EU leaders face a new showdown with Hungary as they seek to unblock economic aid to Ukraine

European Union leaders are making a fresh attempt to unblock a $54 billion financial aid package for Ukraine's war-ravaged economy

Lorne Cook,Samuel Petrequin
Thursday 01 February 2024 08:42 GMT

European Union leaders are gathering on Thursday to shore up financial support for Ukraine. The overwhelming majority of them — from 26 countries — agree that Europe’s security is at stake, and that time is of the essence. Only one, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, stands in their way.

Almost two years since Russia invaded, the war has ground to a halt and Ukraine’s war-ravaged economy desperately needs propping up. But political infighting in the EU and in the United States is depriving Kyiv of a long-term source of funding. More than $100 billion is being held up.

In December, the 26 other leaders agreed on a package worth 50 billion euros ($54 billion) for this year through 2027. They also agreed to make Ukraine a candidate for EU membership, which Orban reluctantly accepted.

“Securing agreement is vital for our credibility, and not least for our commitment to provide steadfast support to Ukraine,” European Council President Charles Michel, who is chairing the summit, said in his invitation letter to the leaders.

But the financial package is part of a review of the EU’s continuing seven-year budget, which must be approved unanimously.

Orban, the EU leader with the closest ties to Russia, is angry at the European Commission’s decision to freeze his government’s access to some of the bloc’s funds. The executive branch did so over concerns about possible threats to the EU budget posed by democratic backsliding in Hungary.

In response, Hungary vetoed statements at the EU on a range of issues. Orban’s also exported the problem to NATO, by blocking high level meetings with Ukraine until only recently. Budapest is also holding up Sweden’s bid for membership in the military organization.

“I don’t want to use the word blackmail, but I don’t know what other better word” might fit, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told reporters as she arrived at EU headquarters in Brussels for the meeting.

“Hungary needs Europe,” she said, highlighting the country’s own economic problems and high interest rates. “He should also look into what it is in it for Hungary, being in Europe.”

Orban did not speak to reporters as he entered the meeting.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said that “we want to finish what we started in December” and stressed that the planned 50 billion euros for Ukraine is “urgently necessary.”

“I will make a great deal of effort, together with many others, to make a decision by 27 (member states) possible,” Scholz said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is scheduled to address the leaders via video link.


Raf Casert in Brussels and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in