Hungary's Orbán says Ukraine is 'light years away' from joining the EU

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. European Union leaders gather Thursday for a two day meeting to discuss, among other issues, Ukraine and the impact of the war between Israel and Hamas. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

BUDAPEST, (AP) — Hungary's prime minister said Saturday that Ukraine is “light years away” from joining the European Union, further signaling that his government is likely to present a roadblock to Kyiv's ambitions to join the bloc.

Speaking at a biannual congress of his nationalist Fidesz party, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán said he and his government would “resist” talks scheduled for mid-December on whether to formally invite Ukraine to start membership negotiations.

Admitting a new country requires unanimous approval from all existing member countries, giving Orbán a powerful veto.

At the party congress in Budapest on Saturday, he was reelected as the president of Fidesz for the 11th straight time since 2003. Orbán said afterward that standing in the way of Ukraine joining the EU would be one of his government's top priorities in the coming months.

“Our task will be to correct the mistaken promise to start negotiations with Ukraine, since Ukraine is now light years away from the European Union,” Orbán said.

The EU's executive commission earlier this month recommended beginning accession talks with Ukraine, saying the government in Kyiv “has shown a remarkable level of institutional strength, determination and ability to function.”

But Orbán, one of Russian President Vladimir Putin's only EU allies, has argued that negotiations should not begin with a country that is at war, and that Ukraine's membership would reorient the 27-member EU's system of distributing funds to member countries.

Some critics have speculated that Hungary is using its resistance to leverage concessions concerning billions in funding that Brussels has withheld from Budapest over concerns that the government has failed to uphold rule-of-law and human rights standards.

Orban also has threatened to block an EU plan to provide a four-year, 50 billion-euro (nearly $53 million) aid package to Ukraine,

He has criticized Ukraine over what he says is the violation of the rights of ethnic Hungarians in western Ukraine to study in their own language. In September, he told the Hungarian parliament that his government would “not support Ukraine on any international issue” until the language rights of the minority are restored.