BRUSSELS (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban demanded on Monday that Ukraine’s membership in the European Union and billions of euros in funding meant for the war-torn country be taken off the agenda at a summit of the bloc’s leaders next week.
In a letter to European Council President Charles Michel, who will chair the Dec. 14-15 summit in Brussels, Orban insisted that a “strategic discussion” is needed first about Ukraine’s European future and warned that forcing a decision could destroy EU unity.
Decisions on EU's enlargement and a review of its long-term budget, which includes 50 billion euros ($54.1 billion) in aid for Kyiv, can only be taken unanimously by all 27 member countries.
“I respectfully urge you not to invite the European Council to decide on these matters in December as the obvious lack of consensus would inevitably lead to failure,” Orban wrote in the letter, dated Dec. 4 and seen by The Associated Press.
EU leaders, he wrote, “must avoid this counterproductive scenario for the sake of unity, our most important asset.” He did not explicitly say that Hungary would veto any moves to open membership talks with Ukraine, but the threat was implicit.
Michel’s office declined to comment.
Ukraine is counting on the EU funds to help its war-stricken economy survive in the coming year.
Last month, the European Commission, which supervises the enlargement process, recommended that Ukraine be allowed open membership talks once it addresses governance issues such as corruption, lobbying concerns and restrictions that might prevent its minorities from studying and reading in their own languages.
Orban has also claimed Ukraine is “light years” away from joining the EU and that its membership would not be in Hungary’s interests.
He is widely considered one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies in Europe and his nationalist government has long argued against EU sanctions on Russia over its 2022 invasion and has held up financial aid for Kyiv.
Orban has also argued that accession talks should not begin with a country at war, and that Ukraine’s membership would drastically change the way the 27-nation EU distributes funds among member countries.
In the letter, Orban lambasted the commission’s proposal to start talks even though all preconditions have not been met, saying it “marks the end of the European Union’s enlargement policy as an objective and merit-based instrument.”
He described the commission’s proposal for a mid-term review of the 2021-27 budget, which has blown out due to spending to counter the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war on Ukraine, as “unsubstantiated, unbalanced and unrealistic proposal.”
Orban has been locked in a tussle with the commission over concerns in Brussels about rule of law and corruption standards in Hungary. The EU froze billions in funding to Budapest over the shortcomings, but has freed up some money in recent weeks and is expected to do so again before the summit.
Orban's letter indicated the newly freed-up funds have not changed his mind about Ukraine.