France's Macron says he is 'main opponent' to anti-immigrants Orban, Salvini

French President Emmanuel Macron attends the French-Danish business forum in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 29, 2018. Ritzau Scanpix/Nils Meilvang via REUTERS

PARIS (Reuters) - French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday billed himself as the main opponent to hard-right, anti-immigration parties in Europe, in a response to criticism from Italy’s Matteo Salvini and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

Hungary’s prime minister and Italy’s deputy prime minister on Tuesday criticized Macron and said they would work together before 2019 elections for the European Union’s Parliament to oppose what they saw as a pro-migration group of countries led by the French president.

Salvini and Orban have both taken a hard line against immigration and said they represented an opposing group of countries.

“It is clear that today a strong opposition is building up between nationalists and progressives and I will yield nothing to nationalists and those who advocate hate speech,” Macron responded, when asked about Salvini’s and Orban’s comments.

“So if they wanted to see me as their main opponent, they were right to do so,” Macron, a pro-European leader who wants to further integrate the EU, told journalists during a visit to Denmark.

Salvini’s League is allied to Marine Le Pen’s far-right party while Orban is part of the centre-right European People’s Party.

Reporting by Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris, writing by Ingrid Melander, editing by Larry King