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14th Apr 2024

Hungary cannot blackmail EU over Ukraine, says commissioner

  • Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban (l) with Russia's president Vladimir Putin in October (Photo: kremlin.ru)
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The EU won't be blackmailed by a possible Hungarian veto over additional funds for Ukraine, said the European Commission on Tuesday (7 November).

"We cannot be blackmailed," Johannes Hahn, the EU budget commissioner, told MEPs.

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Last month, the Financial Times cited senior EU officials as mulling the idea of releasing some €13bn in EU funds for Hungary, which are currently blocked over Budapest's outstanding rule-of-law issues.

The EU officials told the paper that the money would be released, in part, to curry Budapest's backing to increase the EU budget.

But Hahn made short shrift of such reports, noting that work-arounds exist that would not require Hungary's backing.

"We can find a solution, which is only including 26 member states," he stressed.

"There might be some delays if we have to apply different measures. But at the end of the day, I'm confident, I'm convinced that we cannot be stopped," he added.

Hahn insisted there were no negotiations with Hungary, following a decision last December among EU states to impose a so-called conditionality mechanism to ensure Budapest abides by EU norms in order to access its purse.

"Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and once again, we are not negotiating things, we are simply assessing things," he said.

The European Commission wants to top up the EU's long term budget with €66bn. This includes €17bn in grants for Ukraine, as well as a separate €30bn in loans for the war-torn country.

Such decisions require a unanimous vote among the EU-27 member states, posing tricky questions on Hungarian pressure to first release billions in stalled money.

Hungary is seeking to access around €22bn in frozen funds linked to the EU's cohesion policy, designed to help less affluent member states.

Around €13bn of that is conditional on Hungary improving the independence of its judiciary, another €6.3bn is tied to cracking down on corruption, while a further €2.5bn is being held up given its poor treatment of asylum seekers.

Hungary this past May adopted a judicial reform package amid claims it meets all the milestones required to some of the frozen sums. But not everyone is convinced.

The Hungarian Helsinki Committee, an advocacy group based in Budapest, says the reforms have failed to deliver.

"Hungary's judicial reform remains fundamentally defective," said Márta Pardavi, who co-chairs the Hungarian Helsinki Committee.

The commission has also faulted Hungary for laws prohibiting access to content that portrays homosexuality to under-18s, risks to academic freedoms, as well as the rights to asylum.

"These concerns were not new. The commission had clearly communicated them to Hungary," said Nicolas Schmit, EU jobs and social rights commissioner, speaking alongside Hahn with the MEPs on Tuesday.

Only earlier this week, Hungary sacked the director of the National Museum after it allowed under-18s to visit a World Press Photo exhibition featuring LGBTQ content.

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