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EU Officials Boycott Hungary Meetings  07/16 06:12

   

   BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) -- Some European Union leaders protested on Tuesday 
what they see as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbn's misuse of the bloc's 
rotating presidency, with many including those in the EU's executive commission 
boycotting an informal meeting hosted by Hungary in response to Orbn's actions.

   Officials are angry that Orbn, a nationalist populist who is seen as having 
the warmest ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin among EU leaders, made 
unannounced trips to Moscow and Beijing earlier this month on what he called a 
"peace mission" aimed at brokering an end to Russia's war in Ukraine.

   Orbn said he was seeking the quickest path to peace in Ukraine and 
portrayed himself as uniquely positioned to communicate with both warring 
parties. He also met last week with former U.S. President Donald Trump at his 
Mar-a-Lago compound and expressed confidence that Trump would quickly "solve" 
the conflict.

   But Orbn's EU partners were startled by the appearance that he was acting 
on behalf of the 27-member bloc during his meetings with Putin and Chinese 
President Xi Jinping, and worried that he was undermining EU unity on support 
for Ukraine. Hungary holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council from July 
to December 2024.

   In response, some nations including Sweden, Finland and the Baltic 
countries, as well as the Commission, said their top officials would boycott 
meetings in Budapest and send civil servants instead.

   But not all EU members joined the boycott. The energy ministers of Austria, 
Belgium and Bulgaria attended an informal meeting on energy on Tuesday in 
Hungary's capital, with one downplaying the boycott.

   "I think that we have a good representation," Vladimir Malinov, Bulgaria's 
caretaker energy minister, said as he entered the meeting. "Having in mind that 
this is an informal meeting, it's not an issue. Maybe on the formal level we 
will have much more high representation."

   The boycott prompted mixed reactions from Hungarian officials, with some 
employing the kind of bellicose tone that has characterized Orbn's government 
when it comes to the EU. Kinga Gl, a top EU lawmaker from Orbn's Fidesz 
party, said the Commission's boycott is "clearly a part of von der Leyen's 
election campaign," a reference to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, 
who hopes to be elected to another five-year term on Thursday.

   "We have become used to (von der Leyen) using the EU institutions, 
especially against Hungary for political blackmail and pressure," Gl wrote on 
the social media site X on Monday. "This is unacceptable and goes against the 
very essence of European cooperation."

   Hungary's finance minister, Mihly Varga, was more subdued, saying in 
Brussels on Tuesday that Hungary's EU presidency "remains committed to sincere 
cooperation with all member states and institutions."

   Varga said ministers "are free to decide to take part in our events or not. 
But I am absolutely sure that there will be a high-level participation in the 
events."

   Speaking from outside the same Brussels meeting, Elisabeth Svantesson, 
Sweden's finance minister, said she was "both angry and quite sad" about how 
the Hungarian presidency has gone so far.

   "That Mr. Orbn went to Putin in Moscow is an insult not only to Ukraine, 
but to all other 26 member states, and that's what I will tell today in the 
meeting," she said.

   During a media briefing on Tuesday, Stefan de Keersmaecker, a Commission 
spokesperson, said that by sending lower-level officials to Hungary's meetings, 
the body wanted to "mark our disapproval" with Orbn's uncoordinated trips and 
the message they sent concerning the war in Ukraine.

   The visits, he said, "have indeed harmed the indispensable image of unity in 
the European Union."

 
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