Storm warning in Brussels: the next European Council of Heads of State and Government could end in failure. Hungary is in fact trying to open a breach in the united front in favor of Ukraine. The summit of December 14 and 15 must make a historic decision: that of starting accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova. It must also endorse financial support amounting to 50 billion euros for the period 2024-2027, in order to demonstrate to Vladimir Putin that Europeans are ready to support this country over the long term. But Viktor Orban is trying to block these two decisions for which unanimity is required.
The Hungarian Prime Minister wrote to the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, asking that the subject be removed from the agenda. In an interview on national radio, he criticized the European Commission, saying that its proposals are “ill-founded and poorly prepared”. Instead, he proposes a partnership agreement with Ukraine (which already exists). He also opposes the vote on budgetary support.
Hungary increases its purchases of Russian gas
“Viktor Orban acts like Vladimir Putin’s Trojan horse,” annoys a European official who suspects a financial calculation. Hungary, in fact, is in conflict with Brussels. The European Union has blocked the payment of European funds to Hungary, amounting to 22 billion euros, in the name of “failures of the rule of law”. “Orban is always ready for a transaction, and the question is knowing the price,” squeaks this same official.
In fact, Viktor Orban is a master of these bargains where he strives to make the most of his blocking power. To accept the European embargo on oil and gas, he negotiated an exemption for his country. Hungary even concluded new contracts for the purchase of Russian gas last April, contrary to all Europeans. “He has a real pro-Russian leaning, and a fascination for the strong man that is Vladimir Putin,” notes Amélie Poinssot, author of the book In the Head of Viktor Orban (1).
To try to sway the Magyar leader, Brussels has this time put on the table the release of 10 billion euros of frozen European funds. But wasted effort. Viktor Orban reiterated his refusal to support the aid package for Ukraine. “Orban has committed himself to this extent because he is using his posture for electoral purposes in Hungary. He wants to consolidate his electorate and pose as a defender of Hungarian identity against interference from Brussels,” explains Krysztof Soloch, professor at the Sorbonne and specialist in Central Europe. “Hungary also makes it a matter of principle to defend the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine,” he adds.
Hungary in search of its lost greatness
In the Ukrainian Carpathians, 156,000 Hungarian descendants live. Budapest denounces an education law adopted in 2017 in Ukraine which ignores the rights of its diaspora, according to Budapest. “Hungary has not digested its lost greatness after the Treaty of Trianon of 1920. The subject constantly comes up in the Hungarian debate,” notes Krysztof Soloch. The Hungarian leader’s stiffening can therefore be explained as much by a political posture as by the desire to maintain the benefit of his economic relations with Russia.
It may be very difficult to find an agreement between now and December 14. However, French President Emmanuel Macron will try. Viktor Orban is expected at the Élysée this Thursday, December 7 in the evening for a working dinner. A compromise could involve new exemptions from sanctions for Hungary, or a postponement until March of the decision on aid to Ukraine. But such a step back would necessarily be interpreted, in the Kremlin, as a victory.
(1) Actes Sud, 192 p., €19.50.