BUDAPEST: Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orban commiserated Thursday with Italy's outgoing far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, calling him a "fellow combatant" in the fight for the "preservation of European Christian heritage and against migration".
In a letter published by the Hungarian news agency MTI, Orban thanked Salvini for his work "not only for Italy but for Europe, including Hungary".
Salvini is the hardline leader of Italy's far-right League party which spent a controversial 14 months in government in coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S).
Salvini pulled the League out of the governing coalition on August 8, calling for fresh elections he thought would make him premier.
However, the M5S leadership has now struck a deal with the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) to form a new government and stave off elections, cutting the League out of power.
Before the European Parliament elections last May Salvini, described by Orban earlier this year as "the most important person in Europe today," visited Budapest to discuss joining forces with the Hungarian after the vote.
Like Orban, Salvini is a known admirer of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as a fierce opponent of migration.
"We Hungarians will never forget that you were the very first Western European leader who intended to stop the influx of illegal migrants into Europe through the Mediterranean," Orban said in the letter.
Salvini has also portrayed himself as a defender of Catholic identity, despite being regularly accused by rights groups of fomenting neo-fascism on social media.
"Regardless of future developments in the domestic Italian political scene and of the fact that we belong to different European party groups, we look at you as our ally and our fellow combatant in the fight for the preservation of European Christian heritage and the tackling of migration," said Orban.
The loss of Salvini as an ally for Orban comes after the fall of Austria's coalition government between the country's centre-right and far-right parties.
Orban had also held that up as a model for others in Europe to follow, but the coalition collapsed in May over a corruption scandal.