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EU struggles with Hungary's blockade on Ukraine's accession and funding release

Tensions rise as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban persists in blocking key decisions, raising concerns over the fate of Ukraine's accession and EU funds release amid corruption issues

George Kakouris

George Kakouris

Efforts to prepare for the summit of the 27 European Union heads of state continued in a tense atmosphere until Friday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban persisted in blocking the approval of the opening of accession negotiations for Ukraine and the release of 50 billion euros in support for the country as part of the EU's multiannual budget review.

Contacts between European officials and leaders and Mr. Orban in recent days have been ongoing, with discussions based on objections he raised publicly about whether the discussion of support for Ukraine is ripe. He expressed doubts about whether the country is ready for membership due to corruption problems. Until the end of last week, it remained uncertain whether the Hungarian Prime Minister would maintain his insistence on his positions, both publicly and privately to Charles Michel and others, or whether Mr. Orbán would back down after receiving some quid pro quo or something that could be interpreted as such in his country's public opinion. The question arises of whether other leaders want to give even the slightest impression of giving in to Orban's blackmail or whether they prefer to declare a stalemate on Ukraine's accession effort for this session and move forward with bilateral arrangements to help the country. However, these options, especially the latter, will be time-consuming given the urgent needs of a country still facing a Russian invasion.

Corruption and funds

It is a common secret in Brussels, or at least a shared belief among diplomatic sources, that the quid pro quo for lifting the hold on Ukraine-related issues is flexibility or guarantees to release EU funds for Budapest, which have been frozen due to serious corruption and rule of law issues in Hungary. On Friday, the EU Council formally approved the Commission's proposal to adopt Hungary's revised Recovery Plan with a new chapter on energy transition issues (RePowerEU), unlocking around €900 million in advance payments. The Commission has not set rule of law-related criteria on these funds.

At the same time, in a development that may be ideal for internal consumption in Hungary, the Ukrainian Parliament on Friday approved a series of bills, including the recognition of minority rights. This addresses Hungary's concerns regarding the education rights of the Hungarian minority in western Ukraine.

The other two issues relate to tackling corruption, which are connected to the steps the EU is asking Ukraine to take and to Viktor Orban's objections. Earlier on Friday, the Hungarian prime minister insisted in an interview with a French newspaper that Ukraine "is known as one of the most corrupt countries in the world." He stated that his objections relate to objective criteria for the country's progress and the economic impact of its EU membership. He expressed readiness for agreement "on other issues," noting there are "historical, strategic, and tactical issues." While Ukraine's accession would be a historical decision, the "economic issue is a tactical issue."

The letter

Orban's objections were summarized in a letter to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, dated December 4. Although he does not directly refer to the publicly mentioned veto, he speaks of a lack of unanimity on issues concerning Ukraine. He adds that the EU's strategy toward the country should be discussed before any new moves are made. The letter came a few days after Michel's trip to Budapest in an attempt to secure his consent. According to EU sources, what is recorded in the letter accurately reflects Orban's statements in his meetings, including with the President of the European Council. In the letter, the Hungarian Prime Minister states that there is no basis for expectations that the summit will give the green light to Ukraine's accession negotiations and the revision of the Multiannual Financial Framework for the period 2021-2027 to include support for Ukraine. He considers the proposal to start accession procedures for Ukraine as "the end of the EU's enlargement policy as an objective instrument," given that Ukraine does not meet the set criteria. Regarding the MFF, Mr. Orbán generally refers to the Commission's proposal as "undocumented, unbalanced, and unrealistic," without directly mentioning the Ukraine issue.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  Hungary  |  Ukraine  |  EU  |  corruption

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