The European Union will, if needed, find a way to bypass Viktor Orbán’s veto and approve the €50-billion special fund for Ukraine, Ursula von der Leyen said on Tuesday.
The package, which is designed to provide Kyiv with financial support until 2027 and plug the government’s ballooning public deficit, is being held up by Hungary, an impasse that has left Brussels effectively without any money for the war-torn nation.
Following a dramatic summit in mid-December, where Orbán made good on his threat and derailed the unanimous vote, EU leaders are set to reconvene again on 1 February to give the so-called Ukraine Facility a second try.
“I think it’s very important to engage with all 27 member states of the European Union to get the €50 billion for four years for Ukraine up and running,” the president of the European Commission told a group of media, including Euronews, during the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.
“This is the phase we’re in right now. It’s the preparation for the extraordinary European Council on the 1st of February. It’s hard work. We have discussed many different issues.”
Ahead of the meeting, Hungarian officials have floated two key demands in exchange for lifting the veto: splitting the Facility into four annual tranches, which would allow Orbán to block the cash at a later stage, and extending the deadline to spend COVID-19 recovery funds, which would give Budapest more time to unlock the frozen money.
Von der Leyen did not comment on these requests but made it clear the bloc would find a way to approve the €50-billion fund – with or without Hungary’s blessing.
“My personal priority is to have an agreement by 27 (countries). And if this is not possible, we are prepared for an agreement by 26,” the Commission chief said.
“But I strongly support and prefer an agreement by 27.”
Although EU officials have avoided publicly discussing such Plan B, von der Leyen’s words reflect that work is well underway to avoid a repeat of the December fiasco. The Financial Times previously reported Brussels was crafting an alternative that would allow the Commission to borrow €20 billion on the financial markets.
During a bilateral meeting in Davos, von der Leyen promised Volodymyr Zelenskyy that her executive would strive towards “securing the means to recover, rebuild and reform” through the proposed Facility.
“We focused on the need to unblock the decision to provide Ukraine with €50 billion in long-term EU assistance at the (February) summit. Ukraine is hoping for a consensus on this issue,” Zelenskyy said after the meeting.
Earlier on Tuesday, von der Leyen gave a speech at the World Economic Forum underlining the urgent need to provide Ukraine with “predictable financing throughout 2024 and beyond.” The goal has become even more pressing in the face of the legislative deadlock in Washington, where fresh funding is obstructed by Republicans.
“Ukraine can prevail in this war. But we must continue to empower their resistance,” von der Leyen told the audience in Davos.
“They need a sufficient and sustained supply of weapons to defend Ukraine and regain its rightful territory. They need capabilities to deter future attacks by Russia. And they also need hope,” she went on.
“They need to know that, with their struggle, they will earn a better future for their children. And Ukraine’s better future is called Europe.”