Immigration: Macron happy to be enemy number one for Orban and Salvini

French President Emmanuel Macron upped his war of words with the nationalist leaders of Italy and Hungary on Wednesday, saying they were right to see him as their "main opponent" on migration.

Immigration: Macron happy to be enemy number one for Orban and Salvini
Italy’s far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini speaks on Italian radio with a picture of French President Emmanuel Macron in the background. Photo: AFP

His comment came after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (pictured left) and Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (pictured right) launched an anti-migration manifesto, name-checking Macron as their adversary.

“There are currently two camps in Europe and one is headed by Macron,” Orban told a press conference after talks with Salvini in Milan on Tuesday. 

“He is at the head of the political forces supporting immigration. On the other hand, we want to stop illegal immigration.”

Macron has himself passed tougher legislation on illegal immigration but has blasted Italy and Hungary for maintaining an uncompromising stance on migrants while readily accepting EU development funding.

“I will give no ground to nationalists and those who spread words of hate. If they want to see me as their main opponent, they're right,” he retorted on a trip to Copenhagen.

“In the coming days and months we will have to take far-reaching decisions on migration which will require a serious and responsible attitude, with a 
genuine policy both towards countries of origin and internally,” he added.

“That is not what Mr. Orban and Salvini are proposing.” 


EU leaders are set to meet on September 20 in the Austrian city of Salzburg to discuss migration, an issue that has bitterly divided the bloc.

While the number of people crossing the Mediterranean is far lower than at its peak three years ago, Italy's new populist government is taking a hardline 
stance, turning away ships full of rescued migrants.

Salvini has repeatedly accusing the EU of having abandoned Italy, where more than 700,000 migrants have arrived from Libya since 2013.

In the latest standoff, Rome has threatened to cut its annual contribution to the EU budget, triggering a warning of sanctions from Brussels and threats that it would be in breach of treaties.

Macron is on a trip to Denmark and Finland hoping to rally support for ambitious reforms that would boost EU integration, striking a starkly different tone from Orban and Salvini.

On Monday he made the case for a closer Europe in the face of rising nationalism, charging that Hungary and Italy's anti-EU rhetoric vanished when 
it came to accepting development aid from the bloc.

“There is a clear approach of European opportunism while claiming to be nationalist,” he said, calling out Orban by name.

The heated exchanges come as Europe gears up for EU parliamentary elections next May when migration is likely to be a major campaign issue.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.