BERLIN — German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Thursday criticized Hungary for blocking 18 billion euros in EU financial aid to Ukraine, saying Budapest should not “play poker” in an attempt to pressure Brussels in a separate dispute over the rule of law.
Baerbock’s protest echoed calls from several European diplomats who accused Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s government of blackmail.
The European Commission on Wednesday proposed an €18 billion support package to help Ukraine keep its economy and public services afloat through the coming year and restore critical infrastructure destroyed by the strikes. of Russian kamikaze missiles and drones.
At a meeting of EU ambassadors, also on Wednesday, Hungary said it could not support the aid package, according to three officials. This creates a potentially fatal hurdle as money for Ukraine cannot flow without the support of all 27 EU countries due to budget rules requiring unanimity.
Hungary’s wrecking ball has created frustration in Brussels, Berlin and other EU capitals. Four EU officials and diplomats told POLITICO they see Budapest’s blocking of aid to Ukraine as a blackmail tactic aimed at pressuring to release more than 13 billion euros in EU funds for Hungary, which could be suspended next month if the country does not sufficiently address long-standing concerns. on democratic backsliding.
Baerbock joined the fray on Thursday.
“Our financial support, our humanitarian support [to Ukraine] in winter aid is not a normal European affair where people play poker and negotiate back and forth over financial resources,” the German foreign minister told reporters in response to a question from POLITICO on whether Hungary was trying to force the EU to make concessions in the dispute over the rule of law.
“We are in a situation where we are saving lives precisely with the financial support of Europe,” said Baerbock, who was speaking at a press conference with his Swedish counterpart Tobias Billström in Berlin.
“We find that at least 30%, even 40%, of the civil infrastructure [in Ukraine] has been destroyed,” she added, saying the EU aid package must be approved quickly as “winter is fast approaching”.
A spokesperson for Hungary’s permanent representation to the EU did not respond to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, Hungarian Finance Minister Mihály Varga sought to justify Hungary’s opposition to the EU aid package: “Hungary is ready to support Ukraine, but we don’t want to contribute any new loan contracted by the EU.
Hungary is under mounting financial pressure as the EU threatens to suspend around 7.5 billion euros in EU funds for the country under a mechanism that ties budget payments to rule of law standards, while a further €5.8bn of coronavirus recovery funds are also on the line. Brussels is demanding anti-corruption and judicial reforms to unlock the money.
On Thursday night, Germany’s parliament is expected to pass a resolution urging the government to take a “thorough” look at Hungarian reforms and only release the money if Budapest can prove it is serious about its reform intentions.
The deal is expected to be settled at a meeting of EU finance ministers on December 6.
Paola Tamma contributed reporting.