Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban has said migration will be the main issue in European parliamentary elections in May, which he hopes anti-immigration parties will win as part of a right-wing takeover of EU institutions.
Mr Orban praised a nascent alliance between nationalist officials in Poland and Italy on Thursday and identified liberal French president Emmanuel Macron as his main enemy in the battle over the future of the EU's migration policy.
"There will be two civilisations in the EU. A mixed Muslim-Christian one in the west and a traditional European-Christian in central Europe, " Mr Orban said during a press conference in Budapest.
"The most important political issue for us is the European Parliament election. Fifty-two per cent of Hungarians think the biggest challenge in the EU is immigration. Only we can decide with whom we want to live in the future."
Mr Orban’s government built fences on Hungary’s southern borders to block asylum seekers in 2015, and he has made migration the dominant subject in his country’s political discourse despite it having a tiny immigrant population.
While critics accuse Mr Orban of fear-mongering and fuelling xenophobia, he has attracted right-wing admirers at home and abroad by vowing to defend Europe’s security and identity from what he calls the threat of mass migration.
The EU is suing Hungary over its hardline policies on asylum, NGOs and education, but neither legal action nor warnings from the European People's Party (EPP) – which counts Mr Orban's Fidesz party and Fine Gael among its members – has caused Budapest's government to soften its proudly "illiberal" stance.
“We have reached a point in Europe where liberals have become the number-one enemy of freedom,” Mr Orban said.
Describing Mr Macron as “the leader of pro-immigration forces in the EU”, Mr Orban said: “If what he wants with regards to migration materialises in Europe, that would be bad for Hungary, therefore I must fight him . . . It is nothing personal, but a matter of our countries’ futures.”
He also railed against German politicians and media for allegedly pressuring Hungary to drop its opposition to immigration, saying: “I don’t see any possible compromise here.”
Mr Orban said he hoped anti-immigration parties would win the May elections to the European Parliament and gain control of the European Commission, before gradually taking over the European Council as right-wing leaders triumphed in national elections across the bloc.
Describing far-right Italian interior minister Matteo Salvini as his "hero", Mr Orban praised him for forging an anti-immigration alliance in Warsaw on Wednesday with Poland's nationalist government.
“The Polish-Italian or Warsaw-Rome alliance is one of the greatest developments that this year could have started with . . . I am pinning great hopes on this,” Mr Orban said.
“There should be a Rome-Warsaw axis, which is able to govern, is responsible and is against immigration and is willing to work together with the anti-immigration forces within the EPP.”
Mr Orban brushed off the significance of recent street protests against his rule and claimed, without offering evidence, that they are backed by liberal philanthropist George Soros.