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Orban against everyone: EU's moves to counter objection and delay in Ukraine's €50B deal

Orban against everyone: EU's moves to counter objection and delay in Ukraine's €50B deal European leaders at the Ukraine summit partially outplayed Viktor Orban (Photo: Getty Images)

Following the summit in Brussels, Belgium, Ukraine received the green light to begin negotiations for EU accession. While successfully bypassing the Hungarian veto, the €50 billion financial aid package remains blocked.

More details on the summit's outcomes and how European leaders battled Viktor Orban can be found in the material by RBC-Ukraine.

Sources for this article include material by The Guardian, BBC, Politico, Viktor Orban's Facebook page, statements by European Council President Charles Michel, Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration Olha Stefanishyna, and comments from Oleksandr Merezhko, head of the Ukrainian Parliament Committee on Foreign Policy.

The Euro Council has approved negotiations. Meanwhile, Orban took a coffee break

On the evening of December 14th, leaders of European Union member countries officially gave the green light for Ukraine's EU accession negotiations during the Brussels summit. Additionally, they greenlit negotiations with Moldova while granting candidate status to Georgia.

Ahead of the summit, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban threatened to block everything. He cited various reasons, from Ukraine allegedly not meeting necessary conditions to the threat of bringing war into the bloc. He also insisted on postponing this matter for six months.

Decisions in the Euro Council are made by consensus, meaning if there were a vote against it, the European Council wouldn't have been able to approve the decision regarding Ukraine. As a result, Orban didn't vote, stating that negotiations with Ukraine were a 'bad decision" in which Hungary had no intention of participating.

According to The Guardian, just before the final announcement, the Hungarian Prime Minister left the meeting hall. As stated by three European diplomats, by that time, the rest of the leaders had already agreed on starting negotiations.

"Hungary decided that if the 26 decide to do so, they should go their own way. Hungary does not want to share in this bad decision," said Orban.

However, as it turned out, he didn't leave of his own accord. According to Politico, after several hours of intense discussions, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz proposed a solution — perhaps Orban should leave the room, and take a "coffee break," so that other leaders could unanimously approve the start of negotiations with Ukraine. This request wasn't spontaneous but pre-arranged. Sources indicate that the Hungarian Prime Minister was absent in a constructive manner.

Scholz's diplomatic maneuver was unexpected for many. He's typically criticized for indecisiveness and is often compared unfavorably to Angela Merkel. Western media acknowledges that at least during yesterday's summit in Brussels, Scholz displayed leadership.

On the night before Friday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed this story.

"So far, we have managed to reach unanimity, including regarding Orbán. And I am absolutely confident and will work hard to ensure this happens today. ," noted Rutte.

Vice Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine, Olha Stefanishyna, mentioned that Orban "left the chat" during the meeting in Brussels, and his critical statements are likely aimed at the domestic audience.

Interestingly, Orban hasn't always been a critic of Ukraine. For instance, when he first led Hungary's government in 1998, he impeded Russian economic expansion. In the West, he was dubbed the most anti-Russian politician in Central Europe. In 2008, he publicly urged for the swift acceptance of Ukraine and Georgia into NATO.

For more on his transformation, read the article "Viktor Orban: Hungarian Prime Minister criticizing Ukraine, allying with Putin."

When will the EU accession negotiations start? And what's next?

According to the procedure, a so-called negotiation framework must be formed. As President of the European Council Charles Michel has noted, work on this will commence immediately. Stefanishyna, in turn, has emphasized that consultations on the next steps will begin on Monday, December 18th.

"Literal 15 minutes after the decision was adopted, I received a call from the European Commission. Already on Monday, December 18th, we will conduct negotiations regarding the next steps," she stated, adding that a work plan is in place.

According to her, the EU summit's decision was unexpected to the extent that negotiations were given the "green light" without any additional conditions. During a meeting with journalists in Brussels, Michel mentioned that the process would not start before spring. The transition to the next procedure will occur after the final assessment of Ukraine's compliance with seven recommendations by the Euro Commission.

"We will open negotiations and a report will be issued in March, and based on that we will make a decision in March," he said.

Then, within the framework of bilateral negotiations with EU countries, Ukraine will need to align its legislation with European standards: fulfilling the so-called Acquis communautaire of 35 points (trade, energy, education, finances, etc.). Typically, a negotiation framework is developed for each candidate, so part of the procedural aspects might be streamlined in Ukraine's case.

Chairman of the parliamentary committee on foreign policy, Oleksandr Merezhko, in a comment to RBC-Ukraine, explained that negotiations usually span several years.

"It involves forming a negotiating group and who will lead the negotiations. These negotiations can take several years. There are examples where it took 4-5 years; I think in our case, it will be shorter," he noted.

