Orbán Charles Michel
© XThe President of the European Council Charles Michel met Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in Budapest on 27 November 2023 in a bid to ease rising tensions, with the increasingly belligerent Hungarian leader threatening to block key decisions on Ukraine.
EU heavyweights are set for a showdown with Hungary this week over giving Ukraine billions of euros in aid and the chance to start membership negotiations, both key objectives for Kyiv as its war with Russia stalls.

European Union leaders will meet for a summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday (14 and 15 December) to decide on proposals to grant €50 billion of economic support to Kyiv, assign a further €20 billion to Ukraine's military and launch accession talks.

Securing fresh financial assistance from Europe is critical as doubts mount over future US support for Kyiv, which relies on Western financial aid for its war with Russia.

But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who boasts about his ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, has threatened to veto the aid and enlargement talks at the 14-15 December summit.

All three decisions - as well as a fourth one on what would be the EU's 12 package of sanctions against Russia since the invasion begun in February 2022 - require unanimous backing of all the bloc's 27 countries.

Comment: It's likely that vast numbers of EU citizens, who are struggling to just get by, would support Orban's veto of gifting €70 billion for a proxy-war that has evidently been lost.

"We are in a key moment," a senior EU official said, in referring to a stalemate on the battlefield and the US Congress not having approved President Joe Biden's $60 billion aid package for Ukraine.

"It's very important that... the European Union will show clear and full support to Ukraine," the official said under condition of anonymity. "That message wouldn't be only for Moscow, it would also be a message for Washington, it would also be a message for Kyiv."

Europe's own credibility is also at stake with the bloc having previously vowed to stand by Ukraine as long as it takes.

Comment: The Eurocrats have already lost any remaining credibility they had left with those nations that would actually want to see them prosper: EU leaders attempt to lobby China at Beijing summit fails miserably

"We count on positive decisions," Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Sunday evening. "Europe must defend its values and unity decisively."

What Orbán wants

Orbán is not new to causing a stir in the European Union.

Hungary has watered down sanctions against Russia and last December vetoed a deal to grant Ukraine €18 billion in 2023.

Comment: It's not just Hungary admitting that the sanctions are destroying Europe, Austria, and Slovakia have spoken out against them. Meanwhile the EU and US just bypass them when it suits them: Pentagon buying Russian oil via Greek intermediaries - WaPo

It eventually allowed that assistance through after haggling for days over EU aid to Hungary blocked over concerns of democratic backsliding under Orbán.

As the EU finds itself again seeking to win Orbán's support for Ukraine, the executive European Commission is expected to unlock Budapest's access to €10 billion this week.

In opposing opening membership negotiations with Kyiv, Orbán initially complained about Ukraine's treatment of the country's Hungarian minority. He has since said Ukraine was too corrupt and not ready to join the EU.

Comment: Prior to the proxy-war, the West agreed with him; Ukraine was considered to be the most corrupt nation in Europe.

Instead of deciding on new aid to Ukraine, he demanded the bloc hold a "strategic discussion" on its support for Kyiv.

Diplomats said related bids by Georgia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to advance their hopes to join the EU - both backed by Orbán - would fall through if Hungary vetoes Ukraine.

"Our feeling was that Orbán always knew how far he could go and that he would know exactly when it was time to climb down the tree," said a second senior EU diplomat.

Those expecting Orbán to budge described a possible compromise throwing the start on negotiations with Ukraine to March under final conditions. Others, however, worry that this time the Hungarian leader may not be persuaded.

Orbán will be up against German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, among others, who has said Berlin backs starting negotiations for Kyiv to join the EU someday.

Financial and military aid

While Orbán may be the loudest critic of extending more support to Ukraine, a ruling last month by Germany's constitutional court further complicated the EU talks by blowing a massive hole in its richest member's budget.

Should Hungary veto assigning €50 billion to Ukraine through the bloc's shared budget, the 26 other EU countries could extend their contributions bilaterally to Kyiv - a more complicated and expensive way.

Uncertainty also hangs over the future of the EU's military aid to Ukraine, where Russia now controls nearly a fifth of territory.

A proposal to use an EU-run military fund - the European Peace Facility (EPF) - to give Ukraine €20 billion in arms and other support over the next four years has run into resistance from Germany.

Some EU members are pushing for the summit at least to pledge five billion euros to Ukraine via EPF next year, a plan EU foreign ministers will discuss on Monday with their Ukrainian counterpart.

Despite the gloomy outlook, some Brussels diplomats believe the bloc will avoid the worst-case scenario and deliver on some of the promises made to Ukraine.

"Will it be difficult? Yes. Will it be extremely difficult? Most likely. Will there be blood in the air at some point? Probably," said a second senior EU official. "But I continue to think it's possible to find solutions."