Hungary's Orbán casts doubt on European Union accession talks for Ukraine

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban delivers his address on the opening day of the parliament's autumn session in Budapest, Hungary, Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP)

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán cast doubt Friday on the prospect of the European Union beginning negotiations any time soon for Ukraine to join the bloc, saying it was unrealistic to launch the accession process with a country that's at war.

Speaking to state radio, Orbán noted that unanimity among the EU's 27 member states is required to admit a new country into the bloc. In the case of Hungary, he said, the parliament would have to give the go-ahead to Ukraine, which has ambitions to join the EU within two years.

“When I'm in the chamber, I don’t feel the insurmountable desire for the Hungarian parliament to vote for Ukraine’s membership of the European Union within two years. So I would be careful with these ambitious plans,” Orbán said.

Ukraine was officially granted EU candidate status last year — an unusually rapid decision for the EU and its go-slow approach to expansion, prompted by the war in Ukraine. The European Council is expected to begin negotiations on Ukraine's accession in December.

Hungary, which has been sanctioned by the EU for alleged rule-of-law violations and corruption, has sparred with Kyiv over the rights of an ethnic Hungarian minority in western Ukraine. While it has admitted Ukrainian refugees and condemned Russia's invasion, it has — uniquely among EU countries — maintained close relations with Moscow and argued against supplying arms to Ukraine or providing it with economic assistance.

On Friday, Orbán said the EU “will have to answer very long and difficult questions until we get to the point where we can even decide whether to start negotiations.”

“When we are discussing the future of Ukraine in Brussels in the autumn, we will not be able to avoid the question of whether we can think seriously about the membership of such a country,” he said. “Can we start negotiations with a country that is in a territorial war? We do not know the size of this country’s territory since it is still at war, and we do not know what its population is, because they are fleeing. ... To admit a country without knowing its parameters would be unprecedented.”

On Monday, Orbán told the Hungarian parliament that his government would “not support Ukraine on any international issue” until the language rights of the Hungarian minority in western Ukraine are restored.