The prime minister has said he allowed accession talks to begin, but will “pull the handbrake” if necessary
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has said his government will have around 75 more opportunities to block Ukraine’s path towards EU membership, and that allowing accession talks to begin is a political gesture by Brussels.
EU leaders agreed on Thursday to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, after Orban left a European Council summit to allow the remaining 26 member states to unanimously greenlight the decision. Orban had been one of the loudest opponents of membership for Kiev, arguing that Ukraine’s endemic corruption, dependence on foreign aid, and involvement in an active conflict should rule it out from joining the bloc.
Speaking to Hungary’s Radio Kossuth on Friday, Orban said his fellow leaders wanted “to give Ukraine… the encouragement needed to continue the war, and they asked that I don’t hinder them.”
During eight hours of debates, the leaders attempted to persuade Orban by pointing out that national parliaments in member states would have the final say on Ukraine’s accession to the bloc, and that there would be around 75 occasions when the Hungarian parliament could vote Kiev’s membership bid down, the prime minister said.
“They said that if something harms Hungary’s interests during the negotiation, I can stop it,” he explained.
“Hungary does not want to participate in this bad decision: so you do it alone,” Orban recalled telling his colleagues, adding: “that is why I left the room.”
The decision to open accession negotiations with Ukraine came less than 18 months after Kiev applied for membership. The speed of this process has been criticized by multiple member states, including Austria, where Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned last month that opening talks with Ukraine could alienate several Western Balkan states, which have been waiting for their accession process to begin for up to 20 years.
Thursday’s vote was hailed by Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky as a “victory” for his country, although European Council President Charles Michel described it only as a “political signal.”
“This bad decision does not burden Hungary’s conscience, we can stop this process later,” Orban told Radio Kossuth. “If the interests of Hungarian farmers have to be protected, then Hungary will apply the handbrake, there should be no doubt about that,” he added, referring to a simmering dispute between Kiev and its Eastern European neighbors over cheap Ukrainian grain imports undercutting local producers.