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    EU leaders voiced optimism on the prospect of a deal between Hungary’s Viktor Orbán and the rest of the EU over a €50bn financial aid package for Ukraine at a crunch summit on Thursday.

    “My strong conviction is that this should be possible,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters ahead of the meeting in Brussels. “It’s time to make this happen.”

    Dutch Premier Mark Rutte said: “I do believe we have to come to an agreement today with the 27, including Hungary, and I’m cautiously optimistic that we can.”

    Ahead of the formal meeting of all EU leaders, Orbán held private talks with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the bloc’s three most powerful leaders — Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni — in an effort to find a compromise agreement.

    The EU leaders are making a final attempt to coerce Orbán, Hungary’s prime minister, to agree a vital aid package for Kyiv. Disagreement over the issue has pushed Brussels and Budapest to breaking point, and officials fear an irreparable rupture within the bloc if the Hungarian leader maintains his veto.

    The Brussels summit is seeking to secure €50bn over four years for Ukraine at a crucial moment nearly two years into Russia’s full-scale invasion — funding that cannot be approved unless Orbán agrees to it. The 26 other EU countries could find funding solutions circumventing Hungary, but they are more costly and time-consuming than using the common budget.

    Orbán’s refusal to budge in recent months has led the bloc to test different approaches, from offering financial incentives to exploring the economic consequences of a complete cut-off from EU funding, and prompted discussions among some member state officials about the possibility of stripping Budapest of its voting rights.

    “We are doomed to unanimity,” said one EU official involved in the negotiations. “[And] many member states see this question of the war in Ukraine as existential.”

    The EU funds for Ukraine, first proposed in June, have risen in importance as the US Congress has failed to pass a $60bn aid package for Kyiv and as Russia has amplified its attacks on Ukrainian cities.

    The Hungarian leader’s continued resistance to approve the package and his pro-Russia, Eurosceptic policies have exacerbated frustrations among a majority of EU capitals.

    “It is not about Ukraine, in my view . . . Orbán is using this opportunity to blackmail the institutions and the rest of the EU,” said a senior EU diplomat. “If it might also coincide with his pro-Russia agenda, and further down the road he can derail the whole thing, then even better.”

    In negotiations on Wednesday, Hungary’s ambassador to the EU rejected a last-minute compromise offered by the bloc, arguing that it fell short of Budapest’s demand to be able to continue to wield veto powers each year — something the other capitals have ruled out.

    That olive branch came days after the Financial Times reported about a draft analysis that outlined how the Hungarian economy would be hurt if all EU funds would be cut off in an attempt to strong-arm Orbán. Following the report, Hungary’s currency fell in value and its debt prices rose.

    An official at the European Council, the institution that produced the document, said it “does not outline a plan but makes a suggestion”.

    But its publication “was useful to add pressure” on Orbán, one EU diplomat said, adding that there were hopes Von der Leyen “has something in her pocket” at the summit.

    Diplomats involved in the last-minute negotiations on the eve of the meeting said it was impossible to predict its outcome, given Orbán’s history of making deals around the summit table.

    Some capitals have also revived discussions about voting rights, which can be stripped based on a process known as Article 7 of the EU treaty, but which requires unanimity of the other 26 countries.

    Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s prime minister, acknowledged “growing frustration” with Orbán and that “there is talk of using Article 7” but not as a “first option”.

    Instead, Hungarians “have bigger risks that are related to the economy”, she said. “They need the belief of European investors in Hungary being inside this bigger European market. So the key is somewhere in the economical part.”



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