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The last few weeks have seen articles on the dislike Hungary's Orban has for Ukraine joining the EU. For example, straight from the horse's mouth:

Starting accession negotiations with #Ukraine is a bad decision. Hungary did not participate in the decision - Orban indicating the EU should not take in Ukraine

OK, I get that there is probably bad blood between Hungary and Ukraine for historical reasons (borders and ethnicities got muddled a bit after WW1 or WW2, IIRC).

But what are Orban's political arguments towards the EU for not taking in Ukraine?

His stance on immigration can appeal to the EU nationalist right - like:

“We [Hungarians] are not a mixed race … and we do not want to become a mixed race,” said Orbán on Saturday. He added that countries where European and non-Europeans mingle were “no longer nations”.

That's quite clear and it certainly resonates with a certain element of the wider European electorate, that he can lobby to. But what's the political equivalent of that - "we're all in this together" - on the Ukraine issue?

Clearly support for Ukraine could create frictions in Hungary's relationship with Russia. But the other 26 EU states - the majority - have delivered significant levels of armaments to assist Ukraine, against Russia, and Hungary has had no choice but to accept that.

So what are the realpolitik reasons given now by Orban to convince other EU nations, of his dark warnings, and Hungary's disapproval, on the whole Ukraine conflict and Ukraine's membership to EU? Why should they care, except to mind the possibility of a Hungarian veto? What arguments has he tried to sell to which European audiences? (Especially as he is already quite isolated in EU on non-Ukraine matters).

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    In the title you ask about "alleged reasons" (which is already a bit confusing and suggests you're asking for his "fake" reasons?) But in the text, you then also ask about "realpolitik reasons" and "arguments [he has] tried to sell to which European audiences", which makes the Q even more confusing.
    – user103496
    Dec 15, 2023 at 1:46
  • Well, it's not that confusing, really. I did edit the title though. Just: how does try to convince other countries to listen to him on this subject? What are his arguments? Are they just "oh, that will piss Putin off, so let's not do it?" Is there something else? Dec 15, 2023 at 1:48
  • You have already given one of his stated reasons (albeit a racist one). You then seem to somehow disregard this as illegitimate (for the purposes of your Q) and ask about "realpolitik reasons". If "realpolitik reasons" are the only thing you're after, then perhaps you should put that in your title.
    – user103496
    Dec 15, 2023 at 1:56
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    The mixed races stuff has nothing to do with Ukraine. Realpolitik: I basically mean: cold, calculated, not emotional reasons why it would hurt Europe. I am not however going to quibble all day about using "realpolitik" or not. It stays. Dec 15, 2023 at 1:58

4 Answers 4

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He wasn't super detailed in that moment, sticking to generalities; AP quoted:

“Hungary’s perspective is clear: Ukraine is not ready for us to begin negotiations on its EU membership. It’s a completely illogical, irrational and improper decision” he said.

I suppose he may have said more on other occasions.

Two weeks before RFERL quoted him saying:

"I would favor the EU reaching a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine first," Orban said, adding that such a partnership could take up to 10 years until Ukraine could adapt to the EU's requirements.

"When we see that we can cooperate, then let's bring up the issue of membership again, but that will be possible only after many, many years," he said.

And this is undoubtably related. He sees Ukraine as a money sink:

"Europe has economic problems but in the meantime throws money away -- it sends wagonloads of weapons and money to Ukraine," Orban said.

Note that he did veto more money for Ukraine, unlike mere membership talks (first source--AP).

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  • "He sees Ukraine as a money sink". So he's such as nice guy that naturally he wants to help... Dec 15, 2023 at 6:57
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    "such a partnership could take up to 10 years until Ukraine could adapt to the EU's requirements." The whole point of the membership negotiations is to make Ukraine adapt to the EU's requirements. The EU has 35 "chapters" (groups of demands) that need to be closed before membership is possible. Orban is essentially demanding that Ukraine follows all the rules before they should be allowed to start the process of following the rules. Dec 15, 2023 at 12:33
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    @EmilKarlsson This is true but in the specific case of Ukraine there where 7 preconditions previously even to start the negotiations. Out of this 7 at least 3 is not satisfied until today (e.g. treatment of national minorities including the Hungarians in Transcarpathia). Dec 15, 2023 at 15:02
  • Do you have a source for these 7 preconditions? Were they made by the EU, or just by Hungary? Dec 18, 2023 at 10:21
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Publicly, Hungary gives the following reasons for blocking Ukraine accession talks:

  1. There are others who have applied before Ukraine to join the EU and Hungary feels treating Ukraine as a special case sets a bad precedence. This argument does have some merit as the media has covered this criticism too:

    Serbia: 10 years. Montenegro: 11 years. North Macedonia: 14.
    That’s how long these Western Balkan nations have been stuck in various stages of applying to join the European Union, along with Albania, with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo at even earlier points in the process. (Ref. 3)

    Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto publicly said:

    ... "It would be irresponsible to start accession talks with Ukraine as the European Commission has not made adequate preparations. Neither the EU nor Ukraine is ready for a mutually beneficial and well-structured start of accession negotiations. The Western Balkan countries, on the other hand, have been waiting for many years and are quite prepared, so it is simply incomprehensible why some member states are blocking progress in their case," Szijjarto wrote on social media. (Ref. 4)

  2. Preconditions placed on Ukraine to become an EU candidate has not been satisfied, and EU hurry to make Ukraine a candidate without it is objectionable. (One of the preconditions is the protection of Hungarian speaking minorities in Ukraine that Hungary particularly claims hasn't been satisfactorily fulfilled).

    The European Commission has set seven conditions for Ukraine to be granted candidate status: reform of the selection of constitutional judges, a review of the General Council of the Judiciary, enhanced action against money laundering, the guaranteeing of media freedom, tackling corruption and oligarchs, and ensuring the rights of national minorities ... "If we look at Ukraine’s case in this respect, the Commission itself claims that only four of them have been met," ...

    In regard to the new law on minorities recently adopted by the Ukrainian Parliament, he said that it was not yet clear what exactly the law contains, which was supposed to be favorable to minorities, and that an analysis of the new law was still ongoing ... "Hungary’s only request on the minority issue is to restore the law that guaranteed the rights of the minorities living in Ukraine until 2015". (Ref. 8)

  3. Ukraine is still at war.

    Uncertainty looms over Ukraine's EU accession due to war, leaving borders and population size unknown. (Ref. 5)

  4. Economics of EU funding of Ukraine can create tension in the EU.

    Financially, Ukraine could access €190 billion over 7 years, 17% of current budget. If it joins, Ukrainian farmers could receive €93 billion, surpassing the €65 billion for the French. Moreover, Ukraine might get €87 billion from cohesion funds — three times Hungary's allocation. (Ref. 5)

    (Cohesion funds were created to reduce the gap between the rich and poorer country in EU).

  5. Foreign trade concerns with Ukraine in EU

    “If you allow this [Ukrainian] agriculture to enter the European agricultural system, it will destroy it the next day,” Orbán told Le Point. “Without transforming our farm subsidy system, we cannot let them in. The consequences will be terrible,” he added. (Ref. 6)

  6. Ukraine hasn't done enough reforms to fight corruption.

    “Hungary is a neighbour of Ukraine … we know exactly what is happening,” Orbán told French news outlet Le Point in an interview published Friday. “Ukraine is known to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world...” he said. (Ref. 6)

Some of these objections are of genuine concern to Hungary and other EU countries. Austria, for example, too has voiced concerns that applications of Balkan countries that have been waiting for years to be EU members should be processed first. Slovakia too believes Ukraine is not in a state to even begin accession talks.


It all comes down to the politics between EU and Hungary. The EU isn't happy with Hungary's authoritarian leadership and its cosy relationship with Russia. So the EU suddenly froze around 30 billion Euros of funding meant for Hungary, last year, under the pretext that it needs to stop its "democratic slide" towards authoritarian rule (which was indeed partly true). Orban feels this was done to pressure it to change its foreign policy on Russia and Ukraine:

“Hungary doesn’t want to be the pupil of another power, it wants to be its own master,” Orban said in a foreign policy speech in Budapest on Tuesday. (Ref. 1)

So the Hungarian leadership started using obstructionist politics in the EU - see 'Hungary open to lifting Ukraine aid veto if EU unfreezes funds' and 'Orbán aide: Hungary could lift Ukraine funds veto if EU unblocks all frozen cash'). The tactics seems to have worked - EU recently agreed to release 10 billion Euros to Hungary from the frozen fund (Ref. 2) and Hungary allowed the EU to begin accession talks with Ukraine by abstaining from it (Ref. 7) (while continuing to object about it).

References:

