How will Orbán’s stance on Ukraine joining the EU impact a larger union?

Leaders understand that an expanded union will come with its share of challenges, including making difficult budget and policy decisions. The recent decision by the EU to begin accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova highlights the obstacles that lie ahead for the bloc as it pursues further membership expansion.
For weeks, Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, had vehemently opposed opening talks with Kyiv, requiring unanimous approval from all member states. His veto threats dominated discussions in Brussels, leaving diplomats wondering about his true intentions and what actions to take.
In an attempt to bring Orbán on board, European Council President Charles Michel visited Budapest, while French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Orbán in Paris. Even at the last minute, Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz joined other senior leaders in meeting with the Hungarian leader.
Attempting to sway critics, the European Commission released approximately €10 billion in funds allocated for Hungary, arguing that the country had made significant progress in judicial reforms. Eventually, after hours of deliberations, Orbán relented and exited the room, allowing the other 26 leaders to unanimously agree to initiate negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova.
However, the days of uncertainty and diplomatic efforts to involve Hungary underscored Orbán’s isolated position despite his prominent role on the European stage. “Orbán achieved exactly what was expected: self-isolation of his own choosing,” remarked a senior EU diplomat.
This perception was reinforced when Orbán blocked a €50 billion EU aid package for Ukraine shortly after the accession talks were approved. Speculation suggests that Orbán may be banking on a strong performance by European far-right parties in upcoming elections, strategically waiting for like-minded leaders to join the table.
The showdown between the EU and Orbán serves as a reminder of the arduous path ahead as the EU prepares for expansion. The bloc is already grappling with challenges related to rule of law and foreign policy differences in countries like Hungary, leading many leaders to recognize the need for internal reforms before welcoming new members.
During the summit, leaders also debated the EU’s budget, with certain countries resisting increased contributions. This further highlights the challenges of accepting new members who could significantly impact the budget.
While the accession process may take years, the EU’s decision to open talks is seen as a gamechanger in Kyiv. “It means so much to the Ukrainian people,” expressed a Ukrainian official. “We did everything to make it happen.”
However, the excitement was dampened later in the evening when news broke of Hungary’s blockade on the financial aid package. Orbán argued that Ukraine should not receive such substantial funds from the EU budget since it is not a member of the bloc. Nonetheless, other leaders have assured Kyiv that they will find alternative ways to provide aid outside of the EU budget if Hungary maintains its opposition.

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