The EU is considering unlocking billions of euros for Hungary that were frozen over rule-of-law concerns as it seeks to win Budapest’s approval for aid to Ukraine including a start to membership talks for Kyiv, according to senior officials.
Hungary cultivates closer ties with Russia than other EU states, and is seen as the key potential opponentto a decision due in December on whether to open accession talks with Kyiv, which would require unanimous backing of the union’s 27 members.
At stake also is a bid by the EU executive Commission to have member states contribute more to the bloc’s joint coffers, to help fund more aid to Ukraine. That decision is also expected later this year and requires unanimity.
A senior EU official told Reuters that to sway Hungary’s vote, the bloc expects to look at the status of billions of euros worth of EU handouts now frozen over concerns that Prime Minister Viktor Orban has restricted the independence of courts.
“I can’t imagine Hungary agreeing without there first being a solution to the blocked funds,” said the official.
A second EU official confirmed there was a link between releasing funds to Hungary and EU plans requiring unanimity, including enlargement and budget talks.
Sources stressed, however, a deal was not a foregone conclusion and much also depended on Orban, who is faced with economic stagnation and a widening budget deficit at home.
“Hungary needs the money urgently, which is an incentive for reform. The Commission needs Hungary to lift its vetoes on a number of issues in return,” said an EU diplomat.
“But I don’t think the Commission will or can move without any movement on reforms from Budapest.”