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27th Feb 2024

Orbán could lift Ukraine-aid veto, if his EU funds unfrozen

  • Budapest blocked all compromises on the €50bn aid package to Ukraine — obliging leaders to postpone the final decision until 2024 (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)
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Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban told the EU summit on Friday (15 December) that he would consider lifting his veto on providing further funds to Ukraine — if the remaining frozen EU funds linked to rule-of-law concerns are unblocked.

His remarks come after Budapest blocked all compromises on the €50bn aid package to Ukraine the previous night — obliging leaders to postpone the final decision until 2024.

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"It is an extraordinary situation because the other countries want to amend the seven-year running budget, which I vetoed yesterday," Orban said during an interview with Hungarian state radio.

EU leaders from the other 26 member states broadly support providing some €17bn in grants and €33bn in loans, as part of the review of the EU's long-term budget.

With such a financial package for the period 2021-2027, they want to provide Kyiv with longterm predictability.

Hungary, for its part, believes that budget modifications are not necessary.

But Budapest would consider supporting the proposal if the total remaining frozen EU funds to Hungary, worth around €20bn, were unblocked.

"If member states or the European Commission want to have MFF [budget] modifications … we need to find an agreement on the budget issues, which includes obviously the Hungarian budget funds," Orbán's chief political advisor Balázs Orbán (no relation) told reporters in Brussels at the summit.

Earlier this week, the commission unblocked €10bn of EU funds to Hungary — prompting criticism for giving in to what many see as Orbán's blackmailing.

"We are not blackmailing," insisted the Hungarian PM's chief political advisor.

"Other countries are blackmailing Hungary for years," he also said, referring to the fact that Hungary has not been able to get funds lined to the recovery fund for years given rule of law concerns. "We don't get our money".

German Green MEP Daniel Freund said that Orbán is asking the remaining amount of frozen funds because he already got €10bn in exchange "for leaving the room during the vote on accession talks with Ukraine".

"It's extortion. Nothing less. EU-money is the only thing he cares about. And he's willing to gamble with European security for it," he said on X, formerly Twitter.

The European Commission decided to block funds to Hungary until reforms in the field of the rule of law and the fight against corruption are fulfilled.

Ahead of the summit meeting on Friday, Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said that not enough progress has been achieved.

"I don't see the progress there yet," he said. "It can only be unfrozen, if there is progress on those domains".

The estimated financial gap for 2024 in the Ukrainian budget amounts to €37bn, according to the think tank Ukrainian Center for European Policy.

"The Ukraine Facility [€50bn aid package] is a geo-strategic important instrument for the recovery, reconstruction, restoration and modernisation of Ukraine," the organisation told EUobsever.

They also said that the adoption of the package will give "an impetus to other Ukraine's strategical partners" and "convince them that it is [the] right instrument to show common unity of democratic countries and send Russia a clear strong signal."

In the wake of doubts over US financial support to Ukraine, Irish prime minster Leo Varadkar said that it is important for Europe to lead.

"I don't think anyone in the European Union is going to be pointing the finger at the Americans; Ukrainians are in Europe and it's up to us to lead on this," he said.

While EU leaders will try to reach an agreement by unanimity on the review of the EU budget —including the Ukraine aid package — early next year, EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen said after the summit that it is also crucial to consider "potential alternatives" by the EU26.

This article was updated

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Hungary vs Ukraine: how do you deal with Orbán?

Viktor Orban insists EU membership is merit-based — which indeed it should be — but his own government has bluntly flouted the norms and values upon which the EU is founded, writes the central Europe director of Human Rights Watch.

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Far-right MEPs least disciplined in following party line

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