File photo of French President Emmanuel Macron. Photograph:( Reuters )
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.
His comment came after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Italy's far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini 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 said 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 tough legislation on illegal immigration but blasted Italy and Hungary for their 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 visit 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.
In Paris, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian joined in the dispute saying France would not pay for countries which failed to respect EU principles and focused on the money.
"We are not ready to pay for that Europe. We have to say it clearly," he told a gathering of French ambassadors.
"Our vision of the EU is a premier circle of alliances and values is not compatible with governments who do not respect the fundamental principles and do not feel at all part of community solidarity," Le Drian said.
"Basically, they take a utilitarian approach to the union choosing only what interests them, first and foremost the redistribution of money."
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.
Le Drian said France would seek a common position on migration with Germany.
While the numbers crossing the Mediterranean are far lower than at its peak three years ago, Rome is taking a hardline stance, turning away ships full of rescued migrants.
Salvini has repeatedly accused the EU of abandoning Italy, where more than 700,000 migrants have arrived 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.
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.
"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.