By Gabriela Baczynska and Krisztina Than
- Hungary has cultivated closer ties with Moscow
- Ukraine needs continued EU support in its war with Russia
- Opening talks on EU membership for Kyiv needs Hungary’s backing
BRUSSELS/BUDAPEST, Nov 10 (Reuters) – The European Union will be able work around any Hungarian veto and give Ukraine 50 billion euros ($53.4 bln) in aid, officials in the bloc said, as Kyiv struggles to push back Russia’s invasion 21 months into the war.
The bloc’s executive has proposed expanding budget support to help Ukraine pay salaries and meet other expenses as the conflict grinds on, and the EU’s 27 member states are due to vote on the package at a Dec. 14-15 summit in Brussels.
But some worry the aid could be blocked by Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban who has touted his ties with Moscow and objected to similar support in the past. Such pay-outs from the shared EU budget need unanimous support of all member states.
Asked for comment, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said that any financial aid to Ukraine should be separate from the EU budget. He said the EU needed a new strategy for Ukraine and that all financial decisions should stem from that.
If Budapest does wield its veto, two EU officials said the bloc had a way to get around it by asking each of the other EU governments to set up their own aid package with Kyiv. All together, the bilateral pacts would come to as much.
“Hungary risks overstretching its luck. We’d prefer to have them on board but there comes a point when people get fed up with Budapest holding everyone hostage. The workaround is tiresome but we have it if need be,” one EU official said.
A second EU official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed. “The issue of money for Ukraine will be solved one way or another, Kyiv will get EU support,” the official said.
BILLIONS AT STAKE
Last year, Hungary vetoed a similar proposal to give 18 billion euros in financial assistance to Ukraine in 2023.
After months of wrangling, Budapest finally agreed to the package after winning what it said were concessions from the bloc on aid to Hungary, and hearing that the EU would use a similar workaround to push it through anyway.
Asked if the EU would follow that path again if needed, European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said this week:
“Last year, we were indeed discussing ‘Plan B’… But we were able to avoid this scenario last year. I hope will be also able to avoid this scenario this year.”
In power for more than a decade, Orban has been locked in increasingly bitter battles with others in the EU over a range of issues including democratic standards, foreign policy, migration and LGBT rights.
Under EU rules, however, the strategy of bypassing Hungary cannot be applied to a decision due in December on whether to start EU accession negotiations with Kyiv, a coveted prize for Ukraine as it fights Russia.
That decision requires unanimity of the 27 EU members, something that is far from certain given Orban’s stance on the war. Speaking separately on Friday, Orban said he was opposed to launching membership talks with Kyiv.
He also said there was no link between that matter and his disputes over billions of euros of EU funds for Hungary suspended over democracy concerns.
EU officials told Reuters last month that they were looking at unlocking at least some of that money as the bloc seeks to win Orban’s vote for Ukraine. The officials insisted, however, Budapest would still need to meet the necessary conditions.
($1 = 0.9369 euros)