The EU seeks unity against its loose verses in Hungary and Slovakia | International

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It is not just the Hungarian Víktor Orbán. The arrival of the new Slovak Prime Minister, the pro-Russian Robert Fico, has shown that loose verses continue to threaten the seams of the European Union just when Brussels breathed a sigh of relief with Poland's return to the fold, thanks to the almost certain nomination of Donald Tusk as the new prime minister after eight years of anti-European and populist government of the Law and Justice party (PiS).

With new open fronts—after Ukraine, now the conflict in the Middle East—the Twenty-seven have been seeking for weeks to give a reinforced image of unity that was already fragile, without discordant gestures like that of the Hungarian prime minister and his recent meeting in China with the pariah from Brussels, Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has generated deep unrest in the EU. Added to this is the mystery of the new Slovak head of government, who came to power promising to stop military aid to Ukraine, something he announced just before landing in the Belgian capital to meet with his European partners.

The meeting of heads of state and government in Brussels this Thursday was also the first meeting of the Hungarian Orbán with his European counterparts after his criticized meeting with Putin, which generated great indignation in a good part of the Twenty-Seven. Far from showing contrition, Orbán appeared this Thursday upon his arrival at the European Council “proud” of his meeting in Beijing, just when the 600 days of war in Ukraine had passed, with the Russian president, who has been under an order of arrest since March. arrest by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes for his involvement in the “illegal deportation of Ukrainian children.”

“Russia and Hungary have a common neighbor, Ukraine. We have a peace strategy and we like to keep all communication channels open. It is a strategy that we are proud of,” said Orbán, who was in favor of a ceasefire between Moscow and kyiv.

“We differ from the majority, from the strategy here,” he acknowledged to the press. “You have a war strategy, we have a peace strategy and we would like to do everything to have peace,” she insisted.

Although many countries remember that Orbán is an old acquaintance and that it is difficult for him to surprise, the meeting has gone very badly on the eve of an appointment in which, according to various diplomatic sources, several leaders intended to reproach the Hungarian prime minister for his interview with Putin.

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“Before a country [Ucrania] "which suffers Russian attacks every day, is a real blow," criticized the outgoing Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, upon his arrival at the summit. Nor did the Lithuanian head of government hide his indignation. The EU “has no right to war fatigue” in Ukraine, “something very important right now as I see some countries beginning to establish a kind of special diplomacy with the regime, whose Army is committing atrocities,” he commented.

Putin “is a war criminal: he started this war of aggression against a sovereign country, he has deported children, the International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant. He wouldn't want to be in the same photo as that guy,” commented Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.

Also in Paris, the Chinese meeting between Putin and Orbán has collapsed. “It is clear that the signal sent by that image is neither positive nor useful,” but rather something “not very useful,” Elysée sources pointed out on the eve of the Brussels summit, although at the same time they recalled that, despite the Hungarian outbursts, “On the bottom line” the Twenty-Seven are advancing and unanimity has been achieved on Ukrainian issues in the main.

In the same sense, Kallas pointed out that Hungary has a posture facing the gallery, with cameras and for its electorate, and another in the corridors where negotiations take place in the EU. And the same thing could happen with Fico: “As long as they say the wrong things and do the right things, I think we're fine,” he said. Hungary, however, with serious fiscal problems, “needs the EU more” than the other way around, he launched in a meeting with European media in Brussels, including EL PAÍS.

Since spring, Budapest has blocked the latest package of 500 million euros of military support for Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, addressed the Twenty-Seven this Thursday by videoconference to insist “on Ukraine's accession to the EU, how security "Europe and the Middle East are connected, and the need for European unity to avoid past mistakes."

A message that the new Slovak Prime Minister, Robert Fico, must have heard, viewed with reluctance by his European partners, precisely because of his pro-Russian position. On the eve of the meeting, several capitals had advocated giving him a vote of confidence, arguing that it is not the same when one is campaigning as once one has assumed office.

The signs, however, do not seem good: just when the leaders were arriving in Brussels, Fico made his campaign promise come true and announced the end of military aid to Ukraine. “We consider aid to Ukraine only as humanitarian and civil aid, we will not deliver more weapons to Ukraine,” he declared a day after taking office in a coalition with a pro-Russian far-right party.

The impact of the decision, responded European diplomatic sources in Brussels, is minimal or non-existent, since Slovakia has already exhausted its stocks of weapons that it could deliver to Ukraine. And it is not a surprise either, they added. However, the message is still disturbing at a time when many European leaders have been warning to “not stop looking” at Ukraine despite the growing conflict in the Middle East.

The uneasiness with Orbán's latest challenge and the unknown that Fico still represents contrasts with the immense relief with which Brussels has welcomed the victory of the alliance led by Donald Tusk and which promises to end a major European headache, Poland.

Although Tusk cannot yet sit with the other European leaders, the main EU institutions have given him an almost red carpet reception on the eve of the summit. The president of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, declared herself “confident” that, with Tusk at the helm, “numerous points of agreement” will be achieved on various issues where Warsaw now has objections.

Tusk, who also met with the president of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, and this Tuesday participated in the meeting of the European People's Party (EPP) prior to the summits, assured for his part that his objective is to “rebuild the position” of Poland in Europe and “strengthen the EU as a whole.” For the former president of the European Council (2014-2019), “the result of the elections clearly demonstrated to all of Europe that democracy, the rule of law, freedom of expression, European unity are still important for our citizens.” A smiling Von der Leyen could not agree more. Although the Orbanes and Ficos of the EU continue to act on her behalf.

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