President of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer attend a European Council in Brussels, Belgium, 14 December 2023. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán on December 15 stood by his decision to veto a €50-billion Europen Union aid package for Ukraine and said he could still halt Kyiv’s accession to the bloc after membership talks were given the green light.
At a summit in Brussels on December 14, other EU leaders bypassed objections from Orbán by getting him to leave the room while they took the historic step of agreeing to start accession negotiations with a country at war.
But they could not overcome resistance from Orbán – who maintains close ties to Russia – to a revamp of the bloc’s budget to channel vital financial support to Ukraine and provide more cash for other EU priorities such as managing migration.
The breakthrough on a membership path came at a critical time for Ukraine with its counter-offensive against Russian invasion forces having failed to make major gains and with US President Joe Biden so far unable to get a $60 billion package for Kyiv through the US Congress.
Orbán told state radio that he had to block the aid package to Ukraine – part of a broader multi-year budget plan – to make sure Hungary will get the funds it wants from the EU budget.
“I have always said that if someone wants to modify the budget – and they want to – then it is a great opportunity for Hungary to make it clear that it must get what it is entitled to. Not half of it, or one-fourth,” he said.
The EU leaders ended talks on the financial package, which requires unanimity, in the early hours of Friday morning and said they would try again in January, with some voicing optimism a deal could be clinched then.
If there is no deal at that time, member states could also provide aid individually or strike separate deals.
As for the decision to agree to start membership talks with Ukraine, hailed by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a victory for Ukraine and Europe, Orbán stressed the talks would be long – and Hungary could still block the process later.
“This is a bad decision,” the nationalist Hungarian leader said. “Hungary bears no responsibility for this, we can halt this process later on, and if needed we will pull the brakes, and the ultimate decision will be made by Hungarian parliament.”
The news on the financing struck a bittersweet note for Ukraine, coming just hours after leaders agreed to open membership talks.
Although membership would likely be many years away, the decision at the Brussels summit takes Ukraine a step closer to its long-term strategic goal of anchoring itself in the West and liberating itself from Russia’s orbit.
EU leaders were set to reconvene on Friday to discuss other topics including the Israel-Hamas war.
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