An unlikely alliance is forming between Paris and the central European state
Emmanuel Macron’s presence in Budapest today — attending the Visegrad Council as Viktor Orbán’s guest — may come as a surprise to many. Indeed, a more circumspect leader might have refused the invitation so soon after Orbán caused Brussels foreign policy embarrassment by vetoing official EU representation at US President Joe Biden’s online ‘Summit of Democracies’ last week.
Macron’s presence, however, comes on the eve of France taking over the rotating presidency of the EU. The French president will be needing Hungarian support on issues ranging from nuclear power to European defence. But Macron’s visit also signals something important about the bloc’s shifting internal dynamics: an increasing alignment of France with Poland and Hungary on questions of migration and rule of law.
Charged debate over immigration in the run-up to the country’s presidential election makes it likely that Macron will use today’s meeting to express solidarity with Warsaw over the Belarus border crisis.
The French president is clearly wary of being outflanked on this issue especially given Marine Le Pen’s appearance in Warsaw as guest of Poland’s governing party (PiS) earlier this month. (Her participation was particularly noteworthy given PiS’s traditional suspicion of Resemblant National as an ally of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia).
The issue of rule of law may seem like an unlikely point of convergence between the Élysée and central Europe — especially over the contested issue of the primacy of EU Law relative to national constitutions.
Some have argued that this volte face in Macron’s position is down to deepening Franco-Polish nuclear energy co-operation. While this may be true, there is perhaps a more proximate consideration; namely, that the French president is facing pressure from both Left and Right to defend the sovereignty of France’s legal order against the EU.
That pressure was already evident earlier this year after his government’s successful application to the Consil d’etat (France’s supreme administrative tribunal) on protecting security issues from Brussels’ ‘competence creep’, which allowed the Élysée to circumvent a binding CJEU ruling on Data Privacy.
Then came the French political reaction to the October 7th Polish Constitutional Court. Not only was the Polish court’s decision warmly welcomed by Marine Le Pen, but also by leading socialist and mainstream conservative politicians. Xavier Bertrand, a presidential hopeful from Les Républicains, even proposed amending the French constitution to provide “a mechanism to safeguard the superior interests of France.”
So Macron’s visit to Budapest today may give him an opportunity to recover ground by expressing support for a conveniently timed Hungarian Constitutional Court ruling last Friday on aspects of EU legal primacy. As France’s voters drift further Right, it is interesting to see how pushback against the EU is drawing bloc members into an ‘ever closer union’.