Hungary does not block EU giving 500 million euros more to arm Ukraine
January 23. 2023. – 04:38 PM
"We are not going to hinder" another 500 million euros from an EU fund being spent on arms for Ukraine, but the current Ukrainian law on the protection of minorities means that the Hungarian government may not say yes to every decision supporting Ukraine in the future, Péter Szijjártó said. The Foreign Minister did not deny that Hungary would like to take some already sanctioned Russians off the EU list the next time it is due for renewal.
EU foreign ministers met in Brussels on Monday to discuss the possibility of using a further €500 million from the European Peace Facility to provide ex-post funding for arms for Ukraine.
The €5.7 billion, which is over and above the "normal" common budget, was raised jointly by member states, including Hungary, and reimbursement for military equipment given to non-EU countries may be requested from this. The 2021-2027 fund, which was intended for a more peaceful period, was quickly exhausted by weapons given to Ukraine to defend itself against the Russian invasion. So far, more than €3.1 billion has been allocated for this purpose, while money has also been spent on equipment for other countries, so last December the dwindling budget had to be increased by €2 billion. Both this and the payments require unanimity, i.e. the agreement or at least abstention of the Hungarian government.
Politico reported on Monday that Hungary had previously blocked the approval at ambassadorial level, claiming it was waiting for instructions from the government. (This is how the proposal ended up one level higher, before the ministers.) At a press conference on the day of the meeting, Szijjártó said: "our position is clear: we need peace" because "any decision that could lead to a prolongation or potential escalation of the war" is "contrary to our interests", and that as a next door neighbor of Ukraine, we feel the impact, so "we do not think it is a good idea to increase arms transfers", but
"we will not prevent the implementation of the European Union's decision on this matter".
If no other member state objects, this could lead to a political agreement about the payment of €500 million and €45 million for the EU's mission to train Ukrainian soldiers.
By not protecting the Hungarian minority, Ukraine “is making it difficult” for Hungary to support it
Péter Szijjártó said he had asked his colleagues for help, because the mass dismissal of Hungarian teachers and the removal of Hungarian symbols in Transcarpathia are "signs of a serious, concentrated anti-Hungarian attack". (There have been examples of this over the last few days in the region of Mukacheve.) He stressed that this is not a bilateral problem, because Ukraine is a candidate for EU membership and the protection of national minorities is one of the EU's core values. He said that the minority law adopted in Ukraine last December was not enough, and that a return to the 2015 legislation would be necessary.
"All measures which will require sacrifices from Hungary will make our future decisions in favor of Ukraine very difficult".
Despite the protests from Romania as well, the minister said that for the time being, the Ukrainians do not seem to be taking into account the needs of any member state, but “there will be certain European decisions Ukraine will need, and those will not be made without us". The later the rights of the Transcarpathian Hungarians are restored, the more difficult it will be for Budapest to take supportive decisions.
According to the minister, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell has confirmed that he will "put a strong emphasis" on minorities in his talks with Ukraine and will address the issue at the Ukraine-EU summit in February.
The next round of sanctions is being prepared
The meeting also discussed the next sanctions package under preparation. As with the previous nine, a unanimous decision is needed, i.e. one that includes the vote of the Hungarian government.
"This proposal is at a very advanced stage" and was backed by "the vast majority" of EU countries that spoke at the meeting. "We fundamentally dispute the effectiveness of the sanctions" Szijjártó said, because they have not stopped the war in a year, adding that "it is not a political statement but a fact" that sanctions are hurting the EU more than Russia.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitro Kuleba also spoke at the meeting and said that he would like to sanction the Russian nuclear industry, which "has a breeding ground" in certain member states, but the Hungarian government does not support this because it would jeopardise the security of Hungarian energy supplies. Szijjártó said that it has been pointed out to the European Commission that the proposal – which could be made public as early as this week – should not affect nuclear cooperation with Russia in any way.
He did not deny that Hungary would like to have some names removed from the list of sanctioned individuals
The minister was asked about the Hungarian government's intention to remove nine names from the EU sanctions list, as reported by Politico and Radio Free Europe. The sanctioning of the individuals, companies and organizations on the list must be regularly and unanimously renewed by member states.
"It is important for European credibility that people who have no legal or substantive basis for being on the sanctions lists" should not be included. (The list does not only include names but also a detailed description of them, explaining why they are on it. Decisions may be challenged in the EU's General Court if someone feels they are included unlawfully. The EU has lost such cases before when some Russian oligarchs turned to the Court and requested that their assets be unfrozen.)
According to Péter Szijjártó, "some people understand our arguments", while others would not be satisfied if there were ten times as many people on the list. According to Politico, the Poles, who were formerly the main allies of the Hungarian government, have protested the Hungarian position the most.
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