Italy’s Matteo Salvini suffered a double setback on Thursday after Hungary’s Viktor Orban shunned an offer to join a new nationalist grouping in the European Parliament and one of his ministers was convicted of corruption.
Mr Salvini, deputy prime minister and head of the hard-right League party in Italy, had hoped he could recruit Hungary’s Fidesz party to a new European alliance of populist and nationalist parties, but these hopes appeared to be dashed by Mr Orban’s chief of staff in Budapest.
“We respect the Italian deputy prime minister and the Italian government and the result, which made the League Italy’s strongest party after the European Parliament election,” Gergely Gulyas told a news conference.
“Nonetheless, I see not much chance for cooperation on a party level or in a joint parliamentary group.”
Mr Salvini’s League won 34 per cent of the vote in the European Parliament elections.
Enrolling Mr Orban in the pan-populist movement would have been a major coup for Mr Salvini, bringing in 14 more seats in the European parliament.
So far, Mr Salvini has enlisted the support of populist parties in Denmark, Germany, Finland and France, but Fidesz represented a big prize.
He is also hoping to persuade Nigel Farage and The Brexit Party to join the new grouping. Earlier this week, an MEP from the League said talks were going well and he was confident of a deal being done between the British and Italian parties. But Mr Farage played down those expectations.