EU set for summit showdown over Ukraine accession talks as Hungary stands firm

EU set for summit showdown over Ukraine accession talks as Hungary stands firm
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  • EU leaders this week discuss Ukraine’s membership bid
  • Ukraine also hope to receive new military aid

BRUSSELS, Dec 11 (Reuters) – Hungary said on Monday it would not bow to pressure from other European Union states to give the green light for accession talks with Ukraine, setting the stage for a showdown at an EU summit this week.

Ukraine’s foreign minister said it would be “devastating” for his country and the EU if the Dec. 14-15 summit did not the go-ahead for membership talks and more financial and military aid for Kyiv to defend itself against Russia’s invasion.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who boasts about his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has threatened to veto the aid and enlargement talks.

Other EU states, including richest member Germany, have said they back starting negotiations with Kyiv on the long process of joining the bloc, but Budapest dug in its heels.

“A majority of European politicians want to make such important decisions which are entirely unprepared and lack strategic agreement on the future of Europe,” Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto wrote on Facebook before a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels that will help prepare the summit.

“We will not give in to any pressure … irrespective of where that is coming from, from whom, and what kind of blackmail it is or promise.”

Hungary is not at odds with its EU partners for the first time. It watered down sanctions against Russia and last December vetoed a deal to grant Ukraine 18 billion euros ($19.4 billion) in 2023.

Budapest eventually allowed that assistance through after haggling for days over EU aid to Hungary, which had been blocked over concerns of democratic backsliding under Orban.

“I want to believe that the Europeans will be united … and we will today send clear messages to our Hungarian counterpart so it can be so,” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis described it as “a clash of ideologies, between those who want Europe to be strong and those who don’t want the EU at all.”

‘DEVASTATING CONSEQUENCES’

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who took part in the EU foreign ministers’ meeting, said failing at this week’s summit to agree on open accession talks would show the EU is unable to follow through on historical commitments.

“I cannot imagine, I don’t even want to talk about the devastating consequences that will occur shall the (European) Council fail to make this decision,” he said, calling it “the mother of all decisions”.

Securing new financial assistance from Europe is critical, and doubts are also growing over future U.S. support for Kyiv as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy heads to talks in Washington.

All these decisions – as well as another on what would be the EU’s 12th package of sanctions against Russia since Moscow’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 – require the unanimous backing of all the bloc’s 27 countries.

As the EU finds itself again seeking to win Orban’s support for Ukraine, the executive European Commission is expected to unlock Budapest’s access to 10 billion euros this week.

Diplomats said related attempts by Georgia and Bosnia to advance their hopes of joining the EU – backed by Orban – would fall through if Hungary vetoed talks with Ukraine, but some also said a compromise was still possible.

Those expecting Orban to budge described a possible compromise throwing the start on negotiations with Ukraine to March once final conditions are met. Others say it is possible Orban may not be persuaded.

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