February 23, 2024

The European Union decides to start accession negotiations with Ukraine

Green light from Brussels for Kiev: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban surprisingly gave up his veto on negotiations with Ukraine. Perhaps financial lure persuaded him.

On Thursday, in Brussels, European Union Council President Charles Michel announced the start of accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova.

Yves Hermann/Reuters

EU member states decided to open formal accession negotiations with Ukraine. EU Council President Charles Michel made the announcement on Platform X on Thursday evening. The Belgian wrote that accession talks should also start with Moldova. Georgia will also be granted nominee status. The decision represents a “clear sign of hope” for the countries’ residents.

Urban is upset

According to diplomatic sources, the decision came at a time when Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was not present in the room. However, it was said that the European Council still had a quorum. This procedure was agreed upon with the Hungarian negotiating delegation. Orban has previously spoken several times against starting accession talks with Ukraine.

A short time later, he posted a video on Hungary’s position that it does not consider Ukraine eligible for membership. But the other 26 member states “insisted,” Orbán explained, and he abstained: “If the 26 decide to do it, they will have to go their own way.”

With this decision, the European Union avoids a diplomatic failure. Just a few hours ago, it looked as if Orban would not change at all. When he arrived at the summit, he explained that Ukraine had been given seven preconditions for taking further steps in the accession process, and only four of them had been met, even according to the European Commission’s analysis. Therefore, “there is nothing to discuss at the moment,” Orban told reporters.

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A summit decision in June 2022, which makes progress in the accession process dependent on implemented reforms, will likely prove Orban right. However, all other member states agreed that Ukraine deserved to open accession negotiations. The move is seen as largely symbolic and aims, at the very least, to support Ukrainians in their struggle for freedom against Russia. This does not constitute a commitment to accept the country into the European Union. Supporters of Ukraine’s membership in the European Union repeatedly stress that the process must be “performance-based.”

It was not entirely clear Thursday evening why Orban surrendered. It is possible that combined pressure from other heads of state and government prompted him to surrender. Financial taste may also have played a role. On the eve of the summit, the Commission, of all places, announced that it would release ten billion euros from the group’s budget for Hungary – money that had previously been frozen due to the dispute over rule of law violations. The Commission justified this by arguing that Budapest had fulfilled all the requirements agreed upon through its recent judicial reforms.

However, there were sharp criticisms of the Commission and its President Ursula von der Leyen from the EU Parliament. MPs from across the party, who still see serious shortcomings in Hungary’s judiciary, said the Germans paid a huge “bribe” to persuade Orban to surrender. Criticisms were also expressed on the sidelines of the summit. Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said: “The timing is not good.” The impression is created that “this is a kind of incentive to get Hungary to support certain positions.” Orban himself denied a link between the ten billion dollars and his blockade of Ukraine. the Money that is still withheld from his country Up to A total of 21 billion euros.

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Zelensky talks about victory

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not travel to Brussels himself. But he sent a dramatic video message to the summit in which he implored heads of state and government not to disappoint “the people in the trenches.” A decision against his country would be a gift to Russia’s ruler, Vladimir Putin. After the positive decision, Selinski spoke of “a victory that motivates, inspires and strengthens” and thanked all the participants.

It has not yet been determined when accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova will actually begin. Negotiations on joining the European Union are also scheduled to begin with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the fifth country out of the six Western Balkan countries.

No decision had yet been made on Friday evening on the EU budget increase, which also includes new financial aid for Kiev. Brussels intends to support the Ukrainian government with loans and grants worth up to 50 billion euros for the period from 2024 to 2027. Hungary has also rejected this matter so far. Fundamental concerns have been expressed about increasing the EU budget – due to budget tightness in many member states – but also in other countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he recommends “austerity and redeployment.”