Viktor Orban congratulates Putin. The EU is struggling on defense


By John

THE 27 at the EU summit they look for a sprint forward on the defence because the future does not promise anything good and the time of peace, with its dividends, is now behind us. That more must be done, for Ukraine in the immediate future and for Europe itself in the medium term, is quite clear to everyone. However, there is currently no agreement on how to give the European Union the strategic autonomy necessary to stand up to Putin's Russia. It's all about money. And to the eternal debt yes-debt no debate.

The usual thing is to increase the load Viktor Orban: his spokesperson, in the midst of the Council, declared that the Hungarian prime minister officially “congratulated” Putin on his re-election. The only European leader to do so, excluding the Serbian Vucic, who however is outside the EU perimeter. In his letter to the Kremlin Orban underlines that “cooperation between Hungary and Russia, based on mutual respect, allows important discussions even in difficult geopolitical contexts” and recalls how Budapest is committed to “achieving peace”.

Nothing could be more different from the atmosphere at Justus Lipsius. Of course, some countries say they are alarmed by the excessively pessimistic tone expressed by other member states. “War is not imminent, let's not scare citizens”, said High Representative Josep Borrell, who however reiterated the need to “prepare for the future and increase our defense capabilities”. At the opening of the summit, after lunch with the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the leaders however met with Volodymyr Zelensky and found themselves faced with a rather angry president. “Thank you for the military aid,” he assured. “But ammunition is a vital issue and it is humiliating for Europe to be in short supply: you can give more and it is essential to demonstrate it now.”

Yet the 27 got busy. The new 5 billion military assistance instrument for Ukraine has been approved and on the leaders' table there is a proposal on the use of profits from Russian assets to buy weapons (and ammunition) in Kiev. The draft conclusions, on this point, invites the Council to “continue the work” and, in general, there are no insurmountable critical issues, even on the part of the usual suspects. Just like Hungary, which says it is “open” to negotiation (the part of the extra revenue, 10%, channeled through civil aid seems designed specifically to satisfy the needs of the neutrals as well as Budapest).

As regards the resources to be allocated to European rearmament, the compromise at the moment seems to be to ask the Commission for a report on “possible options”, to be discussed at the June summit. However, France, together with the Baltics, Romania and Portugal, has circulated a letter, addressed to the High Representative, which expressly mentions the hypothesis of a “common European debt”, to be explored also together with other solutions, such as new guidelines for the EIB. “After Covid we have deployed unprecedented tools and even now, in light of Russian aggression, we must make history”, we read in the letter, which even refers to the need to reach a war economy to cope with Moscow. Here, these are the tones that certain capitals consider “exaggerated”. But it is not just the conflict in Ukraine that stands out on the agenda of the first day of the summit: the EU, in fact, also has to deal with the Middle East and the ongoing crisis in Gaza. The official position of the European Union is firm in October, with the request for “humanitarian pauses” (plural).

Here, in the latest draft conclusions the European Council “calls for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the provision of humanitarian assistance”. We'll see if the language survives the confrontation (the Czech Republic and Hungary had reservations). Giorgia Meloni, during the meeting with Guterres, called for an “immediate pause” and highlighted how the EU “can and must play” a leading role in resolving the crisis