EU to unfreeze billions for Hungary if Budapest supports Ukraine’s membership bid?

EU to unfreeze billions for Hungary if Budapest supports Ukraine’s membership bid?


The European Union is considering the release of billions of euros in aid for Hungary that have been on hold because of concerns about the country’s rule-of-law. The move is aimed at gaining Budapest’s support for Ukraine and its backing for Kyiv’s EU membership aspirations, according to senior officials in Brussels. Hungary is viewed as being closer to Russia than other EU member states, and therefore a potential opponent to a pending year-end decision that should determine whether talks with Kyiv about joining the bloc start or not. The go-ahead requires unanimous backing by all 27 EU members.

Also at stake is an attempt by the bloc’s executive body, the European Commission, to get member states to contribute more to EU coffers to help underwrite more aid to Ukraine. That decision is expected later this year also and it too requires unanimity.

A senior EU official has told Reuters that in order to sway Hungary’s vote, the bloc is expected to reassess the status of billions of euros worth of EU aid that has been frozen due to concerns about how Prime Minister Viktor Orbán restricted the independence of the Hungarian court system. Another official acknowledged that the release of the funds hinged on how Hungary responds to the EU stipulation that decisions about the enlargement process and budget issues have to be unanimous.

One official has indicated that some 13 billion euros is the amount under discussion, a figure initially reported by the Financial Times.

According to Reuters, whether a deal goes through or not depends primarily on PM Orbán, who is facing economic stagnation and a widening budget deficit at home. EU officials told the news agency that laws enacted by Hungary during the summer to increase judicial independence had raised the prospects of unfreezing part of the 22 billion euros designated for economic development aid. The Commission has approached Budapest asking for more details about implementation. Speaking in Budapest on Tuesday, Hungary’s EU affairs minister said he expected a deal with the EU on some 9 billion euros worth of frozen funds “by the end of the year”.

According to an EU diplomat, Hungary is in urgent need of money, which serves as a motivation for the country to enact reforms. However, the Commission is requesting that Hungary remove its vetoes on certain matters as a condition for providing assistance. The diplomat believes that if there is no progress on reforms from Budapest, the EC will be unable to take any action.

In attempting to reach agreement with Hungary, the EU also has to find a balance between two of its major goals – defending democratic standards in member countries and supporting Ukraine as it seeks to repel Russia’s invasion and integrate into the West.

Having applied to join the EU days after Russia’s invasion in February 2022, the West’s support is an existential issue for Ukraine while membership of the EU is a major national goal.

In the coming weeks, the EC is to present an assessment of Ukraine’s progress in meeting the criteria to start accession talks.

Orbán maintains that “very difficult questions” need to be answered before the EU starts membership talks with Ukraine. Just last week, he told the Hungarian parliament that he drew a line between supporting Ukraine and unlocking EU funds.

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