BUDAPEST, Dec 1 — The European Union should first sign a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine instead of starting membership talks with the country, Hungary’s Viktor Orban said today, flagging a way to a possible compromise ahead of a crucial EU summit.

The 27 national EU leaders are due to decide in mid-December on whether to accept the European Commission’s recommendation to invite Kyiv to begin membership talks as soon as it meets final conditions, even as it fights to repel Russia’s invasion.

Any such decision requires unanimity of the bloc’s 27 members, with Hungary seen as the main potential obstacle. The Hungarian prime minister has repeatedly said Hungary would not support the Commission’s proposal in its present form.

Orban reiterated today that several issues would need to be cleared before membership talks could start with Ukraine, saying the country, making it impossible to assess what consequences Ukraine’s membership would have on the bloc.

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“If we don’t know (what consequences it would have) then we should not start talks... So I will represent the view that the EU should first sign a strategic partnership agreement with Ukraine,” Orban said in an interview on state radio.

“This (agreement) could last for up to 5-10 years, let’s bring them closer, as the gap is too wide now,” he said. “Let’s give time for us to work together, and when we see that we can work together, then let’s bring up the issue of membership.”

Orban’s proposal comes a day after EU officials yesterday said Hungary was close to unlocking access to billions of euros of EU funds that Brussels had suspended over concerns Budapest had damaged democratic checks-and-balances in the country.

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The Hungarian premier urged a ceasefire in Ukraine, and said if the EU wanted to give more money to Ukraine then it should set up a separate financial fund outside the EU budget based on an intergovernmental agreement.

“Everybody should put in the money that they want to, and we should send the money to Ukraine from (this fund),” he said, adding that sending financing to Ukraine to fight the war from the EU’s budget has overstretched the budget. — Reuters