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Weeklies on the government’s tug of war with the EU over Ukraine

December 18th, 2023

Weekly newspapers went to print before the EU summit at which the Hungarian government didn’t oppose the decision to start EU accession talks with Ukraine, while vetoing €50 billion in aid to Ukraine over the next four years. But there is much comment in general terms on Hungary’s attitude towards EU enlargement and Ukraine.

In his Magyar Hang editorial, Szabolcs Szerető finds it risky for Hungary to regularly confront practically all other EU member countries on important policy issues, including Ukraine’s accession. He writes that Hungary’s Prime Minister is now considered a firebrand who disrupts the unity of the block and sometimes even a representative of Russian interests.

In Heti Világgazdaság, Ilona Jakus accuses the Prime Minister of running amok by opposing closer links between the European Union and Ukraine. She fears that Mr Orbán may strike a painful blow to the Zelensky leadership by opposing financial and military aid to Ukraine. All the more so, since she believes that the fate of the war in Ukraine will be decided on the political level, by the outcome of presidential elections in Ukraine and Russia as well as the United States.

In Élet és Irodalom, János Széky rejects two arguments the government has brought up against supporting Ukraine and integrating it into the European Union. He doesn’t believe that either the fate of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine or widespread corruption there are the real reasons behind the official Hungarian stance. The real reason, he suspects, is that Hungary is playing the role of the Kremlin’s Trojan horse in Europe.

In a Jelen analysis written days before the Brussels summit, Zoltán Lakner predicted that Prime Minister Orbán would strike a compromise by staunchly opposing the start of accession negotiations but agreeing to the €50 billion aid to Ukraine in exchange for the €10 billion the European commission was to unblock in payments due to Hungary. (In fact, the exact reverse happened at the summit. See BudaPost, December 16.)

In its first-page editorial, Magyar Narancs thinks that by opposing rapprochement between Ukraine and the European Union, Prime Minister Orbán is doing a favour both to Western powers and Russia which opposes Ukraine’s integration into the West. Despite all the lip service to Ukraine, the editors write, leading Western powers, first of all Germany, are not enthusiastic about incorporating Ukraine into the European Union because they would be the ones that would have to pay the heavy bill this would entail.

On the pro-government side, Mariann Őry also doubts in her Demokrata column if all Union member countries are as eager to welcome Ukraine among them as they claim. Starting accession negotiations, she explains, is a political gesture rather than anything else. She predicts that as soon as Ukraine’s membership will really be put on the agenda, there will certainly be European leaders who will block the process.

In his regular Mandiner column, Tibor Navracsics – the newly appointed Minister for Public administration and regional development, who is also in charge of the talks with the European Commission on releasing funds destined to Hungary but suspended over rule-of-law concerns – finds it inconsistent of the European Union to consider Ukraine’s accession as something to be achieved in the near future. This is all the more bizarre, he writes, since further enlargement has been a virtual taboo for the past 10 years in Brussels. Serbia, for instance has been waiting for a positive reply from the Union for the past almost 14 years. Mr Navracsics finds it controversial of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to say that Ukraine has fulfilled 90% of the reforms necessary to fulfil the conditions of membership. He also warns that not everyone in Europe dreams of the kind of large European Union envisaged by her. In a referendum held seven years ago, for instance, 61% of Dutch voters even opposed a free trade agreement with Ukraine.




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