According to him, within the Acquis communautaire, it's not just about adapting thousands of pages of treaties and other sources of European law but also about aligning with the political principles of the EU. However, he expects that partners will accelerate negotiations due to the ongoing war.

"For us, EU membership is not just an economic or prestige issue; it's about our security and survival. Because European solidarity is the best guarantee against aggression. In my personal opinion, Putin wouldn't dare a full-scale attack if Ukraine were an EU member," the MP added.

Obviously, the duration of negotiations depends on how quickly Ukraine progresses with reforms. Equally important is the political will within the EU because progress at each point must be approved by all member countries. The position of Hungary and potential issues with eurosceptic governments in Slovakia and the Netherlands don't currently add optimism. Even the current Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, warns that the road to Ukraine's membership will take many years.

After completing negotiations, all 27 current EU countries must ratify the agreement on Ukraine's accession. In some cases, an internal referendum may be required. According to preliminary plans, the next wave of expansion will take place by 2030, and so far, Ukraine is seen among those who will become new EU members.

What's happening with the 50 billion euro package and why is Hungary against it?

The European Union is preparing a plan to support Ukraine with a 50 billion euro package over four years. This allocation includes direct budgetary support of 39 billion euros, 8 billion euros for investment, and an additional 3 billion euros for technical assistance.

Partners suggest dividing this sum equally among all members, with approximately 9.75 billion euros allocated annually. However, due to budget deficits and potential funding issues, Ukraine is negotiating to increase its share to 16-18 billion euros in 2024. Hungary is hindering the approval of the long-term EU budget, aiming to unlock funds for itself. In 2022, Brussels froze 22 billion euros due to concerns about human rights violations and the rule of law.

The Ukraine Facility plan is still under discussion, with Ukraine awaiting responses to its proposals, and the signing procedure expected in January. Budgetary matters are being discussed at the Brussels summit, with reports of broad consensus among all 27 countries, according to The Guardian.

This morning, Brussels correspondent for Radio Svoboda, Rikard Jozwiak, tweeted that Ukraine lost the battle for 50 billion euros. However, chances for the full sum remain, and Hungary might support the package in January. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban confirmed his veto against aid to Ukraine, with a revisit planned for 2024.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte emphasizes that there's still time, and Ukraine won't be left without funds in the coming weeks. He notes the support of 26 EU member states for the 50 billion euro package until 2027, with Budapest being the sole blocker. The condition is to allocate funds to Hungary first.

"It is a great opportunity for Hungary to make it clear that it must get what it is entitled to. Not half of it, or one-fourth," Viktor Orban has said today, adding that he will take care of it in January.

It's worth noting that this week the European Commission agreed to unblock approximately one-third of the 30 billion euros for Hungary.

According to Charles Michel, there are other instruments, so Ukraine will receive financial assistance. Currently, an alternative option is being considered to gather funds through an agreement among 26 EU countries (excluding Hungary). The details of the alternative proposal have not been disclosed yet. However, citing sources, Suspilne writes about monthly tranches of 1.5 billion euros throughout 2024, and this money will not be included in the EU budget.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says that the money will still come. The question is whether it will be a joint program where each country contributes or a separate program without Hungary's participation.

"If Orban insists on this issue, there is a hundred percent understanding of how to launch this program without consensus. The countries willing to invest will form a coalition and will transfer the funds to Ukraine through EU mechanisms. This won't take long, roughly until next summer. It will be at the beginning of the year," he has noted, adding that it still concerns the same 50 billion euros.

Chairman of the Financial Committee of the Ukrainian Parliament, Danylo Hetmantsev, emphasizes that there is no betrayal in Orban vetoing the allocation of 50 billion euros within the Ukraine Facility. It is now widely believed that negotiations are ongoing, and decisions will be made in January, and the promised support will certainly be delivered.

"It's definitely not the end of the world. Budget financing from January 1, 2024, will not stop. The government has enough liquidity to finance expenditures in January-February," he added.


The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine thanked its partners for the historic decision to open negotiations. Now, they await the swift preparation by the European Commission of the negotiation mandate and the screening of Ukrainian legislation.

Additionally, Kyiv welcomes the pivotal decision to establish the Ukraine Facility fund amounting to 50 billion euros for the years 2024-2027. They anticipate the completion of necessary legal procedures in January. These funds will be directed toward supporting macroeconomic stability, the recovery, and accelerating Ukraine's integration into the EU.

"We welcome the commitment of the EU and its member states to meet the urgent military and defense needs of Ukraine, particularly through the European Peace Facility (EPF) and the EU Military Assistance Mission, as well as through bilateral assistance from member states. We urge the EU to approve the new eighth tranche of assistance under the European Peace Facility as soon as possible," the statement reads.