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The contrasting fortunes of Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Salvini as threat grows to French president’s vision of Europe

Emmanuel Macron returned to the political fray this week after a long summer by kicking off a battle royale against populists in Italy and Hungary who he branded his “main opponents” in the fight for the future of Europe.

Long seen as France’s reformist boy king able to turn a recalcitrant country around, the president has been forced onto the back foot after a series of domestic setbacks in recent days, just as his populist rivals abroad go from strength to strength.

Matteo Salvini, the Italian interior minister who seems to be fast overshadowing his prime minister, joined forces this week with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban to launch an anti-immigration manifesto in which Mr Orban declared:…