Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Britain’s Nigel Farage have both distanced themselves and their parties – Fidesz and the Brexit Party, respectively – from potentially joining the national populist supergroup in the European Parliament led by Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini.
During a press conference earlier this week, Prime Minister Orbán’s chief of staff Gergely Gulyás expressed that – despite having been suspended from the group in March – Fidesz’s party leadership wished to remain a member of the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the European Union’s largest voting block which includes German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU).
“We respect the Italian deputy prime minister and the Italian government and the result, which made the Northern League Italy’s strongest party after the European Parliament election,” Gulyas asserted, but added: “Nonetheless, I see not much chance for a co-operation on a party level or in a joint parliamentary group.”
A day after, in an interview with Hungary’s state-owned Kossuth Radio, Orbán had this to say:
For Fidesz, the starting point “is that we are now [EPP] members, we see what direction the [EPP] takes in the coming time period, can we influence it, does it correspond to Hungary and the Hungarian people’s interest,” “If yes we stay. If not, then we take part in a new formation.”
In the same interview, Orbán referred to the Italian leader as “our friend Salvini”.
The announcements come as somewhat of a shock after months of speculation on a possible alliance between Salvini and Orbán. In the past, the two ardently right-wing leaders have repeatedly praised one another, and have previously signaled that there would be some form of cooperation between them following European elections.
In August of last year, the Hungarian leader deemed Mr. Salvini as his “hero” for virtually stopping illegal immigration into Italy via the Mediterranean Sea.
In May of this year, the two leaders met in Budapest, with Orbán once again lauding Salvini in an interview with Italian media – this time deeming him as “the most important person in Europe today”.
After Fidesz was suspended from the EPP in March over a poster campaign which negatively portrayed George Soros and the President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Orbán had expressed that his party would be looking for other parties in Europe to form new alliances with.
“Hungary is too small to enforce its opinion in Europe. Media, NGOs, universities in Europe are all against us and can destroy us. That’s why we need strong allies,” Orbán explained.
Unfortunately, Orbán’s signaling against an official alliance with Salvini isn’t the only setback for Salvini’s proposed nationalist-populist supergroup. Last week, a source told The Sun newspaper that talks on signing up Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party – set to be the largest national party in the European Parliament with 29 MEPs – fell apart after Farage supposedly said he would only join the group if he were to become the leader.