EU leaders face standoff with Hungary over Ukraine aid

The EU summit in Brussels on Thursday is set to be a tense affair, as European leaders try to break a deadlock over a financial aid package for Ukraine, amid a dispute with Hungary and widespread farmers’ protests.

A deadlock over a financial aid package for Ukraine is expected to dominate the agenda of the EU summit in Brussels on Thursday.

Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban blocked a €50bn ($55bn; £43bn) deal for Kyiv in December, amid a dispute with the EU over €20bn of funds that were withheld from Hungary over human rights and corruption issues.

The EU has hinted at possible sanctions against Hungary, which has been holding up the funding for Ukraine as it faces the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion.

Orban reluctantly agreed to grant Ukraine EU candidate country status at the last summit in December, but he has been a vocal supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a critic of EU sanctions on Russian energy.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said on Tuesday that the EU would find a way to help Ukraine, “with or without Orban”.

The Financial Times reported earlier this week that the EU could target Hungary’s economy if Mr Orban maintains his veto on the aid package for Ukraine.

Orban’s political director Balazs Orban accused Brussels of “blackmailing Hungary” on X, formerly Twitter, in response to the report.

Orban proposed after the previous summit that the EU could use funds outside the EU budget to finance Ukraine. He later said he was open to using the budget and lifting the veto, but only if the EU holds a yearly vote before releasing the next instalment of aid.

This proposal is unlikely to be accepted by the EU leaders, who do not want to face a yearly threat of veto from Hungary.

The summit is also overshadowed by the ongoing farmers’ protests across Europe.

The farmers are unhappy with the EU’s policies to make agriculture more sustainable, and its decision to remove quotas on Ukrainian grain exports.

The farmers’ protests have alarmed many European leaders, who have seen dozens of tractors converge on Brussels for more rallies before the summit.

The European Commission tried to appease some of the farmers’ grievances on Wednesday.

It suggested a waiver for a disliked fallow-land rule, and said the EU would set up a “safeguard mechanism” that would allow it to restore emergency tariffs on Ukraine if its imports flooded the market.

But the EU’s farmers’ group Copa-Cogeca said the safeguard mechanism was “not enough to protect producers”.

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