Will Hungary Veto Ukraine’s Accession Negotiations?

Politics - December 6, 2023

One question is on the lips of all European political leaders: will Hungary exercise its veto in Ukraine’s accession negotiations?

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban threatens to “blow up” the European Council summit to be held in mid-December. The “war” the nationalist leader in Budapest has declared on Brussels has entered a new phase: Hungary is threatening to exercise its veto on the issue of opening negotiations on Ukraine’s accession to the European Union bloc, which is at the centre of discussions at a meeting of EU heads of state in Brussels between the 14th and the 15th of December.

Orban’s reason: Ukraine is “light years away” from the European Union, and its accession would overturn the EU’s system for distributing funds. To prevent a failure of the 14th-15th of December summit on Ukraine’s accession, with the European Commission recommending the start of negotiations, European Council president Charles Michel visited Budapest. Although the conclusions were not officially stated, perhaps while Viktor Orban recalled how Hungary had successfully blocked, together with Turkey, Sweden’s accession to NATO, and waved its independence from Brussels, the EC president recalled that not a single euro has so far flowed into Hungary from the current EU budget, and that money from the NPRD earmarked for the Hungarian state is still blocked for previous “misconduct”.

Did Charles Michel succeed in this bilateral meeting to “convince” Hungary not to sabotage the December summit? No press conference was held at the end of the meeting.

“Consultations were in-depth,” wrote Charles Michel on Facebook.

“The unity of the European Union requires constant efforts and this is our main strength,” he said.

For his part, the Hungarian prime minister reported on his social media page that it was “a useful discussion” without giving further details.

Hungary opposes €50 billion EU financial aid for Ukraine

Viktor Orban not only opposes Ukraine’s accession, but also a new €50bn financial aid package to be given to Kiev by the European Union. The financial support is intended to help the war-torn Ukrainian state function. Charles Michel’s visit to Budapest came days after the Budapest leader sent him a letter asking for an “urgent strategic discussion” regarding this EU support and the impact of sanctions against Moscow.

“The European Council is not in a position to take key decisions on security guarantees for Ukraine, additional financial support, a further strengthening of the EU sanctions regime (against Russia) or on the future of the enlargement process, unless consensus is reached on our future strategy towards Ukraine,” Viktor Orban said in the document sent to the EC president, quoted by AFP.

Viktor Orban also made it very clear on another occasion that the promise made to Ukraine to be welcomed into the EU was “wrong” and that his aim would be to “correct it”. This “correction” would in fact be an opposition by exercising the right of veto on the start of Ukraine’s EU accession negotiations.

“Our objective will be to correct the wrong promise to start negotiations with Ukraine because Ukraine is now light years away from the European Union,” said Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Viktor Orban not only wants to block the EU enlargement process – by opening negotiations with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova – but also threatens to block the adoption of the Pact on Migration and Asylum, an issue seen as of utmost importance by many of Europe’s Western states. Moreover, in the recent “national consultation” initiated by the government in Budapest, the Hungarian people are to express their attitude towards the relationship with Ukraine and towards the European migration policy. On migration, EU Member States are stepping up their efforts to establish an effective, humanitarian and safe European migration policy. These effective policies aim to ensure that asylum seekers are treated uniformly across Europe. In 2023 alone, the number of illegal arrivals in EU Member States reached 233,139.

The nationalist-extremist current has been gaining momentum in Europe lately

The consultation “for national sovereignty”, clearly directed against Brussels and the European Commission, has eleven questions, which all start with “Brussels”. “Brussels wants migrant ghettos in Hungary. What do you think?” is one of the questions Hungarians have to answer. At the same time, Hungary’s prime minister continues to delay the ratification process of Sweden’s NATO membership, while its main opponent, Turkey, has already started to scrutinise the agreement in parliament.

Viktor Orban says Hungary is “in no hurry” to ratify the agreement, claiming “there is no threat to Sweden’s security”. Both Hungary and Turkey have been dragging their feet for months, coming up with various reasons, trying to get new concessions. One of the reasons given by the Hungarian prime minister is that Swedish officials have made “unfounded allegations” about the erosion of democracy in Hungary.

After all, the Hungarian leader made it clear to his parliament that Brussels’ plan to eliminate Europe’s dependence on Russian energy goes against the interests of the EU bloc and Hungary. Concerns about the FIDESZ government’s policy of rapprochement with Russia exist even in Budapest. An MEP from Hungary’s opposition Socialist Party comments that blocking Sweden’s – and Finland’s – membership of NATO is designed to prevent the strengthening of NATO, which is against Russia’s interests.

When Orban opposed €20 billion in military support for Ukraine, he made his agreement conditional on Kiev removing the Hungarian bank OTP from the sanctions list. The Ukrainian authorities believe the Hungarian bank, which continues to operate in Russia, is supporting the war by providing low-interest loans to the families of those sent to the front. Eventually, Ukraine agreed to remove the bank from the blacklist, but Hungary felt that was not enough and demanded guarantees that the bank would not be re-listed at some point.

Hungary was threatened (as was Poland) and sanctioned with the activation of Article 7 of the EU Treaty, it was taken to the European Court of Justice by the European Commission and condemned. European funds from the EU budget and the NRP were blocked. It was even invited to leave the EU after an episode in which Orban compared Brussels’ “dictatorship” to the Soviet occupation of his country. Yet the liberal leader in Budapest continues to ignore and deride Brussels. And at the same time he gets concessions. The EU froze €22 billion of Hungary’s 2021-2027 budget at the end of last year, mainly because of shortcomings in the independence of the judiciary and LGBT+ rights. But Hungary recently got Brussels to release €920 million as an advance on the NRDP, with the European Commission justifying the advance as “urgent” to allow it to implement projects to tackle the energy crisis.

The anti-European outbursts of Viktor Orban, one of Europe’s longest-serving prime ministers, are increasing, and his radicalised discourse seems to be growing increasingly popular. Not long ago, Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, a few days after taking office as head of the government in Bratislava, announced that his country would stop military support for Ukraine and block €20 billion in military aid promised by the EU. It is clear that Viktor Orban is on the campaign trail again. The nationalist-extremist current has been gaining momentum in Europe lately, and the prospect of a large number of Eurosceptics like Viktor Orban entering the European legislature after next spring’s European parliamentary elections can only give Brussels the creeps.