Meloni inches closer to Orbán ahead of Hungarian EU Council presidency

As Hungary is set to take over the EU Council presidency from Belgium next week, Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán and Italy's Giorgia Meloni have bonded over their shared criticism of the distribution of EU top posts and the upcoming presidency programme.

Orbán met Giorgia Meloni in Rome on Monday as part of his Europe tour, which has already taken him to Berlin and will soon take him to Paris. The tour is an opportunity for Orbán to meet leaders of various member states and present Hungary's presidency programme. 

The programme has the support of Meloni. With priorities such as tackling illegal migration, strengthening Europe's competitiveness and tackling falling birth rates across Europe, it addresses issues that are high on the agenda in both countries.

"I am very pleased with the intensification of our political dialogue and the strengthening of our economic relations in recent months"

The two leaders emphasised the importance of experimenting with new approaches to managing migration flows. These can include partnerships similar to the Italy-Albania protocol, a deal that will see migrants rescued by Italian authorities sent to Albania to have their asylum applications processed. 

The countries further highlighted their close relations as well as the need to boost them. “Hungary is an important European partner for us, a valuable ally, even within NATO… I am very pleased with the intensification of our political dialogue and the strengthening of our economic relations in recent months,” Meloni said.

She also praised Hungary's stance on the war in Ukraine, which allowed the other member states and allies to take “very important decisions” even if Hungary “did not fully agree”. The Hungarian government is often on the same page as the Kremlin, while Italy imposes sanctions on Moscow, supplies weapons to Kyiv and supports NATO.

Orbán's tour comes at a time when the EU leaders are scrambling for Europe's top jobs. With Ursula Von der Leyen poised to continue as president of the European Commission, Antonio Costa likely to be the next new president of the European Council and Kaja Kallas tipped as the EU's foreign policy chief, the traditional political families - the Christian semocrats, social democrats and liberals - in the European Parliament seem to be lining up to win the top jobs again.

Change in priorities

This is to the dismay of right-wing populists Orban and Meloni, who want the growth of the far-right in European elections this month to be taken into account.

“We cannot accept the creation of a majority and an opposition in Europe and a coalition dividing the top jobs,” Orbán said at a meeting in Rome. He added that the EU used to be based on the inclusion of everyone, both large and small, not on exclusions by forming coalitions. Last week, Meloni said the names surfacing for top functions are not taking into account “the indications of voters and the change in step on priorities”.

At the meeting, Orbán said his party would not be joining the European Conservatives and Reformists Group (ECR) political group, headed by Meloni. “We made it clear that we follow national policies and cannot be part of a political family that includes a Romanian party that is anti-Hungarian,” Orbán said, referring to AUR, the Romanian nationalist party that joined the ECR last week.


Viktor Orban and Giorgia Meloni after a joint press conference at Palazzo Chigi in Rome, 24 June 2024 © PHOTO TIZIANA FABI / AFP

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