Hungary’s Orban blocks aid for Ukraine, says he can still halt EU accession

By Jan Strupczewski, Krisztina Than and Ingrid Melander

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban vetoed a big European Union aid package for Kyiv on Friday, and said he could still halt Ukraine’s accession after EU leaders approved the start of lengthy membership talks.

Leaders of all 27 EU states except Hungary agreed at a summit on Thursday to start accession talks with Ukraine despite Russia’s invasion of its neighbour, bypassing Orban’s grievances by getting him to leave the room.

But they could not overcome resistance from Orban to a revamp of the EU budget to channel 50 billion euros ($55 billion) to Ukraine and provide more cash for other tasks such as managing migration.

EU leaders said they would continue to help Kyiv. If no deal is found to do so within the EU budget, they will find workarounds, possibly with bilateral aid, they said.

The Kremlin praised the stance taken by Orban, who maintains close ties to Russia, but said the EU decision to open accession talks with Kyiv was politicised and could destabilise the bloc.

Orban, who has a history of trying to use disagreements with other EU leaders for his electoral benefit, told state radio he had blocked the aid package – part of a broader multi-year EU budget plan – to ensure Budapest gets funds from the EU budget that are frozen over concerns about the rule of law in Hungary.

“It is a great opportunity for Hungary to make it clear that it must get what it is entitled to. Not half of it, or one-fourth,” he said.

The European Commission, the EU executive, restored Hungary’s access to 10.2 billion euros of frozen funds on Wednesday after Budapest passed laws addressing some of the EU’s concerns, but funds worth billions of euros remain frozen.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the approval of membership talks as a victory for Ukraine and Europe.

Kyiv is reliant on foreign assistance as Russia’s war in Ukraine rages on, and U.S. President Joe Biden has so far been unable to get a $60 billion package for Kyiv through Congress.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said the decision to start accession talks made him “proud to be European” but was “only the first page of a very long, long process”.


Orban said Hungary could still block the talks at any time.

“This is a bad decision,” he said. “We can halt this process later on, and if needed we will pull the brakes.”

The EU leaders ended talks on the financial package in the early hours of Friday. All except Orban agreed to provide Ukraine with 50 billion euros over four years, but his veto blocked the funds because the decision requires unanimity.

“I can assure you, Ukraine will not be left without support, there are different ways to do this,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said, suggesting that a solution could be found by January, when an extraordinary summit would be held.

The best legal form for providing aid outside the EU budget is yet to be determined, but the European Commission could coordinate the collection of grants promised under the agreement and pass it on to Kyiv.

If the money were to be provided as loans, EU governments would probably need to provide guarantees for their part of the borrowing, a more cumbersome and costly process that might have to be repeated each year as new national budgets are passed.

Ukraine is unlikely to join the EU for many years, but the decision at the Brussels summit took it a step closer to its long-term strategic goal of anchoring itself in the West and leaving Russia’s orbit.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz played a big role in getting Orban to leave the room to clear the way for a decision, diplomats and officials said.

EU leaders reconvened on Friday to discuss other topics including the Israel-Hamas war.

(Reporting by Krisztina Than in Budapest and Philip Blenkinsop, Andrew Gray, Gabriela Baczsynksa, Jan Strupczewski, Julia Payne, Andreas Rinke, Michel Rose, Johnny Cotton in Brussels, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam, Benoit van Overstraeten in Paris, writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Nick Macfie, Clarence Fernandez and Timothy Heritage)