BUDAPEST (Reuters) – Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban expects European Union leaders to start talks on extending sanctions on Russia in the autumn but Budapest would try to block the move, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, citing unidentified sources.
Orban, a harsh critic of EU sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of neighbouring Ukraine, made the remarks at a closed meeting to party members in the western village of Kotcse last week, RFE/RL said on its Hungarian website on Friday.
Orban’s press chief declined comment to Reuters questions about the reported remarks, saying the annual gathering was closed to the press. Reuters could not independently verify the authenticity of the comments attributed to Orban.
Citing unnamed sources present at the meeting, RFE/RL reported Orban as saying that prospects of blocking another six-month extension of sanctions were slim, but he expressed hope that a new government to be formed in Italy could aid the effort.
This appeared to be a reference to Giorgia Meloni, likely to be Italy’s next prime minister after elections this month, whose party the Brothers of Italy has close ties to Orban.
Her party rallied to his side on Thursday when the European parliament voted by 433 to 123 to denounce the “existence of a clear risk of a serious breach” by Hungary of core EU values.
In July, Orban said the EU had shot itself in the lungs with ill-considered economic sanctions on Russia, which, unless rolled back, risked destroying the European economy.
RFE/RL also cited Orban as saying that by 2030 the Visegrad Four grouping of central European nations could become net contributors to the EU budget, which should prompt a rethink of the benefits and drawbacks of continued membership in the bloc.
Barring a positive assessment, Hungary should draw its own conclusions, RFE/RL cited Orban as saying, suggesting he might recommend Hungary leaving the EU at that point.
The EU executive will recommend suspending billions of euros earmarked for Hungary over corruption woes, two officials told Reuters on Wednesday, in what would be the first such move against Orban.
A vocal critic of Brussels, last September Orban said Hungary must remain a member of the EU to ensure continued access to its single market. He then said Hungary would be among the few still in the EU should it ever end.
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs, Editing by William Maclean)