French and Hungarian leaders to discuss Ukraine

French and Hungarian leaders to discuss Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) shown above with French President Emmanuel Macron at a recent gathering, has maintained close ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. (Photo: AFP)
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (right) shown above with French President Emmanuel Macron at a recent gathering, has maintained close ties with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. (Photo: AFP)

PARIS - French President Emmanuel Macron meets Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday in a bid to break the deadlock ahead of an EU summit after the Hungarian leader threatened to block further backing for Ukraine.

Macron will host Orban at the Elysee Palace for a working dinner from 1930 GMT to discuss "several subjects" on the agenda for the EU summit next week, including "various aspects of European support for Ukraine".

That includes new financial aid and starting EU membership talks with Kyiv.

The dinner will mark a rare welcome by a major Western European leader for the Hungarian strongman, who has retained closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin than any other EU leader, even after Moscow's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

But it comes as concern grows that Orban could torpedo the chance to take key decisions concerning Ukraine at the EU summit on December 14-15.

In a letter sent to EU chief Charles Michel on Monday, Orban demanded the postponement of key decisions on Ukraine, including additional financial aid and the possibility of beginning EU membership negotiations.

The European Commission last month recommended that membership talks begin with Ukraine and Moldova.

It is also proposing a 50-billion-euro ($54 billion) financial lifeline for Kyiv as part of a revision of the bloc's long-term budget.

But Orban suggested dropping these matters from the agenda of the Brussels summit "as the obvious lack of consensus would inevitably lead to failure."

Referring to his previous letter urging a "strategic discussion" on the EU's approach to Ukraine, Orban warned EU leaders would not be "in a position to take key decisions unless a consensus on our future strategy towards Ukraine is found".

"For the sake of unity," he said, the EU should drop Ukraine from the summit agenda.

As most EU decisions require unanimity, Hungary can potentially veto both proposals.

Angering fellow EU leaders, Orban met for bilateral face-to-face talks with Putin in China in October.

Critics accuse Orban of trying to blackmail Brussels to gain access to billions of euros in EU funding.

The European Commission is withholding nearly 22 billion euros from Hungary over concerns about corruption and perceived backsliding of democratic norms.

In November, Brussels said it may release up to 10 billion euros of those funds, saying that Hungary has improved judicial independence.

Orban has only reluctantly gone along with previous EU decisions to support Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia's full-scale invasion, and sought to water down sanctions on Moscow.

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