With a TV pundit stealing her thunder on France’s far right, Marine Le Pen sought to shore up her support on Wednesday with a visit to Europe’s foremost nationalist leader Viktor Orban.
She used the visit to rage at what she called Europe’s “submersion in migrants” and accuse the EU of “ideological brutality” towards Hungary, which is at loggerheads with Brussels over its compliance with EU values.
Her meeting with Mr Orban came a month after a similar trip by Eric Zemmour, a far-right provocateur and talk show host widely compared to Donald Trump.
Although Mr Zemmour has not yet confirmed whether he will run in the 2022 election, polls suggest he is cutting into Ms Le Pen’s nationalist base with his diatribes on immigration and Islam.
Looking to regain momentum in Budapest, Ms Le Pen sought to get a key right-wing voice behind her by praising Mr Orban for standing up to the EU.
“My message to the Hungarians is hold on and keep up,” she said. “You are projecting bravery to the nations of Europe and to freedom fighters.”
She accused Brussels of wanting to create a “European hegemony” by threatening dissenters such as Hungary and Poland.
If she is elected president next spring, she will support reform of a bloc “whose ideological brutality threatens the very idea of sovereignty,” she said.
She praised Hungary for making the “courageous choice to preserve your beautiful country from a submersion by migrants that the EU wants to organise”.
Mr Orban has taken a hard line on migration by building fences on its border and more recently claiming that millions of Afghans would come to Europe.
The Hungarian leader, who also faces elections next year, said Ms Le Pen would be a partner in renewing the European far right.
“On each and every occasion when Hungary was attacked… Ms Le Pen stood up for Hungary, in person and with her party,” he said.
“On behalf of Hungary, again I would like to extend my gratitude to Ms Le Pen for her support and assistance.”
Polls suggest President Emmanuel Macron is the favourite to win re-election in France. He would be expected to beat either Ms Le Pen or Mr Zemmour in a run-off.
Zemmour, who has previous convictions for hate speech, has caused outrage by downplaying the atrocities committed in France’s name during World War II.
In a case in February, a court said Zemmour had misrepresented France’s role in the Holocaust, but acquitted him because he spoke in the heat of the moment. An appeal will be heard next year.
Ms Le Pen, who previously ran in 2012 and 2017, has tried to broaden the far right’s appeal since succeeding her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as head of the National Rally party.
But critics say her message still vilifies Muslim communities. At her campaign launch, she raged at “parts of France that have been Talibanised”.
The moderate right has yet to choose a candidate. Contenders include regional leader Xavier Bertrand and former EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.