- Hungary has cultivated closer ties with Moscow
- Ukraine needs continued EU support in its war with Russia
- Starting negotiations on EU membership for Kiev requires Hungary’s support
BRUSSELS/BUDAPEST, Nov 10 (Reuters) – The European Union will be able to bypass any Hungarian veto and give Ukraine 50 billion euros ($53.4 billion) in aid, officials in the bloc said, as Kiev fights pushing back Russia’s invasion 21 months into the war.
The bloc’s executive board has proposed expanding budget support to help Ukraine pay wages and cover other expenses as the conflict progresses, with the EU’s 27 member states set to vote on the package at a summit on 14-15. December in Brussels.
But some worry the aid could be blocked by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has touted his ties to Moscow and objected to similar aid in the past. Such payments from the common EU budget require unanimous support from all member states.
Asked for comment, Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs said any financial aid to Ukraine should be separate from the EU budget. He said the EU needed a new strategy for Ukraine and that all financial decisions should stem from it.
If Budapest exercises its veto, two EU officials said the bloc had a way around it by asking each of the other EU governments to create their own aid package with Kiev. All in all, the bilateral pacts would be the same.
“Hungary risks overstretching its luck. We prefer to have them on board, but there comes a time when people get tired of Budapest holding everyone hostage. The solution is tiring, but we have it if necessary,” an EU official said.
Another EU official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed. “The issue of money for Ukraine will be resolved one way or another, Kiev will get EU support,” the official said.
BILLIONS AT GAME
Last year, Hungary vetoed a similar proposal to provide 18 billion euros in economic aid to Ukraine by 2023.
After months of wrangling, Budapest finally agreed to the package after winning what it said were concessions from the bloc on aid to Hungary and hearing that the EU would use a similar solution to push it through anyway.
Asked whether the EU would follow that path again if necessary, EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said this week:
“Last year we actually discussed ‘Plan B’… But we were able to avoid this scenario last year. I hope we can avoid this scenario this year as well.”
In power for more than a decade, Orban has been locked in increasingly bitter battles with others in the EU over a range of issues, including democratic standards, foreign policy, migration and LGBT rights.
Under EU rules, however, the strategy of bypassing Hungary cannot be applied to a decision due in December on whether to open EU accession talks with Kiev, a coveted prize for Ukraine as it battles Russia.
That decision requires unanimity among the 27 EU members, something that is far from certain given Orban’s stance on the war. Speaking separately on Friday, Orban said he opposed opening membership talks with Kiev.
He also said there was no connection between that case and his disputes over billions of euros of EU funding for Hungary suspended due to democracy problems.
EU officials told Reuters last month they were looking at unlocking at least some of that money as the bloc seeks to win Orban’s vote for Ukraine. However, the officials insisted that Budapest still had to meet the necessary conditions.
($1 = 0.9369 euros)
Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski; Written by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Toby Chopra
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