Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini visited Hungary for talks with Prime Minister Viktor Orban focused mainly on immigration. Orban met Salvini at the border with Serbia where he had the fences built in 2015 to keep out asylum-seekers hoping to reach Europe.
The Hungarian leader reiterated his grievance that Hungary spent over 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) on the fence without receiving money from the EU in return. He called for migration issues to be taken away from the EU's executive branch and given to a council of interior ministers from the 26 countries in Europe's visa-free Schengen travel zone.
"Europe's citizens will do well if they listen not to President Macron, but to Hungary and Italy on the issue of border defense," Orban said, referring to the staunchly pro-EU leader of France. Orban, who leads the right-wing Fidesz party, and Salvini, the head of Italy's League, also met at the prime minister's offices in Budapest, the Hungarian capital. Their agenda included the May 23-26 European Parliament elections.
In the EU legislature, the League is part of the right-wing Europe of Nations and Freedom group. But Salvini has been working to form a new alliance of euroskeptic parties from throughout Europe to influence policies.
The goal is "to govern Europe in a different way from the past," Salvini said, citing economic issues and migration as needing new approaches. "I am part of a strong alliance that has never existed before. I wouldn't define it as the right, but as an alternative to bureaucrats."
If the League and likeminded parties do well in this month's elections, Salvini's proposed alliance could be attractive to Orban. His party was suspended in March from the European People's Party, the biggest group in the European Parliament, over concerns that Hungary has become less democratic under Orban.
Orban said he thinks Europe will be led either by pro- or anti-immigration parties after the elections. "We would like the People's Party, which is split (on migration), to cooperate with the anti-immigration forces," he said.
Orban's praise and encounter with Salvini did not go unnoticed by the leader of Germany's Christian Social Union, one of the main members of the European People's Party. German news agency dpa quoted Markus Soeder, the governor of the southern state of Bavaria, saying Orban's meeting with Salvini was "the wrong signal" to send following Fidesz's suspension.
Salvini said he thinks the EU parliament should assume more decision-making authority from technicians and bureaucrats in Brussels who control policies on everything from environment to fisheries to agriculture.
Earlier, Salvini met with his Hungarian counterpart, Sandor Pinter, and discussed migration to Europe. "The positions of the Italian and Hungarian governments are identical on this issue," Salvini said. "We expect the new Europe to protect its external borders" from the day after the European parliamentary elections end.
Salvini also said Italy agreed with Hungary on the need for a reassessment of all trade and financial agreements with non-EU countries that don't cooperate in the repatriation of citizens denied asylum in Europe.
Colleen Barry in Milan and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.