Politics & Economics

Orbán abstains from Ukraine accession talks, vetoes further aid at European Summit

December 2023
By Maximilian Powell

As the European Council met on 14-15 December the political focus has been centered on the EU Budget and Ukraine. Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán blocked €50 billion in EU financial aid for Ukraine on Friday (15 December), raising questions about Europe’s continued support.  EU leaders, who were engaged in negotiations over the aid package until early Friday morning, halted discussions as Orbán refused to approve funding to bolster Ukraine’s government over the next four years.

The mounting pressure for Orbán to compromise involved French and German leaders Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz holding a breakfast with him on Thursday morning. It appears Europe’s biggest players are trying to present a united front, as Charles Michel met on Wednesday with Macron, Scholz, and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to discuss their approach. Later on Wednesday night, Macron and Scholz held a trilateral with Italian PM Georgia Meloni, before she too held a face-to-face discussion with Orbán on Thursday morning. Meloni has been an outspoken supporter of Ukraine throughout the conflict but also often seeks to influence her fellow right-winger Orbán during tense European summits. However, regarding funds for Ukraine, all these efforts proved to be unsuccessful, with European Council President Charles Michel indicating that the decision might be reconsidered in early 2024 during an extraordinary leaders’ meeting in January.

On issues relating to the budget, it appears that there is broad agreement among EU members on Council President Charles Michel’s proposed cuts to the bloc’s midterm budget review, which would decrease any additional contributions from member states to the Commission from €66 billion to €22.5 billion until 2027. However, Michel noted that concerning Ukraine, the latest compromise budget proposal had strong backing from 26 EU leaders, with all member states except Hungary satisfied with the revised document. Following the breakdown of talks, Orbán claimed victory on social media: “Summary of the nightshift: veto for the extra money to Ukraine,” highlighting his veto of injecting additional funds into the EU’s budget.

Despite the problems with the budget, progress was made as Orbán eventually gave in to the bloc’s symbolic decision to open membership talks with Kyiv. He stepped out of the negotiation room and abstained following a suggestion by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, allowing other EU leaders to reach a consensus on accession without his participation. 

Orbán’s stance is proving politically challenging for the bloc, as with what some viewed as a last-minute concession, the European Commission agreed on Wednesday to unfreeze €10 billion of blocked funds despite issues concerning Hungary’s rule of law. However, €21 billion remains beyond Orbán’s reach. Orbán denied any linkage between these funds and Hungary’s stance on Ukraine, stating, “That’s not our approach.”