EC President Michel to hold key talks with Orban in Budapest

EC President Michel to hold key talks with Orban in Budapest
European Council President Charles Michel (right) in Budapest at Viktor Orban's office in November 2019. / bne IntelliNews
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest November 27, 2023

European Council President Charles Michel will travel to Hungary for a bilateral meeting with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban on November 27, a couple of days after Hungary’s strongman called for "urgent discussion" on the bloc's overall strategy on Ukraine in a letter addressed to Michel.

According to the official statement, the talks will be a preparation for the December 14-15 meeting of the European Council, but observers say Michel is coming to Budapest to try to remove Vikor Orban’veto against further aid for Ukraine.

The European Council is unable to make key decisions on security guarantees for Ukraine, additional financial support, further strengthening of the EU sanctions regime (against Russia), or the future of the enlargement process unless a consensus on our future strategy toward Ukraine is found," according to a letter from Orban to Michel.

Effectively, Orban has continued to threaten to block additional support for Ukraine, the start of Ukraine's EU accession negotiations, and a new round of sanctions against Russia. 

Facing difficulties on the military front, Ukraine is awaiting new arms deliveries, financial support, and negotiations for EU membership

Orban is accused of wielding his veto power against European aid to Ukraine to unlock European funds. The disbursements of the RRF fund, totalling €10.4bn, remain contingent on progress in meeting more than two dozen super milestones.

The funds from this plan are frozen until Hungary fulfills a series of conditions set by the Commission, including independence of the judiciary, combating corruption, and public procurement rules.

On Thursday, the European Commission approved Hungary's modified Recovery and Resilience Plan (RRF), which will allow the country to receive €0.9bn in pre-financing of the REPowerEU funds.

The EU has also blocked €6.3bn from Cohesion Funds to Budapest because of concerns over rule of law issues, corruption, and the lack of judiciary reforms. Additionally, some €2.5bn of Cohesion Funds  are blocked due to treatment of refugees, discrimination against the LGBT community, and violations of academic freedom.

According to one EU diplomat speaking to Politico, the Orban government has “booby-trapped” every decision pertaining to Ukraine with its threat of veto, while several member states are already discussing how to bypass Hungary’s veto, though this would undermine the unity of the Union.

Politico also recalled that many MEPs are concerned over the European Commission’s rumoured plans to release some of the frozen EU funds, yielding to Orban's veto threats., but Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders has reassured them that funds “will not flow in the absence of necessary changes”.

In related news, Ukraine is mulling a new bill in Ukraine that would allow minorities to use their mother tongue in school.  Hungary will not support Ukraine in international politics in any way until it has restored the language rights of the Hungarian minority in the country, Orban said earlier.