Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orbán stood firm in his staunch opposition to Ukraine being admitted to the EU, calling it “corrupt” a week before EU leaders are set to make a decision on starting talks with Kyiv on joining the bloc.
“Hungary is a neighbour of Ukraine … we know exactly what is happening,” Orbán told French news outlet Le Point in an interview published Friday. “Ukraine is known to be one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It’s a joke!” he said.
“We cannot take the decision to start a process of accession negotiations,” Orbán said.
EU leaders are set to gather in Brussels next week for two historic decisions on Ukraine: approving a plan to begin discussions on Kyiv joining the 27-nation bloc and the release of €50 billion in aid for Ukraine.
Yet Orbán’s shadow looms over the summit, as the Hungarian leader has adamantly opposed the opening of accession negotiations for Ukraine — despite the European Commission giving the green light in November — and threatened to use Hungary’s veto power to block the disbursement of the aid funds.
In what Le Point said was Orbán’s first interview in France since 2015, the Hungarian leader stood by his stance, calling the EU’s plan to start accession talks a “bad decision.” Ukraine is not ready to join the EU, Orbán said, despite the Commission’s declaration.
One of Orbán’s main concerns remains Ukraine’s “corruption,” despite Hungary’s own fragile reputation when it comes to transparency. The EU has repeatedly raised concerns of corruption and rule-of-law breaches in Hungary, warning of democratic backsliding during Orbán’s decade-plus in power in Budapest.
A Transparency International report earlier this year found that Hungary was seen as the most corrupt country in the EU. Ukraine scored nine points worse than Hungary on Transparency International’s scale of perceived public sector corruption.
Orbán also said the EU needs to do a lot more “preparatory work” before the bloc will be ready to welcome Ukraine.
“If you allow this [Ukrainian] agriculture to enter the European agricultural system, it will destroy it the next day,” Orbán told Le Point. “Without transforming our farm subsidy system, we cannot let them in. The consequences will be terrible,” he added.
Instead, Orbán proposed “a strategic partnership treaty” to raise the level of EU-Ukraine cooperation without offering EU membership.
In an effort to sway the Hungarian leader, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted Orbán for a dinner in Paris on Thursday evening. But the Hungarian leader told Le Point he “cannot give up [his] position” on Ukraine.
“My idea is to try to convince him to listen to my arguments,” Orbán said. “I am very interested in his opinion on the reasons that push France to act in this way.”
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo responded to Orbán’s interview during the unveiling of the Belgian EU Council presidency program on Friday, saying that when there are “different opinions” it’s better to speak “face-to-face” rather than through the press or open letters, De Croo said.
Pieter Haeck contributed reporting.