Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE via Financial Times)

On Tuesday, January 28, Financial Times (Center bias) levied a serious claim against the European Union that an unnamed EU official has reportedly since denied, leaving readers to decide for themselves which narrative is most credible.

“The EU will sabotage Hungary’s economy if Budapest blocks fresh aid to Ukraine at a summit this week, under a confidential plan drawn up by Brussels that marks a significant escalation in the battle between the EU and its most pro-Russian member state,” Financial Times claimed in the opening line of its report.

The outlet claimed to have seen “a document drawn up by EU officials” that “outlined a strategy to explicitly target Hungary’s economic weaknesses, imperil its currency and drive a collapse in investor confidence in a bid to hurt ‘jobs and growth’ if Budapest refuses to lift its veto against the aid to Kyiv.”

For context, Hungary, led by conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, has previously blocked supplying Ukraine with continued aid, and Brussels has often quarreled with its member state over “rule of law” disputes such as the country’s stances on unauthorized migration and LGBT rights.

Outlets like The Guardian (Lean Left bias) and The Kyiv Independent (Center bias) also covered the story, derivative of the Financial Times’ report.

The claim that such a memo exists is quite weighty within the context of Europe, as it involves one nation that is using its position to meaningfully affect a “federal” issue. Very loosely put, in American terms, it would be similar to the discovery of a memo prepared by the Biden Administration that was sent to other states, briefing them on how to aggravate the Texan economy should the state continue to express disagreement with the administration’s handling of the southern border.

However, according to Szabad Európa, the Hungarian counterpart of the United States government-funded media organization Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the European Union has denied it had specific plans for coercing Hungary via its economic weaknesses. 

Per Szabad Európa “The memo does not outline any specific plans for… the Ukraine fund, nor for Hungary," stated the EU official, who has remained anonymous.

The publication also noted that the quoted official did not provide additional context: “At the same time, we have not yet received a clear answer as to why a factual survey of the state of the Hungarian economy was prepared, and why exactly before the summit that was supposed to decide on Ukrainian financing.”

Reuters (Center bias) also chimed in to elevate Szabad Európa’s reporting that the EU denied it had any malicious intent with the alleged memo.

Upon the news break, Orbán and his aides contemptuously hit back at the EU. The Prime Minister wrote on X, formerly Twitter, “We made a compromise proposal. In return, we were blackmailed by Brussels. The Brussels blackmail manual was published in the Financial Times earlier this week. The cat is out of the bag. Forget about the rule of law, Hungary is blackmailed for having a it’s [sic] own opinion on migration, the war in Ukraine and gender propaganda. We will defend our interests. Hungary cannot be blackmailed!”

He also attached an interview he did with the conservative French outlet, Le Point, in which he said (translated to English from its published language of French), “I have no doubt about the authenticity of this document. Knowing Brussels, they are capable of it.”

The EU Parliament (Mathieu Cugnot/EP via Politico)

Despite the EU’s denial of “specific plans,” Financial Times has not issued any corrections to its reporting nor backed down in light of the EU’s denial of the alleged memo having such intentions. 

If the Financial Times’ claim is true, it would reflect a new low for the relationship between the EU and its member state Hungary, which has recently been rocky at best

Just a few weeks ago a majority of European Parliament members expressed ambitions to strip Hungary of its voting rights within the bloc altogether. The move had “no legal effect as it is not down to the European Parliament to take such a measure” according to Politico (Lean Left bias), but reflects the state of affairs between Brussels and Budapest.

On Thursday, February 1, however, Hungary rescinded its veto and the European Union approved a €50 billion aid package for Ukraine. 

Financial Times, reporting on the development, made no mention of its report on the memo, but called the approval “critical for Ukraine as the Biden administration has failed to win Congressional support for its own $60 billion support package.”

Without further updates, it’s impossible to know exactly what Financial Times saw in the memo, which leaves readers with less context in making a judgment for themselves, similar to the Israeli intelligence dossier only some publications were able to get eyes on last week. 

In essence, it's a word-of-mouth standoff between a publication claiming it saw something, and a government official claiming it didn’t. These types of reports can often fuel misleading narratives and in turn a staging ground for other forms of media bias.

In any case, in the absence of a publicly available primary source, readers should stay vigilant and compare news coverage from media of different biases and attempt to follow the news to the publication that first shared the report to best understand the full picture and sources of potential media bias.

Andy Gorel is a News Editor and Bias Analyst. He has a Center bias.

This article was edited and reviewed by Joseph Ratliff, AllSides Content Designer and News Editor (Lean Left bias), and Johnathon Held, Bias Analyst (Lean Right bias).