EU overcomes 'Orban fatigue,' passes €50 billion Ukraine aid

EU has overcome Orban's resistance to a €50 billion aid package for Ukraine. On Thursday, the bloc unanimously came to an agreement. Now, both sides are celebrating the deal as a political victory

Leaders overcame resistance from Hungary to the deal as Russia's full-scale war in Ukraine nears its second anniversary. (photo: DW)
Leaders overcame resistance from Hungary to the deal as Russia's full-scale war in Ukraine nears its second anniversary. (photo: DW)
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Macron: Russia can't count on EU Ukraine 'fatigue'

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday's deal showed that the EU's 27 members were not wavering in their backing for Kyiv. 

"The message is clear: Russia cannot count on any fatigue from Europeans in their support for Ukraine," Macron said after the summit. "Our support for Ukraine has been united and unanimous since the start of the war." 

Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine started in February 2022, though it invaded and then illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula in early 2014.

Amid the uncertainty in both Brussels and Washington over future funding, questions were being asked about waning levels of support and urgency among Western governments. 

The EU aid package also does not foresee a rapid end to the conflict, with the funds approved on Thursday valid for a four-year period.

However, with most of the assistance being economic and humanitarian aid, and much of it being long-term, low-interest loans not outright charity, Brussels would likely argue much of the spending would still be necessary for tasks like reconstruction even if the conflict is somehow resolved. 

EU leaders hope move shows US 'we are reliable and credible'

The presidents of the European Council and European Commission both voiced hope that Thursday's agreement would also grease the wheels for US assistance to Ukraine in Congress. 

"I think it will be an encouragement for the United States also to do their fair share," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in Brussels. 

European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped the accord might also reassure US taxpayers that they were not underwriting security on another continent.

"I'm convinced that this decision is also a signal to the American taxpayers, a demonstration that the EU assumes its responsibility, and we know that we must show our leadership, must show that we are reliable and credible," Michel said.  


Orban hails 'guarantee' the funds will be used 'sensibly'

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said in a video posted on social media after the summit that he had agreed to approve the fresh Ukraine assistance with some conditions. 

Orban claimed he received an offer for a control mechanism "to guarantee that the money would be used sensibly," he said without elaborating on his meaning. 

In more concrete terms, Orban had objected to previous plans for a four-year spending plan that would have contained no review mechanisms. 

Thursday's accord foresees annual debates on the implementation of the funds and says that "if needed, in two years," a review of the funds can be launched.

It's possible that this is what Orban intended to allude to.

"And we received a guarantee that Hungary's money would not end up in Ukraine," Orban said. That's a reference to withheld EU aid for Hungary, partly frozen because of a series of rule of law and political issues.

At least nominally, these funds were never part of the Ukraine assistance.

The prime minister also said he welcomed the positive initial stock market reaction to the deal.

Olaf Scholz hopes EU decision will resonate in US

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomed the unanimous decision reached in Brussels, saying it was important for the EU "to stand together as a family, as a union, and take a decision together." 

Scholz described the summit as "very successful," noting how agreement was reached relatively swiftly compared to recent summits. 

He said the news sent a "good message for the citizens of Ukraine" as they continue to suffer under Russia's invasion. 

But Scholz also voiced hope that the European decision might help smooth the waters in Washington as President Joe Biden tries to push more assistance for Kyiv through Congress, part of which is controlled by the opposition Republicans.  

"I hope that the message from today, the discussions that we have had, also contribute to [Biden] having a slightly easier time with his political plans at home," Scholz said.

While the EU is the largest donor of economic aid to Ukraine, the US is by far its largest military donor. 

"In many [European] capitals the question has to be asked: are we actually doing enough? And the answer in most cases can only be no," Scholz said, adding that Germany could not bear the burden of providing military supplies on its own.

Asked how a deal with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the most notable holdout EU leader, was reached, Scholz said there were "clear discussions about the need for us to reach a unanimous decision here and not a divided one." 

"And in the end these were convincing," Scholz said. 

He also said the altered details of the deal would be stringently upheld, saying the EU couldn't bend its own rules while insisting that others keep to them — an allusion to the criticisms Orban's government faces from Brussels on other issues. 


EU leaders hail Ukraine deal, say more steps still in the works

The European Council said in its joint statement following the summit breakthrough that it remained committed "to provide strong political, financial, economic, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support to Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes."

It also noted several other ongoing efforts to increase support, many of which it said would be discussed at next month's meeting of the EU's 27 heads of state and governments.

EU assistance to Ukraine is, for the most part, non-military in nature, but plans to expand the military arms of its assistance also remained under discussion, the statement said. 

The statement also called on member states to continue bilateral efforts to provide Kyiv with military equipment amid Russia's invasion. 

The statement highlighted the "urgent need to accelerate the delivery of" ammunition and missiles in particular.

"Military support and security commitments will be provided in full respect of the security and defense policy of certain Member States and taking into account the security and defense interests of all Member States," the statement concluded. 

EU leaders reach deal to secure additional €50 billion in aid for Ukraine

Just one hour into the EU's special summit, EU leaders managed to reach a deal that will allow the bloc to send €50 billion ($54 billion) in funding to Ukraine over the next four years, according to European Council President Charles Michel.

The deal had been blocked by Hungary since the previous leaders' summit in Brussels in mid-December.

"We have a deal," Michel wrote on X, formerly Twitter. "This locks in steadfast, long-term, predictable funding for Ukraine."

The deal was secured after EU leaders agreed to an optional review in two years "if needed." This would represent a compromise with Hungary after Prime Minister Viktor Orban had demanded a yearly review. 

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen celebrated the agreement, calling it a "good day for Europe."

The decision was also quickly welcomed by Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal who expressed his gratitude to Michel and the EU leaders.

"Each of your votes is a significant contribution to our joint victory," he wrote on social media.

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Published: 02 Feb 2024, 10:37 AM
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