by Alexander Faludy
Monday, 13
December 2021
Analysis
10:30

Emmanuel Macron pays Viktor Orbán a visit

An unlikely alliance is forming between Paris and the central European state
by Alexander Faludy
Emmanuel Macron welcomes Prime Minister of Hungary Viktor Orban in 2019.

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. 

In late October, it was Macron who urged restraint from the EU on action against Warsaw over the country’s rule of law dispute.

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’.

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Simon Denis
Simon Denis
5 months ago

Like many politicians of the mainstream, Macron is hoping to deceive concerned voters that he shares their anxieties over issues of culture and migration. What is easier, in that case, than poddling over to Budapest and taking photo ops with Orban? Orban gains a bit of relief from the endless vilification and Macron can pose for a split second as conservative. Let’s hope the electorate is wise to this silly game.

Last edited 5 months ago by Simon Denis
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Glad I’m not the only one who says “poddling”. I hear it so rarely I began to think I’d made it up myself by conflating “popping” and “toddling”.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
5 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

Yes, it’s a splendid word – rather too pleasant for a snotty, sharp suited popinjay like Macron, for whom verbs such as “mince”, “prance”, “teeter” and “strut” might well be more apposite.

Will R
Will R
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Genuinely made me laugh out loud!

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
5 months ago
Reply to  Will R

and me

Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

Yes – far too harmless-sounding for Macron. You were being too kind!

Ray Zacek
Ray Zacek
5 months ago
Reply to  Katharine Eyre

I follow Unherd, in part, to augment my vocabulary.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Denis

It may be, but then again, has Boris Johnson changed his political outlook? Emphatically, yes. To describe this process as (only) a kind of deceit is missing something about how social and political mores evolve. Which in my view is at least interesting, if we are actually interested in politics.

Many people on here seem to have a rather kindergarten ‘goodies and baddies’ view of life, in which of course many former ‘goodies’ become ‘baddies’ and are then anathematised in turn (such as Johnson).

As far as I know, Macron has never claimed to be a conservative anyway. And ‘conservative’ does not imply having one fixed unchanging position. If it did they would still be opposing one person one vote, as they did in the 19th century.

No ‘conservative’ candidate including Zemmour is going to withdraw France from the EU, so if that is the criterion, there are no conservatives in France.

Simon Denis
Simon Denis
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Johnson has certainly changed and yes, it is primarily a form of deceit. If you vote for a conservative and get an evergreen social democrat you live in a compromised democracy. Indeed, the verb to describe Johnson’s transmogrification has yet to be coined – something beyond the borders of “morphed”, perhaps.
Your use of the word “evolve” in relation to political mores is interesting, too – for again it departs from the ethical interpretation in favour of a more neutral stance. You will not be surprised to learn that I reject this manoeuvre, too. The word you refuse and which I embrace is “decline”. We have moved from a world in which politicians stated their aims and urged their opinions to a lesser condition – a “lower empire” – in which they say one thing and do another.
On Macron, I have never claimed that he held himself up as conservative; I have instead suggested that his approach – like that of Johnson – has been to allow some foolish-hopeful souls to think that perhaps he might be a conservative. This technique was pioneered by Blair.
Your attempt to excuse all this by saying that of course conservatism changes, relies on eliding the progress of a philosophy across decades with the career of a single politician within a parliament; the first we may certainly call adaptation; the latter is clearly no more than spineless opportunism.
As for your remark concerning “other people on these threads”, it is beneath you.

Last edited 5 months ago by Simon Denis
Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

No candidate of any flavour will withdraw France from the EU so long as advantage is gained from membership, and that goes for every member.

Last edited 5 months ago by Colin Elliott
Katharine Eyre
Katharine Eyre
5 months ago

“…it is interesting to see how pushback against the EU is drawing bloc members into an ‘ever closer union’.
No I don’t think that’s it. I’d say: “…it is interesting to see how pushbacks against the EU are drawing bloc members towards a consensus on just how far the union should go [at this point]”.

Last edited 5 months ago by Katharine Eyre
Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
5 months ago

Maybe the politicians are finally cottoning on to the realities of mass immigration, EU dictatorship and its effects on voters?

Emre Emre
Emre Emre
5 months ago

Ironically, Brexit delayed by a few years may have found an EU sharing the same concerns about immigration and borders therefore making it impossible to justify Brexit in the first place.
A further irony there is, at the going rate of change in EU perhaps within a few years, the Remainers may be facing an EU which will be too uncomfortable to remain in.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
5 months ago
Reply to  Emre Emre

Good point, except that immigration and borders weren’t the only or main reasons many voted for Brexit.

JP Martin
JP Martin
5 months ago

“to the Consil d’etat (France’s Constitutional Court) on protecting security issues from Brussels’ ‘competence creep’”

Uh oh….This piece was good but this seems like a misunderstanding of the mission of the Conseil d’État (highest administrative authority and advises the government on proposed legislation). The apex constitutional body is the Conseil constitutionnel. By ‘competence creep’, I wonder if he means ‘jurisdiction’ (‘compétence’ in French).

Ian McKinney
Ian McKinney
5 months ago

At least the UK bravely and honestly left the failing EU by the front door. The French and others seem to be trying to creep out through the back windows.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
5 months ago

It’s curious how often pots call kettles black. Boris is often accused of bending to the prevailing wind (forgive me for mixing metaphors), yet Macron is entirely practical when forming policies.