All 27 leaders agree deal after 11th-hour meetings with Hungarian prime minister, who had vowed to block the funds
1 February 2024
Viktor Orbán has agreed a deal with fellow EU leaders on a €50bn support package for Ukraine after pulling back from the brink for a second time at a summit in Brussels.
The Hungarian prime minister, who had been vowing to block the funds since December, finally succumbed to pressure after a series of 11th-hour meetings with the Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, as well as the European Commission and Council presidents, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel. “I think he just can’t see any more options. He cashed in,” said one senior source.
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the Ukrainian president, said the decision “once again proves strong EU unity”. The four-year package is designed to keep Ukraine’s economy afloat, with cash for hospitals, schools and civil servants wages and pensions. “Continued EU financial support for Ukraine will strengthen long-term economic and financial stability, which is no less important than military assistance and sanctions pressure on Russia,” he said.
The deal surprised everyone gathered in Brussels for the emergency summit which was called after Orbán blocked the €50bn fund in December. “The mood this morning was not good, nobody was expecting this,” said a diplomat.
Two additional paragraphs were added to the draft conclusions agreed by leaders but sources say neither amounted to a win for Orbán. “He didn’t get anything,” said one source close to those in the room.
One new paragraph calls for the European Council to invite the European Commission to review the budgetary framework in two years’ time. “There is no veto,” said a spokesperson for the European Council. However, the new paragraph allows for a “debate” on the fund “if needed”.
Announcing the deal, Michel tweeted: “We have a deal. #Unity. All 27 leaders agreed on an additional €50 billion support package for Ukraine within the EU budget. This locks in steadfast, long-term, predictable funding for #Ukraine. EU is taking leadership & responsibility in support for Ukraine; we know what is at stake.”
European leaders expressed their frustration and anger with Orbán on the way into the summit. Asked what he would be saying to Orbán, the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, was short: “Nothing nice.”
By 11.30 am some of the leaders were talking of going home early, furious that they had been dragged to Brussels only for Orbán to cave to pressure at the last minute.
But also on the agenda at the summit was the Middle East and extra military funds for Ukraine.
Lisa O’Carroll is a journalist based in the United Kingdom. She is Brexit correspondent and senior reporter at The Guardian. She previously covered the financial crash and IMF bailout in Ireland and the Ebola crisis from West Africa. In 2000 she joined the Guardian’s first online team, as editor of mediaguardian.co.uk. She has worked for a number of national media in the UK and in Ireland.