Hungary fails to block Nato-Ukraine Commission talks

Hungary fails to block Nato-Ukraine Commission talks
Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (left) and Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto in Brussels on March 21. / Facebook
By Tamas Csonka in Budapest March 22, 2023

Hungary’s diplomacy suffered a setback on March 21 as Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he is ready to call the first meeting of the Nato-Ukraine Commission at ministerial level since 2017, apparently against Hungary's will. Budapest claims that the move "hurts the cherished unity of Nato".

The Nato-Ukraine Commission hasn't met at a ministerial level for six years. The last meeting was held at a lower level in 2019 in Kyiv, with Nato ambassadors joining Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and some of his ministers, some three years before Russia's full-scale invasion.

Hungary has been blocking high-level talks between Kyiv and Nato since 2017,  citing what it calls a discriminatory Ukrainian language law passed in the same year. Budapest says the regulation impedes members of the ethnic Hungarian Transcarpathian minority (estimated at150,000 before the war) from studying in their mother tongue.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the Nato chief had taken the Hungarian government’s concerns over the rights of ethnic minorities seriously at their talks on Tuesday.

Stoltenberg noted he respected points Hungary had made about the protection of minorities but holding the Commission meeting was a platform to demonstrate support for Ukraine.

The convening of a ministerial-level meeting is a violation of Nato's unity, and Hungary will not support Ukraine’s integration (Nato, and EU) until the rights of the Hungarian national community in Ukraine are restored, Szijjarto told Hungarian reporters in Brussels. He also talked about what the government perceived as an "enormous pressure from both sides of the Atlantic.

The meeting will be held on the sidelines of a gathering of Nato foreign ministers in Brussels on April 4-5.

The issue of the prolonged ratification process of the two new members to the military alliance has also been discussed during Tuesday’s meeting of Stoltenberg and Szijjarto.

Stoltenberg said Hungary’s top diplomat confirmed to him that the parliament in Budapest would vote on Finland's membership on March 27, but it's unclear when or if it will vote on Sweden's entry.

Hungary remains the last EU member of Nato not to have ratified the application of the two Nordic countries. The process has stalled since July. The Hungarian government has given a number of justifications for the delay. But as time passed on it has become clear that the Orban government has been using the delay to put pressure on the European Commission which has frozen billions in funds over corruption and rule-of-law concerns.

The government needs to meet more than two dozen conditions (super milestones) including legislation on reforming the judiciary before the end of March to access vital EU funds.

Szijjarto also declined to say what the problem was with Sweden’s bid. Sweden holds the rotating presidency of the EU until the end of June, and some analysts have speculated that Hungary may drag the ratification process out until then.

On Monday, Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga was the only person not to support the joint resolution supporting the decision of the International Criminal Court on the arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin. The ICC on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for his alleged responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.

Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, issued a statement on his own behalf, noting the ICC's decision and adding that accountability has begun.

Opposition MEP Sandor Ronai the Orban government is "destroying and discrediting Hungary by defending the Russian president, who is accused of war crimes".