(CNN)It was like a first date that had gone exceptionally well. Hungarian leader Viktor Orban and Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini spoke of a shared passion, exchanged compliments and promised to see each other again.
A Hungarian-Italian bromance could become Europe's Trojan horse
After their rendezvous on Tuesday in Milan, the staunchly anti-migrant Orban described Salvini as his hero for refusing to allow rescued asylum-seekers, stuck on a boat, to set foot on Italian soil unless the European Union settled them elsewhere.
Salvini said he hoped Tuesday was just the first of many more encounters with Orban to change Europe's destiny.
The burgeoning relationship between the two far-right figures may look like just another political bromance, but it could turn out to be a Trojan horse for EU leaders, once worried that Brexit would tear their post-war union apart.
Hardline Brexit supporters in the UK accuse EU leaders of trying to ensure Britain's withdrawal from the union is a failure so that other member states don't follow the country out the door, a charge that EU leaders vehemently deny.
In the meantime, far-right factions across the EU are eying big wins in the European Parliament elections next May, an opportunity that comes only once in five years and promises huge regional influence over policies, most crucially on migration.
As talks of a French "Frexit" or a "Nexit" in the Netherlands and other nations fade from public discourse, the EU is more likely at threat from those who want to bend the bloc from within.
Jerome Rivière from France's far-right National Rally, formerly known as National Front, was optimistic the election results would favor euroskeptic parties.
"I believe that for the first time we might be in a position to have a new majority in the next European election," he said.
"If we do not have a majority, I believe we will have a minority strong enough to prevent them from what they are doing right now."
What these parties have lacked for so long has been unity to coordinate action in the European Parliament. The Orban-Salvini relationship shows that an appetite for such unity is growing. In the past, anti-establishment populist parties that have had beef with the EU have also been at loggerheads with each other.
Hungary and Italy, for example, clashed over migrant policy several times in 2016. Italy, a frontline nation for asylum-seekers, has long pressed Hungary to take in a share of refugees to lessen its burden. But Hungary has advocated a hardline zero-immigration policy since the mass movement of asylum seekers into Europe in 2015, at the height of the Syrian war. Most other EU nations have accepted asylum-seekers under the union's relocation program, but Hungary has refused to, along with several other eastern European states.
Bilateral cooperation between like-minded parties, voter apathy and the European Parliament's electoral system could be the perfect storm that hands Europe's levers over to populists.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by EU citizens, but turnout at each vote has fallen consistently over the years -- just over 42% of registered voters cast a ballot in the last election in 2014, according to the Public Opinion Monitoring Unit.
"The euroskeptic parties do better in European elections than they usually do in national elections, that's because the voters on the one hand believe that the European elections are somewhat less important than the national elections," Doru Frantescu, an EU affairs expert, told CNN.
Euroskeptic parties also tend to take European elections more seriously for the obvious reason that one of their main objectives is to challenge the EU.
The European Parliament's system also benefits fringe parties. Instead of winning seats on a first-past-the-post basis, candidates need simply to pass a low threshold of the popular vote. This has meant that parties like France's National Rally have a far greater presence in the European Parliament than they do in their own national assemblies.
This representation in the European Parliament is already in play.
MEP John Stuart Agnew from the far-right UKIP party in Britain argued in a European Parliamen