Hungary reportedly threatens to torpedo Ukraine-EU association pact amid language dispute

Hungary reportedly threatens to torpedo Ukraine-EU association pact amid language dispute
By bne IntelliNews October 10, 2017

Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto believes that a new Ukrainian education law violates the principles of the Ukraine-EU association agreement, and Budapest wants to initiate a review of the pact, Interfax news agency reported on October 10 citing the Hungarian newspaper Magyar Nemzet.

On September 25, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the new law, which was approved earlier by the country's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada. According to the Hungarian authorities, the association agreement reduces the rights of minorities to receive education in their native languages.

There are some 150,000 ethnic Hungarians living in the western part of the country. Budapest has made it a priority to support financially the cultural and educational institutions of ethnic minorities living in Hungary’s neighbours.

According to the new legislation in the future children from national minorities will be taught all subjects in Ukrainian from the fifth grade upwards (age 10). Poland and Romania have also expressed concern about the norms of the new law, which was mainly targeted at the Russian-speaking population living in the eastern regions of Ukraine.

On September 26, Szijjarto promised to block "all steps within the European Union that would represent a step forward in Ukraine’s European integration process in the spirit of the Eastern Partnership programme".

Meanwhile, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said on October 10 that he is "very surprised" by Szijjarto's statements. "I plan to discuss all issues on October 12 in Budapest," Klimkin tweeted. "For us, the revision of the association agreement is possible only in the context of ensuring Ukraine's clear European perspective."

Earlier this year, the Council of the European Union completed the process of ratification of the Ukraine-EU association agreement following the ratification of the pact with Ukraine in late May by the upper house of the Dutch parliament even though more than 60% of Dutch voters had rejected it in a non-binding referendum in April 2016.

Signed in 2014, the association agreement with Ukraine should help converge economic policy, legislation and regulation in areas like labour rights, visa-free movement, and exchange of information and staff in the justice sphere.