EU Commission to stay out of Ukraine-Hungary row

Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs Peter Szijjarto gives a press briefing during the Nato Foreign ministers council at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 27 April 2018. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The recent tensions over Hungary’s election interference in Ukraine, which have led Budapest to threaten to block Kyiv’s Euro-Atlantic integration efforts, should be resolved bilaterally, a Commissions spokesperson said on Tuesday (27 October).

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said in an interview with Interfax-Ukraine on Monday night that his country had “banned entry of two high-ranking  Hungarian officials,” one of whom is the state secretary of the prime minister’s office, for interfering with local elections and breaking Ukrainian law.

In response, his Hungarian counterpart Péter Szijjártó called the decision “pathetic and nonsense”, adding that it “only sends the message that they have given up on Hungary’s support for their European and Euro-Atlantic integration efforts.”

Kuleba said his ministry had also started the procedure to ban more Hungarians for interference in Ukraine’s internal affairs during the campaigning period, adding that the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitoring mission has already been informed of the decision and the Hungarian partners will be soon.

Tensions rose after Szijjártó campaigned on social media for the candidates of the Hungarian Cultural Federation in Transcarpathia (KMKSZ) during Sunday’s municipal elections.

This came on the heels of an earlier warning from Kyiv, when a local NGO alleged that the Hungarian state secretary for national policy, János Árpád Potápi, had campaigned for the same party during his October visit.

The Ukrainian MFA said the moves ran contrary to the Ukrainian law and constituted interference in internal affairs.

Kyiv summons Hungarian envoy over election interference

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Szijjártó said that labelling contact with the Hungarian minority as interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs was “nonsense, as all existing European and international regulation speaks of the fact that minority affairs and minority rights cannot be considered an internal affair in any way.”

Though the final results of the Sunday elections are yet to be announced, the Hungarian party in question said it had performed well and the city of Beregovo (Beregszász) would retain its ethnic Hungarian mayor.

Budapest and Kyiv have been locked in a row over minority rights since Ukraine’s parliament in 2017 adopted the law “On Ensuring the Functioning of the Ukrainian Language as the State Language,” which Budapest says tramples on the right of the Transcarpathian ethnic minority to study in Hungarian.

In turn, Hungary continues to block Ukraine’s cooperation with NATO and the holding of Ukraine-NATO Commission talks.

Hungary blocks NATO statement on Ukraine over minority rights row

Hours before a Russian state visit to Budapest on Wednesday (30 October), Hungary vetoed a joint NATO statement about Ukraine because it did not mention the “deprivation of rights” of the Hungarian minority in the neighbouring country’s Transcarpathia region.

Before the latest diplomatic friction, thanks partially to the efforts of the new Ukrainian administration, relations between the two neighbours seemed to be improving over the past year.

Asked if the EU should play a mediating role in the spat, Commission spokesperson Peter Stano said these are “issues of bilateral relations between the two countries and the only thing that you can do is to encourage everyone who is involved in bilateral issues to try to solve them based on EU values and principles, and based on the principles of good neighbourly relations.”

“The EU continues it’s very close cooperation with Ukraine based on a very clear set of criteria and expectations and agreements, and … this is not changing at this moment, and I will not go into speculation whether it might be changed later on,” Stano said.

“The decisions by the EU are taken by unanimity when it comes to questions related to third countries and especially their ambitions to get as close to the EU as possible, but at this point what we have are decisions that have been taken, decisions that have been made,” he added.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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