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Central European PMs highlight shared ties amid friction over war


KOSICE, Slovakia — Leaders of four central European countries meeting at a regional summit in Slovakia on Thursday highlighted the issues that bind them and downplayed those that divide them.

The prime ministers of the four Visegrad countries – Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary – met after fault lines emerged in the regional bloc over Hungary’s approach to the war in Ukraine, which its V4 partners have perceived as too conciliatory towards Russia.

While acknowledging significant differences of opinion on how to help Ukraine and punish Russia for its invasion, the leaders said common interests such as energy security, illegal immigration and border protection formed a basis for future V4 cooperation.

At a press conference after the meeting in Kosice, Slovakia, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that while he agreed with his counterparts that Russia should not be allowed to pose a threat to European security, he will continue to block a European Union plan to provide Ukraine with an aid package worth 18 billion euros ($18.7 billion) in 2023.

Instead, the populist leader said, Hungary would provide bilateral aid to its eastern neighbor.

“The Hungarian government has already set aside the amount it is responsible for in our budget, and we are going to give this money to the Ukrainians,” Orban said. “But we are not going to support any kind of solution that would lead the European Union to a common debt.”

The relationship between Orban and his counterparts seemed frosty even before the encounter began. Before leaving for the V4 summit, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said the group had seen better days, not least because of Hungary’s conduct since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine.

Budapest has broken with regional partners by refusing to supply arms to Ukraine or allowing their transfer across Hungary’s borders, opposing EU sanctions against Russia and pursuing new energy deals with Moscow even as most of Europe seeks to wean itself off Russian oil and gas.

“I think it’s no secret, and everyone can see it, that the V4 countries… don’t have the best times,” Fiala told reporters in Prague. “Hungary’s different positions contribute significantly to this situation and complicate it considerably.”

Upon arriving at the meeting in Kosice, Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger presented Orban with a Slovak national football team scarf. It was a thinly veiled reference to a controversy Orban sparked last week after appearing in a video wearing a headscarf depicting ‘Greater Hungary’, the borders of the historic Hungarian kingdom that contained almost everything that is today. today Slovakia and large parts of other neighboring countries. countries.

“I noticed Viktor Orban had an old scarf on so I gave him a new one today,” Heger wrote on Facebook alongside a photo of him and Orban with the scarf draped over their faces. shoulders.

Prime Ministers Fiala, Heger and Polish leader Mateusz Morawiecki each noted at the press conference that they had urged Orban to ratify Finland and Sweden’s NATO membership process as soon as possible, and said he had assured them that the Hungarian parliament would vote on the measure. soon.

Hungary is the only NATO member other than Turkey that has yet to ratify the two Nordic countries’ membership of the military alliance, frustrating some allies who believe quickly accepting the countries is a security priority in the middle of the war in Ukraine.

Yet while Hungary was expected to ratify both NATO bids before the end of the fall parliamentary session in early December, Orban said his legislature would consider the issue early. next year, “as requested by the other three Prime Ministers of V4. Hungary to do.

“We have already confirmed to Finland and Sweden that Hungary supports NATO membership for these two countries,” he said. “Swedes and Finns have not lost a single minute of membership because of Hungary, and Hungary will certainly give them the support they need to join.”

Hungary’s delay in organizing the NATO vote has sparked speculation that Budapest is using the issue to exert leverage over the EU, which has frozen billions of dollars in financial support to Hungary over fears that ‘Orban has overseen a systematic erosion of democratic standards and authorized the widespread misuse of EU funds.

The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, could soon recommend that some 7.5 billion euros be withheld from Hungary unless it carries out a series of reforms aimed at protecting EU funds from misuse , increase judicial independence and enhance legislative transparency.

But European lawmakers are not convinced that the reforms promised by Hungary are sufficient. In a resolution adopted by the European Parliament on Thursday, lawmakers said the reforms promised so far are “not sufficient to address the existing systemic risk to the financial interests of the EU”, and called for further the withholding of funds “to protect the EU budget against breaches”. principles of the rule of law in Hungary.

The EU lawmaker also recommended not approving the release of billions more in pandemic recovery aid until the Hungarian government fully complies with all rule of law recommendations. .

Still, in response to a question from the press on Thursday, Orban said negotiations with the European Commission were “going well” and that his government was awaiting a final executive decision.

“We did everything we committed to and agreed to,” he said.

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Karel Janicek in Prague, Czech Republic contributed to this report.

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Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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