The leaders of Hungary and Slovakia on Tuesday said they agree on the need to rework a European Union plan to provide financial assistance to Ukraine. It’s a potential boon to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, who last month derailed EU efforts to approve the funding for the war-ravaged country.
Following bilateral talks in Budapest, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico said he agrees with Orbán’s position that the EU should not finance a planned $54 billion aid package to Kyiv from the bloc’s common budget, and echoed Orbán’s assertions that the war in Ukraine cannot be resolved through military means.
“We have listened very carefully to the proposals that Prime Minister (Orbán) … has already put forward in relation to the review of the budget and aid to Ukraine, and I will repeat that we consider them to be rational and sensible,” Fico said.
Fico’s comments come as the EU scrambles to salvage the funding package for Ukraine that Orbán blocked in December, a move that angered many of the bloc’s leaders who were aiming to provide Kyiv with a consistent cash flow for the next four years.
Unanimity is required for decisions affecting the EU budget, and Orbán was the only one of the bloc’s 27 leaders to vote against the funding.
“If we want to help Ukraine, which I think we need to do … we must do so without damaging the EU budget,” Orbán said on Tuesday.
EU leaders are expected to meet again on Feb. 1 to attempt a deal on the financial package, but Orbán’s veto power remains a factor.
On Tuesday, Fico said he supports Orbán’s recommendation that the funding be separated into four installments that could be reassessed, and potentially blocked, each year.
“I look forward to seeing you soon on Feb. 1 in Brussels, where we will watch with full understanding your legitimate fight for what you started at the last European Council,” Fico told Orbán.
A populist whose party won September elections on a pro-Russian and anti-American platform, Fico is seen as a potential ally for Orbán in the latter’s longstanding disputes with the EU.
The bloc has withheld billions in funding from Budapest over concerns that Orbán’s government has cracked down on judicial independence, media freedom and the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
Some of Orbán’s critics in the EU believe that he has used his veto power over assistance to Ukraine as leverage to gain access to the frozen funds. On Tuesday, Fico cited the withheld funds as a justification for Orbán’s opposition to EU funding for Ukraine.
“They cannot expect a country from which funds have been withdrawn to give money to another country. That is simply not possible. It is not fair, it is not just,” Fico said.
Last week, a cross-coalition group of 120 EU lawmakers signed a petition urging that Hungary be stripped of its voting rights in the bloc’s decision making, arguing Orbán had repeatedly violated EU values by subverting democratic institutions since taking office in 2010.