One week before a very consequential European Union summit, various leaders are in ‘panic mode.’
The meeting is expected to discuss opening EU accession talks with Ukraine.
But the reason for the discomfort is conservative champion Viktor Orbán. The Hungarian prime minister has shown an entrenched position on Ukraine, and EU diplomats and officials struggle to see what in this world, or who can change his mind.
Even self-appointed ‘master negotiator’ French President Emmanuel Macron is always ready to fail in yet another diplomatic challenge.
“Macron hosts Orbán for dinner on Thursday evening and will attempt to forge a compromise ahead of next week’s summit in Brussels. There, EU leaders are set to make a historic decision on bringing Ukraine into the 27-nation club and seal a key budget deal that would throw a €50 billion lifeline to Kiev’s flailing war economy.”
This comes right after German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock sharply criticized Orbán over this issue – she was ‘stick’, Macron is ‘carrot’.
“Orbán is threatening to derail the summit, making clear in two letters to European Council President Charles Michel that he opposes accession negotiations with Kyiv and instead wants to have a strategic debate about the bloc’s support for Ukraine. […] ‘We have reached a state where thinking that Orbán is just asking for more money is the optimistic take’, said a senior EU diplomat granted anonymity, like others in this piece, to speak freely.”
Now the stakes are super high, but the European leaders seem deaf to Hungary’s objections and claims and don’t see that their position goes beyond EU cash.
While some EU diplomats and officials are already planning workarounds, or working to counter the negative press that would follow a failed European Council next week.
Meanwhile, over a fancy dinner in Paris, Macron is hopeful that he and Orbán can strike a compromise ahead of next week.
“The Hungarians are taking some tough positions, they are building up negotiating leverage. If they are doing this, it is to give Viktor Orbán margins to negotiate … Now we are entering a more active phase of the negotiation, with higher level talks [between Orbán and Macron],” a French diplomat said. ‘What Hungary is doing now only makes sense if it’s to find a way out’, the French diplomat added.”
Many in the EU are not hopeful Macron can get anything: ‘He keeps trying it and keeps failing. He tried it with Trump, then with Putin, and has been trying Orbán’.
“The outcome of the summit is ‘uncertain’, said Willem Van de Voorde, Belgium’s ambassador to the EU, at a POLITICO event on Tuesday evening. Belgium will soon take over the Council presidency.
The EU, he added, may have taken ‘a bit for granted a couple of weeks ago that we were straight on a path’ to follow the Commission’s recommendations to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova.”
The obvious lack of consensus on Ukraine discussions will hurt the EU’s global image.
Diplomats consider sending the €50 billion lifeline to Ukraine without a universal agreement, bypassing Hungary’s veto.
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