December 15, 2023
From celebration to exasperation in a matter of hours. The gambit to get Putin pal Viktor Orban of Hungary to leave the room worked yesterday and led to agreement by 26 of the EU’s 27 members that Ukraine could begin talks to join the European Union. But at 3 a.m. Orban vetoed a planned €50 billion financial package for Ukraine.
Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, said another summit would be convened in early January to get approval for funding and that the funds were already in place. The New York Times reported that “if Mr. Orban continues to block the funds, the E.U. can still create a trust with the other 26 member countries, which have all signalled their approval. But doing so would be cumbersome.”
Orban is a corrupt dictator who controls Hungary’s media and most of its politicians, business leaders, and judges. The EU has withheld funding from him for breaching its values, but this week released half of the €20 billion he’s been denied to get him to allow accession talks. Now this. “I’m fairly confident we can get to a breakthrough early next year,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters. “They still have time. Ukraine is not out of money in the next couple of weeks.”
Such “blackmail” by Orban, plus misdeeds and obstructionism bordering on sabotage, could result in suspension of Hungary from the EU. There is no provision for expulsion as yet but under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union a member can be suspended (by four-fifths of the majority) if it seriously breaches the principles as defined in Article 2 of the Treaty. These include respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, and the rule of law. If booted out, Hungary would still have to adhere to its financial and other responsibilities as a member, but have no voting rights.
Also late yesterday, the US Senate’s Democratic caucus postponed holidays in the hopes of devising a compromise concerning the border to free up funds for Ukraine. If that doesn’t succeed, the White House has discretionary funds that will continue to Ukraine for weeks to come.
Also worrisome is that Hungary is also a potential Kremlin saboteur inside NATO, another institution based on unanimity. Unfortunately, there is no mechanism for suspension, only voluntary departure.
For Ukrainians, this is another roller coaster ride and now the mood is “bittersweet”, according to Ukrainian politician Kira Rudik. There was elation about accession, but she added without funding “it is impossible to have a European future without winning the war.”