By Alexandra Brzozowski
(EurActiv) — Ukraine’s EU membership currently does not coincide with Hungary’s national interests and the EU should propose a “strategic partnership” with Ukraine before starting accession talks with the war-torn country, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said on Friday (1 December).
“The start of negotiations concerning Ukraine’s EU membership today does not coincide with Hungary’s national interests,” Orbán said in an interview with Hungarian state radio Kossuth.
“It is not worth starting membership negotiations because we cannot answer the question of what the consequences of Ukraine’s membership would be,” Orbán added.
His comments come as the EU braces for a tough December summit battle over a proposed EU budget revision, which includes the €50 billion in new aid for Kyiv and is expected to be intertwined with the decision on whether to start Ukraine’s accession talks, as well as domestic demands by some members of the bloc.
Any decision to greenlight accession talks or approve more aid requires unanimity of the bloc’s 27 members, Budapest has been threatening to use the summit talks to block further financial and military aid to Kyiv and stop Ukraine’s accession bid.
In his comments, Orbán said that EU countries should offer aid to Ukraine from their national coffers – not the EU budget – and that membership talks should not even be “on the agenda” at the 14-15 December summit.
“I would be in favour of the EU concluding a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine first,” Orbán said, about a step that would fall short of the political decision of EU leaders to open accession talks with Kyiv.
“This could take five to 10 years. Let’s bring them closer. The distance is too great now (…) Give us time to start working together,” he added.
Ukrainian officials have been optimistic in recent weeks that Kyiv will be able to overcome Hungary’s political opposition and begin talks on EU membership.
Ukraine’s Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna told Euractiv in Kyiv last week that winning Hungary over would be a major challenge, but that she was “confident” Ukraine would succeed.
Budapest “fundamentally undermines the effort started by the whole world since the start of the war”, as well as the “enlargement process for an enlarged united Europe”, she told Euractiv.
Hungary “should receive a very clear response from member states,” Stefanishyna said but declined to comment on whether she sees other member states hesitating.
“Receiving a ‘no’ is not an option for us. As Eminem says, success is the only opportunity we have,” she added, quoting the song Lose Yourself by the US rapper.
Orbán, the only EU leader who has maintained close ties with the Kremlin following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has also repeatedly said that if the EU wanted to give more money to Ukraine, it should set up a separate financial fund outside the EU budget, based on an intergovernmental agreement.
“Everybody should put in the money that they want to, and we should send the money to Ukraine from (this fund),” Orbán said, adding that sending money to Ukraine to fight the war from the EU’s coffers has overstretched the budget.
His latest comments come after a visit by European Council President Charles Michel to Budapest on Monday (27 November), on a mission to defuse tensions after Orbán ramped up his anti-EU rhetoric.
The EU has frozen €22 billion in cohesion funds for Budapest until it proves it has introduced reforms that ensure the independence of judges and academics and the rights of the LGBTQ community.
Critics have accused Orbán of attempting to blackmail the EU with Ukraine aid into releasing the frozen funds.
Several EU officials have said that once “the last remaining issues” to strengthen the independence of the judiciary are settled, the bloc could indeed release the frozen funds, pointing to “positive developments”.