Why the EU cannot agree on a joint aid deal for Ukraine

As Russian attacks continue, Ukraine is running out of funds to keep its economy afloat and deliver key services such as running hospitals or keeping schools open to teach children. The last round of European Union (EU) financial aid for Kyiv was disbursed in December, and there is no guaranteed EU funding on the horizon. A plan to secure €50 billion ($54.1 billion) to tide Ukraine over until 2027 through EU budget support remains deadlocked after Hungary vetoed the agreement in December.

EU leaders will gather in Brussels to try and hash out a deal on Thursday. “The level of nervousness is quite high,” a senior EU official said ahead of the meeting, noting there was mounting “frustration” toward Hungary from many of the bloc’s 26 other member states.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has rarely shied away from being cast as an EU outlier. While the bloc has consistently condemned and sanctioned Russia for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Orban drew criticism from some EU counterparts when he was pictured shaking hands with Russian President Vladimir Putinin October.

The Hungarian leader has delayed agreements on EU sanctions against Moscow as well as deals to support Ukraine on several occasions. He has also called for Kyiv to lay down arms and accept a cease-fire. While other EU leaders have stressed the need to shore up Ukraine’s financial security to send a message to Russia that the bloc will stay the course with Kyiv, Orban has publicly opposed long-term funding. “We do not know what’s going to happen in Ukraine in the next three or four months,” he told the French weekly news magazine Le Point on Tuesday. “Their proposition goes in the direction of a military solution — something I do not subscribe to. Hungarians don’t like that either,” he added.

The bloc’s rules dictate unanimous backing for big-ticket decisions such as sanctions, integrating new members or changing the bloc’s budget. That means Hungary will be able to continue exercising veto rights in the future. Any change to these rules would also require unanimous backing.

There are now murmurings around Brussels of pursuing the so-called “nuclear option” of progressing the lengthy and cumbersome procedure of stripping Budapest of its EU voting rights. Hungarian lawmaker from the ruling right-wing populist Fidesz party Balazs Hidveghi slammed the idea as “shameful. You disagree with someone, and then you want to take away their right to speak and vote? That is a dictatorship,” he told fellow parliamentarians in Strasbourg earlier this month.

The procedure — known as Article 7 of the EU treaty — is unlikely to move forward any time soon due to political and legal constraints, but Emmanouilidis told DW it has now become “a potential reality.” Asked about the possibility on Wednesday, one EU diplomat said: “The focus is on getting a deal at 27 [EU members — ed.], trying to convince Viktor Orban tomorrow that it’s also in his national interest to make sure that we get this done for Ukraine.”