ER Editor: Yesterday we published on Orban playing hardball with the EU, refusing more funds to Ukraine, demanding an accounting, blocking enlargement of the EU budget, etc. Today, this. “Just say no, Mr. Orban”. See —
The EU froze 22 billion euros against Hungary, and is now willing to release 13 billion.
EU prepared to give in to Hungarian demands – FT
Viktor Orban had previously vowed to block any increase in the EU budget, jeopardizing the bloc’s financial aid to Kiev
The European Commission is planning to unfreeze about €13 billion ($13.6 billion) in EU funds for Hungary by the end of November, aiming to secure the country’s support for an increase to the bloc’s budget to support financial assistance to Ukraine. That’s according to the Financial Times, according to three unnamed officials briefed on the discussions.
In December, Brussels froze €22 billion ($23 billion) in cohesion funds allocated to Hungary. The money was blocked over major concerns related to the independence of judges and the country’s failure to comply with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights on issues including LGBTQ rights, academic freedom, and asylum.
The funds were supposed to be frozen until Budapest complies with rules protecting human rights and the rule of law. In May, the Hungarian government reached a preliminary deal on key judicial reforms. As a result, Brussels agreed to release more than half of the amount.
By unblocking the funds, EU authorities expect to gain Hungarian support for boosting the bloc’s budget and providing significant financial aid to Ukraine.
The commission had previously proposed a €66 billion increase to the EU’s shared budget to cover increased costs, part of which are expected to contribute to a €50 billion financial package for Kiev to help in covering the country’s expenses for the next four years.
Since the beginning of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s line of argument has been broadly different from that of the EU and its allies. The PM has repeatedly criticized sanctions against Russia and refused to send weapons to Ukraine. Orban also urged the EU to persuade Moscow and Kiev to begin peace negotiations.
In retaliation, the Ukrainian National Corruption Prevention Agency (NCPA) designated Hungary’s largest commercial lender OTP Bank an “international sponsor of war” over allegedly providing preferential lending terms to the Russian military.
Budapest responded by blocking the release of funding totaling €500 million earmarked for military aid to Ukraine by means of the European Peace Facility (EPF) mechanism.
ER: Thanks to Tom Luongo for this framing remark —
First they steal your money, then they offer it back to you in exchange for more of what they stole your money for in the first place.
Just say no, Mr. Orban.https://t.co/FVLgnbf0U0
— Tom Luongo (Head Sneetch) (@TFL1728) October 4, 2023
Hungary’s Viktor Orbán has long been an opponent of the mainstay of EU policy on Ukraine, having also persistently criticized Kiev for discrimination against Hungarian minorities, and demanding that a 2017 law restricting the use of minority languages be changed. He’s also refused to ratify Sweden’s entry into NATO.
Orbán has further throughout the conflict stood against policies which escalate against Moscow, and has constantly warned against stumbling into a WW3 scenario involving direct NATO-Russia clash. He told Tucker Carlson in a recent interview that “the Third World War сould be knocking on our door so we have to be very careful.” With Budapest having been a consistent thorn in the side of the EU, Brussels now wants to pay the Hungarians off.
“The European Commission is preparing to unfreeze around €13 billion in funds for Hungary to try to avoid Prime Minister Viktor Orbán vetoing EU aid for Ukraine, in a move likely to draw criticism from the European Parliament,” Politico reports Tuesday.
“The Commission needs the unanimous backing of the bloc’s 27 countries for an update to the EU’s long-term budget, which includes a €50 billion funding pot for Ukraine,” the report adds.
Akin to what’s currently going down in Washington with a group of Republicans holding up Ukraine funding, Brussels may soon have its own Ukraine aid blockage problem. EU aid for Kiev, which was previously approved, runs out in December, hence the urgency for EU leadership in wanting to push through a new package.
A week ago, Orbán gave a speech declaring Hungary will no longer support Ukraine in any way unless certain significant policies are changed both in Kiev and in the European Union.
He stressed in the words given before parliament that “Hungary is doing everything for peace” but that “unfortunately the Russian-Ukrainian war continues, tens of thousands of people are victims.” Thus, he continued, “Diplomats must take control back from the hands of the soldiers, otherwise it will be in vain for women to wait for their sons and fathers and husbands to come home.”
The Hungarian leader has stood against ratcheting Western sanctions on Moscow, instead choosing to maintain a generally positive diplomatic relationship with the Kremlin.
He also a week ago charged that Kiev and its backers have cheated Budapest by “Ukrainian grain dumping” into his country. He had also laid out, per The Hill:
… that he was protesting a 2017 law in Ukraine that limits ethnic Hungarians from speaking their own language, particularly in schools and said Hungary would not support Ukraine on international issues “until the previous laws are restored.”
Needless to say EU officials are panicking, and are readying a lucrative quid pro quo with Hungary (based on freeing frozen funds related to the prior years’ so-called “rule of law” punitive measures”), so that EU aid to Ukraine doesn’t get blocked at a crucial moment that Washington funding is drying up.
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