, when 1m asylum seekers passed through Hungary on their way from the Middle East to western Europe.

The visit was an opportunity for Mr Salvini to woo Mr Orban, whose Fidesz party was suspended from the centre-right European People’s Party grouping in the European Parliament in March. Mr Salvini would like Fidesz to join his political alliance.

Fidesz is set to win 67 per cent of Hungary’s European Parliament seats. Mr Salvini, whose nationalist League party is polling at more than than 30 per cent, expressed optimism that his nationalist bloc would forge “a new history for Europe and the peoples of Europe” after the vote. 

“If the left continues governing Europe soon we are going to have an Islamic caliphate here,” Mr Salvini said at a news conference. “For our children, to leave behind an Islamic caliphate where cities are governed by sharia law is not something I would like to do, and I am going to do everything in my power to prevent that.”

In remarks that signalled a softening of his previous position, Mr Salvini edged away from his previously-stated view that the EU should redistribute the migrants already in Europe — a measure that Mr Orban staunchly opposes.

“My role is not to send 20 to Budapest, 40 to Lisbon and 30 to Helsinki,” said Mr Salvini. “I want someone to wake up in Brussels and deal with immigration efficiently.”

The Italian deputy premier said he and Mr Orban pledged “to support one another if there are any legal disputes in Brussels”, alluding to the potential launch of proceedings against Hungary which could see Budapest lose its voting rights in the EU.

Although Mr Orban avoided making a firm commitment to support Mr Salvini’s parliamentary grouping, he said that “if the EPP will bind themselves to the European left which is continuously losing the support of the people, whose vision, in our view, is not good for Europe . . . then it will be difficult to find our place in that co-operation”.

Mr Orban repeated his call for the EPP to forge ties with anti-migration parties rather than with “leftist forces”. Referring to his discussions with Mr Salvini, he added that “we agreed that the borders of Europe need to be protected against migrant invasion”.

Mr Salvini’s visit to Budapest was the latest in a series of moves that Mr Orban has made in recent months to build relationships with right-wing allies.

On Monday, he will play host to Austrian vice-chancellor Heinz Christian Strache in Budapest. Mr Strache, who leads the Austrian Freedom party, campaigned on an anti-migrant platform and his government has overseen cuts to benefits for immigrants and asylum seekers.

Markus Söder, leader of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, which is part of the EPP, said the meeting between Mr Salvini and Mr Orban was a “bad sign”. “It is clear to us that there is no European co-operation with rightwing populists,” said Mr Söder.

Mr Söder said it would be “unacceptable” for the EPP party grouping to co-operate with Marine Le Pen's French National Compact, Mr Salvini’s League or Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD).

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