Viktor Orbán rolls out the red carpet for Marine Le Pen’s firebrand rival

PARIS — Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is rolling out the red carpet for a French populist who hopes to be the next president of France. Except it’s not Marine Le Pen.

The Hungarian prime minister will on Friday meet a TV pundit called Eric Zemmour, whose presidential ambitions are already upsetting next year’s race.

Orbáns government is hosting a two-day summit in Budapest with a pro-family, anti-immigration agenda. A host of conservative figures — ranging from former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence to Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša — have been in Hungary for the fourth edition of the event, and Orbán is also hosting Zemmour at the prime minister’s office on Friday morning.

The meeting is bad news for Le Pen who is struggling to kickstart a stuttering bid for the Elysée.

“It’s really worrying,” said an insider from Le Pen’s National Rally party. “It’s a sign that he [Orbán] endorses Zemmour and it’s bad news for her.”

Le Pen “had tried to create a right-wing confederation in Europe, but it has never materialized,” said the insider, who did not want to be named for fear of reprisals from within the party. Le Pen has repeatedly tried to meet Orbán, and her attempts at creating a fully-fledged EU parliamentary group including Orbán’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice party have so far failed.

Zemmour is not yet officially a candidate for the presidency but his bold anti-immigration, pro-French identity stance is attracting the support of many who believe Le Pen’s National Rally has become too mainstream.

Challenging Le Pen

Rumors about Zemmour’s bid have grown this week as polls show him rising just as Le Pen is taking a hit. Photos in Paris Match news magazine showing the veteran — and married — TV star in the arms of his 26-year-old political adviser have only added to the speculation.

A poll published by Harris on Monday suggested Zemmour would get 11 percent of the vote in a presidential election, against 18 percent for Le Pen. The National Rally leader and Macron are still predicted to face off in the second round of the election next April, with polls currently suggesting she would lose to Macron in a run-off vote.

For Zemmour’s supporters, the red carpet welcome given to the TV pundit is proof that he would be a more capable candidate for the populist, nationalist right in France.

“Marine Le Pen says she doesn’t fear Zemmour, but the reality is that she is more and more worried,” said a member of Zemmour’s team.

“The truth is that Marine Le Pen hasn’t worked at all for the past five years — apart from getting a cat breeder diploma — and it is starting to show,” he said. Last year, revelations that Le Pen had obtained a diploma in cat breeding had raised speculation she planned to quit politics.

Le Pen is currently touring France and running a relatively grassroots campaign, meeting locals away from the cameras in a move she hopes will reconnect with her voters.

Speaking in Budapest on Thursday, Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal, who is ideologically close to Zemmour, stopped short of expressing support for her aunt. “Eric Zemmour is upsetting everything,” she told French TV channel LCI. “I would not risk saying the lineup for the second round [of the presidential election] is set in stone.”

However, insiders say Zemmour might yet be prevented from running due to campaign funding and organizational issues.

European ambitions

The Demographic Summit in Budapest is also an opportunity for Orbán — who is facing a tough election next year — to project an image of himself as the leader of the anti-immigration nationalist right in Europe.  

We are vaccinated against the woke virus,” Orbán joked Thursday.

Addressing the audience, Orbán boasted about his government’s efforts to encourage women to have more children. 

“For us, migration is an identity question,” Orbán said. “It is my conviction that there is only one correct and viable solution to the depopulation equation: the state must help family creation and the prosperity of families.” 

The longtime prime minister — who has faced significant criticism at home and abroad over the past months over anti-LGBTQ measures — also blasted the EU. 

“In Western Europe and Brussels, no one ever asked the people neither about LGBTQ propaganda, nor about migration,” he said. 



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