As European Union leaders meet in Brussels for their quarterly summit with a goal of securing new financial and political support for Ukraine, Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary is the one man holding up both.
Mr. Orban, who has in the past held up E.U. sanctions against Russia and is seen as President Vladimir V. Putin’s closest ally in the bloc, said on Thursday that Ukraine was not ready to start negotiating membership in the alliance. He also said that 50 billion euros, about $52 billion, in proposed aid for Ukraine should come only after Europe-wide elections planned for the summer.
The two-day E.U. summit is being held at a crucial moment for Ukraine: Its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, just held bruising meetings in Washington, where he was unable to secure desperately needed money for his war effort because of political divisions in Congress. The E.U. aid would be a major boost, just as good news on at least opening formal negotiations on Ukraine’s membership prospects could turn around a souring atmosphere, even as Mr. Putin declared that Russia’s aims in the war were unchanged.
As Mr. Orban arrived in Brussels for the summit, he said: “Enlargement is not a theoretical issue; enlargement is a merit-based, legally detailed process, which has preconditions.” He claimed Ukraine had not fulfilled the formal criteria to open talks about membership.
In a post on social media, he went further: arguing that Ukraine’s membership in the bloc was not in the “best interests” of Hungary or the European Union.
Can one E.U. country hold up membership talks for Ukraine?
The accession process through which countries can join the European Union is subject to unanimous approval by all member states, so, yes, Mr. Orban’s veto could postpone any decision about Ukraine, which is currently waiting for a green light to formally open negotiations about joining the bloc.
Other E.U. leaders arriving in Brussels on Thursday said that they wanted to keep pushing Hungary to find a compromise.
“We have to reach some sort of agreement — we don’t have time to procrastinate or push it to the future,” said Prime Minister Kaja Kallas of Estonia, adding that Ukraine’s accession talks would take years anyway and that it would be a bad signal to postpone them.
Ukraine has been promised a fair but not expedited shot at joining the bloc. Ukraine’s government views membership as a crucial guarantee of a prosperous and stable future, and one that would insulate it from Russia’s aggression, even if the European Union is not a defense alliance like NATO.
Can the European Union still provide more aid to Ukraine if Hungary disagrees?
Yes. The bloc has in the past used trusts to put together funds for causes that did not have support from all members, but that is a politically irritating process that many leaders will try to avert.
“We cannot accept any blackmailing; we have to find a decision together,” Prime Minister Petteri Orpo of Finland said on Thursday.
“What we decide or what we don’t decide is a clear signal to Moscow, to Kyiv, to Washington, to Beijing,” Mr. Orpo added.