  1. Orban Frustrates EU’s $30 Billion Effort to Force Him Into Line

  2. EU mulls billions in funding for Hungary on eve of Ukraine aid summit

  3. The European Union’s future members are losing patience

  4. Hungarian Foreign Minister Says Western Balkans More Prepared to Join EU Than Ukraine

  5. Tweet by Political Director of PM Viktor Orbán; Member of the Hungarian Parliament

  6. Orbán calls Ukraine ‘one of the most corrupt countries in the world’

  7. Hungary Abstains from Voting On Ukraine’s EU Accession

  8. Viktor Orbán Calls Ukraine’s EU Accession ‘Irrational’

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  • Btw, do they also complain about the Hungarian minority in Ukraine as part of their arguments to the EU?. There's one commenter all up in arms about it. Dec 16, 2023 at 19:22
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica Yes, apparently they do crib about it. Have updated the answer.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 16, 2023 at 20:55
  • Your point 1 doesn't seem to be stated as such in a Hungarian source. (Ref3--qz.com ain't one.) That accessions discussion have been started with others (incl. Turkey) doesn't seem to be stated as a reasons not to start talks with Ukraine. Ref 4 says something a bit different. I don't see where it says that talks cannot start with some country X before talks with a prior applicant Y have finished. Ref 4 says "as the European Commission has not made adequate preparations", which is far more vague on that angle... Dec 21, 2023 at 2:24
  • ... but says rather explicitly that progress of other countries has been "blocked" by "some member states". My interpretation is that Hungary's position is: if Serbia's talks have been blocked, why can't we block Ukraine's?! Ref 4 is a good quote, but makes a different point than what you have summarized from it. (The point that Hungary's FM makes there is a bit transparent in how disingenuous it is, because talks with Serbia, never mind those with Turkey have been blocked at later stages, not prevented from starting at all.) Dec 21, 2023 at 2:31
  • ... e.g. Serbia was granted candidate status in 2012 consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/enlargement/serbia Dec 21, 2023 at 2:41
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Hungary stands accused of breaching EU standards of democracy and the rule of law, and tens of billions of euros in funding are blocked.

In December 2022, the EU suspended a total of around 21.7 billion euros of cohesion funds planned for Hungary for the period 2021 to 2027, pending the completion by Budapest of a certain number of reforms. Orban is exploiting the summit and the power of his veto on enlargement to blackmail Brussels into resuming Hungary's suspended transfer payments.

Likely due that there is no any "in depth" argumentation from the Orban's side.

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    Might be true, but this is certainly not the "stated reason". Dec 15, 2023 at 14:59
  • Stated, just not by Orban
    – Stančikas
    Dec 15, 2023 at 17:31
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    -1 I wasn't asking for opinions about the "real reasons" from the Orban Haters Club, of which I'll admit to being a card carrying member myself. What did Orban say? was my question. Dec 15, 2023 at 18:34
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It is quite cynical, but there are people in the position of authority in Europe and the US, who use their votes on Ukraine matters as a bargaining chip, in order to advance their own political or financial prospects.

With regard to Orban:

  1. He wants to force the EU to unfreeze large sums of money, originally allocated to Hungary. He thinks the EU would need to "buy him off" if they want for him to be constructive on the matters of utmost urgency like war in Ukraine.

  2. He wants his country to enjoy the benefits of the EU, but does not want newcomers to dilute his country's share of EU funds, grants, etc. A large country like Ukraine joining the EU will have quite significant ramifications, for example, it will need large investment from EU to rebuild infrastructure after the war, etc. All current EU members would have to contribute more to integrate Ukraine, so their share of EU funds will probably diminish.

  3. He wants to placate Putin and continue importing cheap gas and oil from Russia. Orban would be happy to give Ukraine to Russia as a sacrificial lamb, hoping that would satisfy Putin's appetite for the foreseeable future and Russia would not direct its aggression towards Hungary. Once Ukraine is subjugated, Orban hopes that Putin will proclaim - "I have no more territorial demands to make in Europe".

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    Again, all these might be true, but they are certainly not the "stated reasons". Also an addition to your list: he definitely wants Ukraine to give back the minority rights to the Hungarians in Transcarpathia that were taken away in the last years. Dec 15, 2023 at 15:53
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    @AdamGyenge The other 26 EU members spent hours talking to Orban trying to understand his opposition to Ukraine and Orban failed to articulate any reasonable concerns. There are no "stated reasons", you need to read between the lines. Dec 15, 2023 at 16:07
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    Welcome aboard. This answer doesn't currently answer my Q, which is asking for communicated reasons. However citing references to "hours talking to Orban trying to understand his opposition to Ukraine and Orban failed to articulate any reasonable concerns" would certainly be a good answer, if it came from anyone involved in the negotiations. Dec 15, 2023 at 18:32
  • @MilhouseVanhouten -- "continue importing cheap gas and oil from Russia". It isn't any cheaper than from somewhere else. Russian prices are linked to the same Dutch TTF prices. Existing physical infrastructure might warrant a preference for Russian imports but price does not.
    – Gábor
    Dec 16, 2023 at 13:13
  • @Gábor With regard to gas an oil, you need to look at the big picture. Hungarian government were the biggest opponents to EU's sanctions on Russian energy. This is because importing gas is cheaper than diversifying via nuclear or renewable sources. Sanctions on Russian energy tend to increase prices for everyone. This is a long term strategy for Orban to keep prices low, which translates into more votes for his government. The fact that that money paid to Russian sponsors long term Ukrainian war, does not seem to bother him much. Dec 17, 2023 at 9:48

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