French President Emmanuel Macron met Prime Minister Viktor Orban on Thursday in a bid to break the deadlock ahead of an EU summit after the Hungarian leader threatened to block further backing for Ukraine.
Macron welcomed Orban at the Elysee Palace for a working dinner to discuss, according to the French presidency, "several subjects" on the agenda for the EU summit next week, including "various aspects of European support for Ukraine".
The EU wants to agree on new financial aid and starting EU membership talks with Kyiv at next week's summit but fears Orban could stand in the way.
The dinner marks a rare welcome by a major Western European leader for the Hungarian strongman, who has retained closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin than any other EU leader, even after Moscow's February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
But it comes as concern grows that Orban could torpedo the chance to take key decisions concerning Ukraine at the EU summit on December 14-15, with Macron intervening in his position as one of Europe's most powerful figures.
In a letter sent to EU chief Charles Michel on Monday, Orban demanded the postponement of key decisions on Ukraine, including additional financial aid and the possibility of beginning EU membership negotiations.
- 'For the sake of unity' -
The European Commission last month recommended that membership talks begin with Ukraine and Moldova.
It is also proposing a 50-billion-euro ($54 billion) financial lifeline for Kyiv as part of a revision of the bloc's long-term budget.
But Orban suggested dropping these matters from the agenda of the Brussels summit "as the obvious lack of consensus would inevitably lead to failure."
Referring to his previous letter urging a "strategic discussion" on the EU's approach to Ukraine, Orban warned EU leaders would not be "in a position to take key decisions unless a consensus on our future strategy towards Ukraine is found".
"For the sake of unity," he said, the EU should drop Ukraine from the summit agenda.
As most EU decisions require unanimity, Hungary can potentially veto both proposals.
Angering fellow EU leaders, Orban met for bilateral face-to-face talks with Putin in China in October.
Critics accuse Orban of trying to blackmail Brussels to gain access to billions of euros in EU funding.
The European Commission is withholding nearly 22 billion euros from Hungary over concerns about corruption and perceived backsliding of democratic norms.
In November, Brussels said it may release up to 10 billion euros of those funds, saying that Hungary has improved judicial independence.
Orban has only reluctantly gone along with previous EU decisions to support Ukraine as it defends itself from Russia's full-scale invasion, and sought to water down sanctions on Moscow.
You can also highlight the text and press Ctrl + Enter