Hungary's Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, has raised concerns over Ukraine's readiness to join the European Union, hinting at a possible roadblock for the country's EU membership talks. This comes just two days after Brussels recommended the initiation of membership discussions, setting the stage for a potential clash at the upcoming EU leaders' meeting in mid-December.
Talks on Ukrainian membership in the European Union should not move forward, as the war-torn country is “in no way ready” to join the bloc, Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said.
Orbán's statement underscores Hungary's influential position, as unanimity among all member states is required for admitting a new country into the EU. Despite previous tensions regarding EU support for Ukraine during Moscow's invasion, Orbán has eventually acquiesced to military and sanctions packages.
Speaking in a weekly radio interview, Orbán emphasized that Ukraine is not prepared to negotiate its EU aspirations. "Ukraine is in no way ready to negotiate on its ambitions to join the European Union. The clear Hungarian position is that the negotiations must not begin," he stated.
The European Commission recommended that Ukraine should be permitted to open membership talks, once it has addressed some shortfalls.
Hungary's historical reluctance to supply weapons to Ukraine and threats to veto EU financial aid packages have raised concerns.
Orbán's government has been accused of leveraging its EU veto for concessions from Brussels, especially regarding funds that the bloc has been withholding over rule of law concerns. Nevertheless, Orbán denied any connection between Hungary's opposition to Ukraine's EU membership talks and withheld EU funds.
He added that Hungary would “not accept” pressure from the EU to support Ukraine’s membership bid in exchange for having the funds released.
Hungary's potential veto on a proposed $53 billion aid package for Ukraine is causing frustration among EU officials but is also prompting them to work around it. The European Commission has recommended expanding budget support for Ukraine, with the EU member states set to vote on the package during the Dec. 14-15 summit in Brussels.
If Hungary exercises its veto, EU officials have devised a workaround by seeking support from other member states to establish bilateral aid packages with Kyiv, two EU officials told Reuters on condition of anonymity. While this alternative is seen as tiresome, EU sources indicate a readiness to implement it if necessary.
"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," remarked one EU official. The EU remains focused on finding solutions to ensure continued support for Ukraine despite potential challenges from Hungary.
In a similar move last year, Hungary initially vetoed a proposal to allocate EUR 18 billion in financial assistance to Ukraine for the year 2023.
Following months of negotiations and disagreements, Budapest eventually acquiesced to the financial aid package. The decision came after securing concessions from the EU on aid to Hungary and amid assurances that the EU would employ a workaround to ensure the package's approval, even without Hungary's full consent. This development highlights the intricate negotiations and diplomatic maneuvers involved in securing financial support for Ukraine.
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