Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told MPs on Wednesday that Ukraine joining the EU quickly would have unforeseeable consequences and would serve neither Hungary nor the bloc’s interests.
The prime minister said it was important to hold a substantive debate on Ukraine’s accession in parliament regarding the ruling Fidesz party’s parliamentary draft resolution on Ukraine’s accession talks. PM Orbán said the debate in the Hungarian parliament could have an impact on Hungary and the EU’s future, yet a real debate in the EU had not taken place. Ukraine, he noted, was given candidate status last year, four months after submitting its application for membership. Normally, he added, three years passed after an application was made and candidate status granted. In the case of central and eastern European states, this process took four years, he said. Orbán noted that accession negotiations with North Macedonia were not currently taking place even though it had submitted its application for membership in 2004, while Montenegro submitted its application in 2008 and waited a year and a half to start accession talks and two years for membership. He also made similar observations about Serbia and Albania.
The prime minister said “naked partisanship” undermined the authority of EU institutions, while the role of national parliaments was enhanced. National parliaments, he added, were needed for a debate on whether it was a good idea to start accession talks with Ukraine. The prime minister said the government’s current standpoint — although the debate may convince it otherwise — was that Ukraine joining the EU quickly would have unforeseeable consequences and would serve neither Hungary nor the bloc’s interests. The European Union should take its rules seriously, Orbán said. If European institutions did not take these rules seriously, the entirety of the EU would “simply cease to exist”, he said. But Ukraine’s swift accession, he said, would mean that EU institutions would be asking member states, including Hungary, “not to follow our own rules”. The prime minister noted that the European Commission had set seven specific conditions for Ukraine to meet to be granted candidate country status. And unlike the existing member states, Ukraine was granted candidate status before having met these conditions, he added. He listed the conditions as: reforming how constitutional judges are selected, vetting the Supreme Judicial Council, stepping up action against money laundering, guaranteeing media freedom, taking action against corruption and oligarchs, and enforcing national minority rights. Orbán insisted that even the “biased” Commission had admitted that Ukraine had only met four of the seven conditions. “So the EU shouldn’t even have granted Ukraine candidate country status, to say nothing of starting accession talks,” he said, adding that independent assessments showed that even those four conditions had not been properly met.
The prime minister told lawmakers that when it came to a country at war, objections over current media rules and practices could not be objected to. “But this doesn’t mean we Europeans should make the laughable claim that media freedom prevails in Ukraine,” he said, adding that the Commission had made just such a claim. Referring to minorities in Ukraine, Orbán said it was as yet unclear what was contained in the law recently passed by the Ukrainian parliament. In 2015, he added, Hungarians and other national minorities in Ukraine were deprived of their rights. Orbán said neither Hungarians living in Ukraine or those in Hungary wanted more than for Ukraine’s minorities to regain the rights they had enjoyed before 2015. “We’re not asking for a new law, new solutions or complex procedures; all we ask is the restoration of the law that guaranteed Hungarians’ rights … to community life,” the prime minister said.
Talks with Ukraine on possible EU membership “right now are absurd, ridiculous and unserious”, and the government will not support them, Orbán said. Right now no one knows what Ukraine’s accession would entail or how much territory or population would be integrated into the bloc, he said. He noted that the bloc opening accession talks with a country at war was unprecedented. Orbán said that when the EU partially opened up its market, member states had been forced on the defensive in the areas of agriculture and transport. “Tens or even hundreds of thousands of Hungarians could go bankrupt because of this,” he said. The country’s accession would mean handing over 17% of the current EU budget, he added. Citing estimates by German analysts, Orbán said Ukraine’s EU membership would cost the bloc an additional 190 billion euros. Ukraine would be entitled to 93 billion euros of agricultural funding from the seven-year budget, Orbán said, noting this was more than what France, the largest CAP money recipient, receives now and ten times as much as what Hungary gets. “A large chunk of this money would make its way into the pockets of Americans, given the way the Americans have bought their way into Ukraine’s farm sector up to their jugulars,” Orbán said. The start of accession talks would therefore mean that every member state, besides Ukraine, would become a net contributor or would lose 20% of their agricultural funding, he added. Ukraine would also be entitled to 87 billion euros in cohesion funds, “three times the amount Hungary is entitled to on paper”, Orbán said. He appealed to both the opposition left wing and the “national side” to consider Ukraine’s EU membership not as a party political issue, but as a national one. Ukraine’s EU membership in its current form would be starkly against Hungary’s interests, Orbán said. “Ukraine can and should be helped, but no one could possibly want Hungary to be ruined in the process,” he said. “Hungary is under pressure, but we mustn’t be diverted away from being the voice of reason in Europe,” the prime minister said. “Our interest lies in a peaceful and prosperous Ukraine, but this requires achieving peace as quickly as possible and a carefully considered deepening of the strategic partnership,” he said. This, he said, could lead to Ukraine’s EU membership “several years from now when the time for it is actually right”. “There is a time for everything, but the time for Ukraine’s European Union membership isn’t here yet,” Orbán said.