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Orbán opposes the EU's €50-billion support plan for Ukraine, while Fico raises corruption concerns

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán next to Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán next to Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico during a summit of EU leaders in Brussels. Copyright Omar Havana/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Omar Havana/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Jorge Liboreiro
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Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has come out against a €50-billion plan in long-term support for Ukraine that the European Union intends to approve before the end of the year.

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The draft plan, known as the Ukraine Facility, features €33 billion in low-interest loans and €17 billion in non-repayable grants and is part of a wider €100-billion revision of the bloc's common long-term budget.

Any changes to the budget require the unanimous blessing of all 27 member states, enabling a single country to stop the process dead in its tracks.

Orbán's opposition, which was widely expected given his previous statements and his controversial meeting with Vladimir Putin in China, was made clear on Thursday during a two-day summit in Brussels, where leaders had their first exchange of views since the European Commission proposed the Ukraine Facility in June.

"The Commission wants more money so that they can give it to the integration (of migrants) policy and to the Ukrainians," Orbán said upon arrival. "We do not support any of them, the professional and political arguments are lacking, we will reject them."

For his part, Robert Fico, the newly sworn prime minister of Slovakia, raised concerns about the high levels of corruption inside Ukraine and asked for extra safeguards to ensure the EU cash is not "misappropriated."

"Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in the world and its brutal financial support is conditioned by guarantees that European money, including Slovak, will be not misappropriated," Fico wrote in a Facebook post published on Friday morning, noting resources should be used to help Slovak companies in Ukraine's reconstruction.

The premier's reservations, however, were not interpreted as a categorical "no" and left the door open for a possible endorsement of the €50-billion plan provided the safeguards are put in place, several diplomats told Euronews.

Corruption is considered entrenched in Ukraine's economy and society, with the country ranked 116 out of 180 in the Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International. Strengthening the fight against corruption is one of the seven pre-conditions that the Commission has established to advance Kyiv's EU membership bid.

The fact that Fico did not frontally oppose the Ukraine Facility was met with a certain relief in the room as the Slovak leader had announced, just hours before the summit began, that his country would no longer supply military assistance to Ukraine on a bilateral basis, fulfilling one of his electoral promises.

"The war in Ukraine is not ours, we have nothing to do with it," he declared on Thursday. "An immediate halt to military operations is the best solution for Ukraine. The EU should move from being an arms supplier to a peacemaker."

Fico noted his coalition government would only green-light "humanitarian and civilian aid" for the Ukrainian authorities, which are in the midst of a gruelling counteroffensive against the invading Russian forces.

The Ukraine Facility does not include either humanitarian or military assistance and instead focuses on macro-financial support to fill the holes in Kyiv's budget, sustain essential services, rebuild critical infrastructure and speed up key reforms.

But even if Fico is eventually convinced to sign off, Orbán's resistance could derail the budget review and thrust the bloc's support for Ukraine into limbo. Budapest has withheld since May a tranche of €500 million in EU military aid for Kyiv, an impasse that Brussels has failed to resolve, causing frustration and embarrassment.

Speaking to reports on Friday morning, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, one of Ukraine's most vocal backers, said "questions were asked" to Orbán and Fico during the closed-door talks among leaders.

"How do you see the future? If we don't help Ukraine, then what is the alternative, really? I mean, Russia wins. So what happens next? Why do you think that you're safe then, when when we give away Ukraine and don't support them right now?" Kallas said.

"That is a question that is actually unanswered by them. So I think we have to, you know, talk further."

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