EU Summit Breaks Months-Long Deadlock With Late Night Deal
After months of deadlock, the European Union unlocked over €50 billion in financial support for Ukraine late Wednesday night, overcoming staunch opposition from Hungary that had blocked progress for weeks.
The aid package, worth €18 billion in 2023, will provide vital fiscal relief to Ukraine as it heads into a second year of war with Russia. The deal broke a logjam that had frustrated European leaders and delayed getting aid to Ukraine as it struggles to keep its government functioning during the conflict.
“Unity and solidarity won,” said European Council President Charles Michel in a Twitter post announcing the agreement. “Today’s EUCO agreements clearly demonstrate that the EU stands by Ukraine as firmly as ever.”
Hungary Drops Opposition After Securing Concessions
The breakthrough came after Hungary’s Prime Minister Vikor Orban dropped his opposition to the package following a meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in which he secured concessions on rule-of-law conditions attached to billions of euros in funds his country is expecting from the EU.
Orban said Hungary had achieved “a great victory” in those funding talks, giving him room to approve the aid to Ukraine. “We have reached an agreement, Hungary has gotten what it wanted,” Orban told reporters.
Under the deal, Hungary committed to anti-corruption reforms by March to unlock €5.8 billion in withheld EU funds. Orban, long at odds with EU policies, is accused by critics of backsliding on democratic standards and clamping down political freedoms.
Funding to Provide Steady, Reliable Support for Ukraine
The aid package aims to provide steady and predictable funding for Ukraine throughout 2023, giving it financial certainty as Russia’s invasion drags on. The money will go towards keeping Ukraine’s essential services running as well as supporting Ukrainians who have fled the war.
“This financial stability is what Ukraine needs to carry on defending itself in 2023,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
In addition to the €18 billion for 2023, the EU pledged another €18 billion in 2024 and 2025. The three-year package aims to give Ukraine longer-term assurance that Europe will keep backing it financially against Russia’s military onslaught.
Zelenskyy Welcomes Deal, Calls for More Military Aid
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy took to Twitter to praise the deal, calling it a “clear signal to Russia of the unstoppable support” from Europe. Zelenskyy said the funding would go towards pensions, state budget expenses, key infrastructure, and program to help Ukrainians displaced by the war.
But Zelenskyy also ramped up calls for increased military assistance, saying Ukraine needs €5 billion per year in arms and defense systems from its Western partners. He warned that delays in defense supplies only play into Russia’s hands as the war continues into a second year.
Deal Followed Intense Diplomacy to Sway Hungary
The breakthrough followed weeks of intense behind-the-scenes diplomacy to bring Hungary on board, including efforts from European leaders at a recent EU summit in Brussels as well as outreach from the White House.
According to officials, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni played a key role during an informal meeting over dinner at the summit where she courted Orban directly. Her friendly rapport and ideological sympathies with Hungary’s rightwing leader helped shift his stance after prior appeals had failed.
Meanwhile, President Joe Biden phoned Orban last week urging him to drop his opposition. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other U.S. officials also leaned on Hungary not to block vital assistance for Ukraine’s defense.
The diplomatic push worked – Orban ultimately backed down from his veto threats and the aid package won unanimous approval from the bloc’s 27 member states.
Funding Delay Had Strained Ukraine’s Finances
The delayed aid had put intense strain on Ukraine’s finances heading into 2023. Faced with a staggering estimated €38 billion budget deficit, Ukraine was at growing risk of insolvency and inability to provide critical services to its citizens.
The funding holdup, caused by Hungary’s intransigence, underscored flaws in the EU’s unanimous voting system that grant individual countries veto power over certain decisions.
But the late-night deal ended worries that internal EU disputes could undermine support for Ukraine. It showed that when faced with challenges, the bloc still has capacity to overcome internal rifts for the greater good.
What Comes Next?
With EU funding now assured, attention shifts to ensuring other international donors follow suit. The U.S. and Group of Seven wealthy nations are preparing major aid conferences in coming months where they will announce their own Ukraine funding commitments for 2023.
The timing and amount of disbursements will also be closely watched to ensure Ukraine gets the money quickly. “Clearly the needs are enormous,” said a Ukrainian negotiator, adding any delays “just drag out Ukraine’s ability to stabilize and recover.”
Meanwhile, Zelenskyy is likely to intensify calls on NATO members for more advanced weapons to counter Russia’s expected spring offensive.
Western capitals face ongoing balancing decisions about how much military aid to provide and the risk of further provoking Russia. But Zelenskyy warned Wednesday “there is no alternative to granting Ukraine such support.”
With the EU finally unlocking its aid coffers, the battle now shifts to NATO members providing enough firepower for Ukraine to capitalize on financial stability and turn the tide after a year of bloody stalemate.
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