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Estonian MEP on Orban veto: EU could drop unanimity principle in certain matters

Marina Kaljurand.
Marina Kaljurand. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The European Union could give up its principle of unanimous voting under certain conditions, Estonian MEP Marina Kaljurand found when commenting on Hungarian leader Viktor Orban's Friday decision to block €50 billion in Ukraine aid. Kaljurand said that freezing Hungary's EU funds remains the best way to influence Budapest.

Kaljurand described the EU's decision to start accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova as historic and saw a decisive role in it for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

"He proposed that Orban could step out of the room and go for a coffee alone when the decision to start negotiations with Ukraine was made. But this was also hiding behind something, because it's clear that Hungary has been causing problems for Ukraine and will continue to do so. Orban was not in agreement with allocating funds to Ukraine, which means that this issue will only come up again in January."

According to Kaljurand, Hungary's use of its veto against providing aid to Ukraine raises the question of how decisive the European Union is in fundamental issues such as sanctions and accession negotiations, the start and closure of negotiation chapters.

"It is already predicted that Hungary will cause problems for Ukraine at every step. And I think it's very correct to start discussing now whether unanimity is the only policy to adhere to."

Kaljurand acknowledged that in Estonia, there are different opinions on whether to stick to or abandon the policy of unanimity.

"Some say that the policy of unanimity is the only tool with which Estonia can protect itself. Personally, I believe that in issues such as sanctions, starting accession negotiations, and some other foreign policy issues, we can move towards majority voting, as has actually been done in many other European Union policies."

Kaljurand justified her position, saying that she cannot imagine a situation where Estonia would be alone in a foreign policy issue.

"We have been in the European Union for almost 30 years now and during that time, we have never been in a situation where we were alone. This means we find partners, we can negotiate, we know how to look for compromises, and we don't stubbornly pursue a principle that is wrong from the European Union's point of view."

Therefore, Kaljurand finds it necessary that, parallel to accession negotiations, a review of the European Union's internal processes should begin.

"And this does not only concern unanimity. This concerns, for example, the size of the Commission. It concerns how many commissioners should be there from a country. It concerns other problems that France and Germany have been raising for years. Including whether the European Union should be multi-speed or multi-tiered, where there is a core and then there are countries that are less connected to the EU. They are connected in some way but not as strongly as the countries that are part of Schengen, the eurozone, and who are in the core of the European Union on all major issues."

Kaljurand believes that each member state should still have its own commissioner, even if it means that instead of 27, there might be 35 commissioners.

"They should be at the table, and it doesn't make much difference whether there are 27 or 35. Of course, it's difficult to negotiate when there are more than three people at the table. But it is doable and possible. So I believe now is the time. Joining the European Union is not imminent for Ukraine and Moldova. Negotiations will be long and complicated, and during this time, the European Union has plenty of time to review how it works, which formats work better, which do not, and make some fundamental decisions."

As for Hungary, Kaljurand noted that financial resources are what most effectively influence behavior.

"One might wonder a bit whether giving €10 billion to Hungary right now was justified or not. The Commission claimed that they passed laws regarding judicial reform and court reform. And for that, they received their €10 billion, which had been frozen. So I don't draw an equals sign between Hungary walking out of the room as thanks for getting their €10 billion. But financial resources work. Financial resources make countries act differently, implement reforms. This is a concrete means of influence. Words are important, but pressure must also be applied. And in the case of Hungary, practice shows that financial resources work very well," said Kaljurand.

On Friday, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán demanded that the European Union release all the billions of euros in aid intended for Hungary before considering abandoning the veto on the Ukrainian aid package.

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Editor: Urmet Kook, Marcus Turovski

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