Hungary opened a new front in its ongoing standoff with the European Union when it said it would not support the bloc’s plan for a support package for war-torn Ukraine. Hungary’s move comes as the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán is running a popular campaign against EU sanctions on Russia.
The European Union this week proposed to support war-gripped Ukraine with jointly raised funds worth up to EUR 18 billion in 2023. The plan would use the EU’s budget as a guarantee to raise the funds for Kyiv. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU “will be at Ukraine’s side as long as it takes” in a tweet. "This shows true solidarity of the EU," Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweeted. "Together we resist Russia's aggression, together we'll rebuild Ukraine, together we'll be in the EU."
No from Budapest
Nevertheless, Hungary said it would not contribute to the joint assistance. "I have made it clear that Hungary is ready to support Ukraine, but we do not wish to contribute to any new loan to be taken up by the EU," Finance Minister Mihály Varga said in a statement.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said that Hungary has provided support for Kyiv on a bilateral basis and will continue to do so, but Budapest opposes any arrangement that would see funding jointly with other EU member states. Gergely Gulyás, chief of staff for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán echoed the same message, adding: "Now they ask us again to approve something that we had never agreed with in principle," he told a news briefing in Budapest. "There is joint decision making, so if we don't agree to this, this decision cannot be made."
The proposed EU financial assistance would help cover much of Ukraine's short-term funding needs for 2023, which Kyiv and the International Monetary Fund have estimated at EUR 3-4 billion per month. It would help Ukraine ensure financial stability, keep critical public services running and assist with the restoration of key infrastructure destroyed in the war with Russia. The eastern European country would have to repay the loans within 35 years. Meanwhile, EU states would cover the loan's interest rates costs of around EUR 630 million a year, spread across member states. Of that, Hungary would have to contribute EUR 6 million a year.
The proposal needs to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU's 27 member states. The package includes three legislative texts, two of them requiring a qualified majority in the Council, while the third, a regulation, requires unanimity among EU states.
Hungary is embroiled in a standoff with the EU, which has not paid Budapest some EUR 7 billion in pandemic recovery funds, citing concerns over corruption. Hungary earlier supported the EU’s decision to jointly raise debt to finance the bloc’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, but it has yet to receive its share of those funds.
“They’re punishing us and openly blackmailing us with EU money,” Orbán told the Budapester Zeitung newspaper last month. “But there’s no legal basis for this -- it’s blackmail, pure and simple.”
The EU is planning to discuss the status of those recovery funds in a meeting on Nov. 22. Officials are working on an assessment of Hungary’s progress on 17 pieces of legislation that Orbán’s government has promised to deliver to reduce corruption.
Orbán is one of the few European leaders to have good relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. His government launched a "national consultation" on EU sanctions imposed on Russia with a poster campaign featuring pictures of bombs as "sanctions". Orbán and leading politicians from his government and party repeatedly decried the EU sanctions as having a larger impact on European economies than their intended target. They also claim that the sanctions are simply not working.
The posters of the consultation, which is neither a formal referendum nor legally binding, depict a missile with "sanctions" emblazoned on it and the tagline: "Brussels sanctions, they are ripping us off."
"It is inappropriate to show pictures of bombs or of missiles in relation to the sanctions, thinking that the aim of the sanctions is precisely to stop the bombs from falling on Ukraine," Dana Spinant, the European Commission's deputy chief spokesperson, said.
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