EU Nations Push to Censure Hungary’s Orban Over Putin Meeting

(Bloomberg) -- Half a dozen European Union countries are looking at ways to censure Hungary after Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s freewheeling diplomacy took him on visits to Russia, Ukraine and Mar-a-Lago, Florida.

Ministers from Sweden, Finland, Poland and three Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will skip informal meetings in Hungary during the first phase of its six-month EU presidency this summer, according to Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson. His government will send lower-level officials instead.

Orban “is, in effect, abusing the presidency, kidnapping it for his own purposes,” Kristersson told reporters on Thursday at the NATO summit in Washington. “I’ve been very clear that he doesn’t speak for other heads of government, and even less so for the EU system, when he travels to Russia.”

Orban blindsided western allies working to present a united front on Ukraine when he traveled to Moscow last week to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin. On Monday, he was in Beijing to see President Xi Jinping. Later on Thursday, Orban will head from the NATO summit to Florida to meet with presumptive Republic presidential nominee and former US President Donald Trump.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Thursday he couldn’t speculate on what Hungary’s prime minister was doing with his meeting with Trump, but denounced diplomatic “adventurism” that didn’t include Ukraine as part of negotiations with Russia.

“All I’ll say is that it certainly isn’t coordinated with Ukrainians,” Sullivan said. “They’ve indicated that they have great misgivings about any effort to negotiate some kind of peace with Russia without the Ukrainians being a part of that effort.”

Trump and Putin professed a fondness for one another during the US president’s first term - often garnering bipartisan criticism. Orban, meanwhile, is the closest EU leader to Russia who has worked to dilute and stop Western aid to Ukraine. He said his trips are part of a self-styled “peace mission.”

But Hungary’s EU and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies have criticized the nationalist leader for seeking to undermine their efforts helping Kyiv fight back Russia’s invasion, now in its third year. 

Rock Bottom

Budapest took over the six-month rotating presidency of the EU on July 1, when it chairs meetings between member states and — as an honest broker — leads negotiations on a diverse range of legislative proposals.

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said Thursday that Orban’s diplomatic outreach has erased trust in his country’s presidency.

“The trust is at rock bottom,” De Croo, whose nation held the EU rotating chairmanship until last month, told reporters in Washington. “In a presidency you need to earn trust every day. Right now, that trust has vanished.”

Remarks from leaders follow a tense meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday, which lasted more than two hours and saw 25 member states expressing their dismay or anger at how Hungary’s EU presidency has been unfolding, according to an EU diplomat, who declined to be named requesting anonymity. 

Countries condemned Orban for what they described as his attempt to represent the EU during his visits in Moscow and Beijing and accused him of not playing a role of honest broker, according to a diplomat.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday sidestepped questions about Orban’s trip to Mar-a-Lago, saying that he wasn’t checking travel plans of prime ministers of other countries. 

“They are also not important,” he told reporters in Washington. “Important is that everyone is aware that the Hungarian prime minister acts on his own behalf and not within the framework of the EU Council presidency which Hungary has for half a year.”

--With assistance from Arne Delfs, Ewa Krukowska and Justin Sink.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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