Speaking to reporters at a summit for East European leaders in the Hungarian capital, Macron acknowledged that he had “well known political disagreements” with Orban.
But ahead of France taking on the EU rotating presidency on January 1, 2022, Macron said he was “willing to discuss the sovereignty of Europe – what that means”, with the Hungarian leader.
For his part, Orban said Europe needs strategic autonomy in three areas. “We support the policy of common European defence capabilities, nuclear energy and a strong European agricultural sector," he said.
Sources of disagreement and tension between the two leaders include LGBT rights and immigration. Macron pointed a few months ago to a "cultural battle" with Hungary and some of its neighbours, acknowledging a deepening rift with increasingly assertive illiberal leaders that is hurting EU cohesion.
Macron struck a tough note on lifting conditionality mechanisms curbing Hungary’s access to the EU’s pandemic recovery funds over rule of law issues.
Hungary has “not displayed the will” to progress on rule of law or discrimination issues between now and the April 2022 Hungarian parliamentary elections, and therefore the EU will not make "any” stimulus fund payments, Macron said Monday.
Orban is casting himself as the defender of traditional Hungarian values against "LGBT ideology" for the 2022 election in which his party may be vulnerable for the first time to a newly united opposition.
Identity politics, especially a hardline anti-immgration line, and disarray among Orban's centrist and liberal-left rivals proved instrumental in the absolute majority won by his conservative nationalist Fidesz party in the 2018 election.
Macron's first stop in Budapest was at a Jewish cemetery where he placed flowers at the grave of Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller (d. 2019) who he called "a committed woman, a role-model, and an opponent of Orban's".
The act was seen as a symbolic gesture before meeting the controversial Hungarian leader.
Macron met Heller before her death in 2019. She was an advocate of liberal democracy and a strong critic of Orban, whom she accused of undermining democracy.
Born in 1929 in Budapest, Heller was a survivor of the Holocaust but most of her family was killed by the Nazis.
Macron is expected to take part in a meeting of the Visegrad group, which includes leaders of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and will meet Hungarian opposition leaders.
Orban has in the past two months received French far-right leaders Marine Le Pen and Eric Zemmour, both of whom praised his opposition to immigration. "That is a leader who defends his country's identity, sovereignty and borders," Zemmour said.