As European leaders are set to gather and discuss Ukraine’s potential accession in the EU, Viktor Orban takes the blame for voicing strong concerns regarding whether or not Ukraine does have a place in the Union. However, while the Hungarian leader is portrayed as the odd man out, not only do many Europeans agree with him, but in some respects he may be right too.
When war broke out in Ukraine in February 2022, condemnation of Russia’s invasion of a sovereign European state was almost unanimous within the EU. Two years later, with billions spent on reinforcing the Ukrainian military and economy, with a heavy toll on sectors of the European economy and on overall EU growth, and with the latest Ukrainian counter-offensive having ended in failure, things have changed quite a bit.
Russia has now seized and firmly controls most Russian-speaking parts of Eastern Ukraine. No matter how much military aid Kiev gets, it does not seem likely that it will manage to drive the Russian army out of Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporhizia, Cherson, or Crimea. Most geopolitical analysts understand this is a “fait accompli”. So what more can the West now do to support Ukraine? Grant it EU candidacy status, some say.
According to the official Europa.eu “the EU and its citizens stand in full solidarity with Ukraine and its people”. Yet this is not exactly so. While the EU has taken unprecedented measures to support Ukraine, Europeans are not anymore united in doing so at all costs. The longer the war lasts, the more the neutralist tendencies manifest themselves politically. Most of all, people are becoming less willing to accept a loss of prosperity out of solidarity with Ukraine.
According to the Eurobarometer poll, which was conducted at the end of August, before Ukraine’s unsuccessful summer counter-attack and the war in Gaza, “65 per cent of European citizens were in favour of supporting Ukraine financially and economically and 57 per cent supported the purchase and supply of military equipment and training to Ukraine”. At the same time, 65 per cent thought that the EU should support Ukraine’s path towards European integration.
However, in a later poll by the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) support for Ukraine has dropped significantly. In Italy, for example, the opposition to military aid has grown from 30 per cent to 40 per cent, while among 14 countries surveyed, respondents in Germany (52 per cent) and France (49 per cent) are now amongst the least supportive of offering EU candidate status to Ukraine.
Things have changed on a political level too, with new leaders in the picture. Geert Wilders has long been known for his opposition to military aid for Ukraine. Slovakia, which has been described by former Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Pavlo Klimkin as the EU’s most pro-Russian nation, now has a new PM, Robert Fico, who has already informed Commission President Von der Leyen that he will stop military aid to Ukraine. In November Giorgia Meloni told two Russian pranksters in a call – thinking she was speaking with officials from the African Union – that “there is a lot of fatigue (…) from all the sides. Everybody understands that we need a way out”.
Across the pond, more and more US citizens agree with the Italian PM. According to the latest Fox News Poll, released less than a month ago, a majority of 54 per cent favours sending financial aid to Ukraine, down 9 points since January when 63 per cent backed it. The war in Gaza has a lot to do with this. There is not enough cash and ammunition for both Kyiv and Tel Aviv. Republicans, in particular, are overwhelmingly in favour of getting out of the war against Russia. If Trump wins in November 2024, Ukraine will no longer be able to count on Washington.
So when Hungary’s Prime Minister says that Europe and the West should find a way for all sides to sit at the negotiating table and agree to end this war, he speaks for a lot of people. He is also right when he describes Ukraine as “one of the most corrupt countries in the world”. And he has a good point when he stresses that the sheer size of Ukraine’s agricultural sector would destroy the EU’s common agricultural policy overnight.
An important question is: Why are European leaders so eager to begin accession negotiations with Ukraine? Are they truly willing to one day accept the war-torn country in the club, despite the fact that a part of it will most probably be under occupation – as they did with Cyprus? Or do they want to grant Ukraine candidate status for political reasons alone, knowing it will be almost impossible for it to become a real member – as they did with Turkey?
Under both scenarios, Ukraine is in many ways a problematic case, so reservations are valid. And they are not Orban’s alone.
Konstantinos Bogdanos served as a member of the Greek parliament from 2019 to 2023