Balázs Orbán: Brussels is using blackmail against Hungary like there's no tomorrow

January 29. 2024. – 01:13 PM



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"Brussels is using blackmail against Hungary like there's no tomorrow"

– Balázs Orbán wrote on X (formerly Twitter) on Monday. In his post, the Prime Minister's Political Director referenced a Financial Times article from the weekend, which suggested that the other member states may well permanently cut Hungary off from EU subsidies if Orbán continues to be unwilling to cooperate in a constructive fashion about the EU’s intended assistance to Ukraine.

The paper quoted a proposal drawn up ahead of the meeting of EU heads of state and government coming up on Thursday, which also reached the newspaper's staff. According to the document, withholding EU funding would put Hungary under considerable pressure.

The Financial Times did not specify who the "EU officials" who drafted the proposal represented, or whether the document even got as far as being circulated among member states. European Council meetings are prepared by EU ministers, whose last meeting prior to the summit is scheduled for Monday.

The Hungarian government is typically represented at the meeting by EU Affairs Minister János Bóka, who on Monday also posted about blackmail on Facebook, but said that "Hungary will not give in". According to him, "Hungary is not connecting access to EU funds with support for Ukraine and refuses to allow others to do so".

What is the Hungarian government opposed to and what has it linked Hungarian funds with?

Speaking prior to the recent EU summit, it was Balázs Orbán who suggested that if the money was going to affect the common budget, then he considered the two issues linked. At the December summit, Viktor Orbán announced a "veto on extra money for Ukraine" and on increasing the EU budget, part of which would have included the assistance for Ukraine. This is what necessitated holding an extraordinary EU summit on 1 February on the €50 billion package for Ukraine, two-thirds of which is a loan that would run for a period of four years. The assistance programme, previously set up in December 2022, was limited to one year.

The Hungarian government had already threatened to veto the 2022 plan, and in response member states agreed to a plan B. This would provide assistance on an intergovernmental basis without affecting the EU budget, potentially even leaving Hungary out.

Based on previous statements, the Hungarian government would not be opposed to this idea, which has now resurfaced in relation to the current draft, provided it was for a shorter period (i.e. in principle, it is not providing support to Ukraine per se that they don't agree with, but the way it would be given). However, this solution would be more complicated and probably more expensive, because while the EU has the best possible credit rating, i.e. it can borrow at a low interest rate and pass it on to Ukraine, the member states individually have different credit ratings.

The Hungarian government has just shown it was open to compromise

In the Financial Times article, however, János Bóka announced that the Hungarian government is open to using the EU budget to provide assistance to Ukraine and use it as security for a joint debt issuance if other conditions are met, "which would give Budapest the option to change its mind later" (the article did not elaborate, but this would presumably mean that this assistance would not automatically last for four years, but that there would be some kind of emergency brake or the possibility of a veto along the way.)

Balázs Orbán specifically referred to this in his post on Monday: the EU institutions

"are blackmailing us despite the fact that we have proposed a compromise".

The Financial Times article did not clarify which came first, the Hungarian offer or the EU proposal, but János Bóka said that the Hungarian government did not know about the latter (i.e. it was not the reason for the Hungarian government becoming more flexible).

According to the current Presidency, no such discussion is scheduled for Monday

On their arrival at Monday's meeting of EU ministers, the Belgian Presidency was questioned about the Financial Times article. Hadja Lahbib only said that an agreement between all member states was being sought and that alternatives would be reviewed after 1 February. When asked if such a proposal would be discussed on Monday, she briefly answered "No".

The Secretariat of the Council of Ministers did not wish to comment on Telex’s questions relating to the FT report.

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