EU aims to grant Ukraine aid even if Hungary vetoes it at coming summit


  • World
  • Saturday, 09 Dec 2023

FILE PHOTO: A man inspects damage at an oil depot hit by recent shelling in the course of Russia-Ukraine conflict in Donetsk, Russian-controlled Ukraine, December 7, 2023. REUTERS/Valery Melnikov/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The European Union will find ways to provide more financial support to Ukraine even if Hungary vetoes it as well as membership talks for Kyiv at a summit next week, a senior official said on Friday.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has threatened to block moves to give Kyiv 50 billion euros in budget support through 2027 and the green light for membership talks - a key strategic objective for Ukraine as it fights Russia's invasion.

Failure to deliver on those two proposals would come as a heavy blow to Ukraine, exhausted after nearly two years of a war that has descended into a fierce attritional battle with little change to the front lines this year.

Ukraine relies heavily on economic assistance from the West to keep going.

"We know how existential it is. European leaders are responsible people - at least 26," said the senior EU official, who is involved in preparing the summit.

"They will stick to their commitments," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Should Orban veto the 50 billion euros ($53.75 billion) for Ukraine, the official said, the bloc could allocate a smaller amount to cover a shorter period or the other 26 EU countries could extend their national contributions bilaterally to Kyiv.

The EU gave 18 billion euros for Ukraine this year - something Hungary initially vetoed last December before Budapest said it had secured concessions on getting EU funds frozen over concerns about democratic backsliding under Orban.

A senior EU diplomat said a compromise might be found again but used blunt language that reflected the frustration of many EU members over the nationalist Hungarian government's stance.

"Across the board ..., the Hungarian hooligans are a problem when it comes to our policy vis-à-vis Russia's aggression against Ukraine," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

MILITARY AID

Discussions at the summit will also focus on whether to add another 5 billion euros for Ukraine to the European Peace Facility, an EU-run fund used to give military aid to Kyiv.

Orban, who boasts about his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a time the rest of the bloc is trying to isolate Moscow for waging the war, has recently intensified criticism of EU support for Kyiv and sanctions against Russia.

In opposing the step in what would be a long and very difficult path to possible EU membership, Orban initially complained about Ukraine's treatment of its Hungarian minority.

But he has since said Ukraine is too corrupt and not ready to join the EU, leaving his peers guessing about his intentions. There was no immediate sign that French President Emmanuel Macron managed to sway Orban at an Elysee dinner on Thursday.

Transparency International says perceptions of corruption in Hungary are only somewhat better than in Ukraine. It says Hungary is seen as the most corrupt country in the EU.

Concern over corruption and years of bitter feuding between Orban and the EU over damaging democratic rights in Hungary led the bloc's executive to freeze Budapest out of billions in aid.

As the bloc now seeks to win Orban's backing for Ukraine, a decision on unlocking access to 10 billion euros is expected just before the summit next week.

Should Orban still block the launch of membership talks with Ukraine, related proposals on inching forward with EU bids by Georgia and Bosnia are likely to fall through, diplomats said.

($1 = 0.9302 euros)

(Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Andrew Gray; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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