The 27 European Union leaders decided on Thursday to begin accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, issuing a strong rebuke of Russia’s forceful attempts to impose control over its immediate neighbourhood.
During a high-stakes summit in Brussels, the heads of state and government also granted Georgia candidate state status.
In addition, the Union will open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina “once the necessary degree of compliance with membership criteria has been reached.” The Balkan country’s progress will be assessed and scheduled to be revealed in March.
“It is a very strong political signal, it is a very strong political decision,” European Council President Charles Michel told reporters after the blessing became official.
He added, “Today and tonight, I believe for the people of Ukraine that we stand with them, and this decision taken by member states is very important for the credibility of the European Union.”
“It was important that no member state opposed the resolution, which is why we were in a position to make this announcement tonight,” Michel added.
The approval represents a major victory for Kiev, which has been struggling to make progress in its fierce counteroffensive against invading Russian forces. President Volodymyr Zelensky submitted Ukraine’s application to join the bloc in the early days of the war, and has since called for the process to be accelerated.
Thursday’s breakthrough was even more surprising because it came amid Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s veto threats and bellicose rhetoric.
In the days leading up to the meeting, Orban questioned Ukraine’s readiness to begin negotiations and the credibility of the European Commission as a neutral arbitrator. After being declared a candidate state in June last year, Ukraine was given seven reforms that must be implemented as a precondition for the start of talks. Brussels said the country has fully completed four of the seven reforms, with work continuing in the areas of anti-corruption, oligarchy removal and minority rights.
This progress, estimated at “more than 90%”, was sufficient to allow Kiev to move to the next stage, something Budapest strongly opposed.
in Short video Posted on X, formerly Twitter Immediately after the decision was made, Orbán doubled down on his opposition but admitted to abstaining from the vote. An EU official later confirmed that the Prime Minister “was temporarily absent from the chamber in a constructive and previously agreed manner” when the vote took place.
Orban said: “Hungary’s position is clear: Ukraine is not ready to start negotiations on EU membership. Starting negotiations with Ukraine under these circumstances is a foolish, irrational and absolutely incorrect decision, and Hungary will not change its position.”
“On the other hand, 26 other countries insisted on making this decision. Therefore, Hungary decided that if the 26 countries decided to do this, they would have to go their own way. Hungary did not want to be involved in this bad decision, and that is why Hungary did not participate.” In today’s decision.
The news from Brussels quickly sparked a series of posts on social media celebrating what many leaders described as a “historic day.”
“This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A victory that motivates, inspires and strengthens,” the president wrote. ZelenskyWho delivered a video message during the summit urging leaders to take a positive decision.
He added: “History is made by those who never tire of fighting for freedom.”
The President of Moldova said: “Moldova turns a new page today with the European Union’s agreement to move forward with accession talks. Today we feel Europe’s warm embrace. Thank you for your support and faith in our journey.” Maya Sandhu. “We are committed to the hard work required to become a member of the European Union. Moldova is ready to rise to the challenge.”
Georgian President Salome Zurabishvili spoke of a “historic event for Georgia” and the rest of the continent. “The unwavering will of the Georgian people has spoken, resulting in his well-deserved candidate status.” “Zourabishvili wrote. “Reuniting Georgia with her European family is an irreversible possibility!”
Estonia’s Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said the moment happened “against all the odds”, while her Finnish counterpart Petri Orbo described it as “an important message of hope”.
Belgian Alexander De Croo said: “Europe will not leave Ukraine behind.” He added, “Today was the necessary signal to the Ukrainians and also to Moscow.”
Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission and one of Kiev’s strongest defenders, praised “a strategic decision and a day that will remain engraved” in the bloc’s history. “We are proud that we have fulfilled our promises and are happy for our partners.” Von der Leyen said.
Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar offered his take on the discussions leading up to the thumbs-up.
“Prime Minister Orban has made his case very strongly. He does not agree with this decision and is not changing his mind in that sense,” Varadkar told reporters.
“Any member state has the power to block accession, to block enlargement, or to block talks with another country to join, and (Orbán) made the decision not to do that, and I have to say I respect the fact that he did not do that.” Because it would have put us in a very difficult position.”
Thursday’s decision is only the first step in a long and arduous process that covers 36 thematic chapters and could extend for years before leading to full membership.
The next task is to draft a negotiating framework, a detailed document setting out the principles and guidelines for accession talks, which must be agreed upon unanimously by the 27 member states. This could happen next March, when the EU leaders meet, provided that Ukraine fully meets the remaining three preconditions.
After the enlargement issue is settled, EU leaders will spend the remainder of the summit haggling over a review of the bloc’s common budget, which crucially includes a €50 billion fund to provide Ukraine with financial support between 2024 and 2027.
Ukraine faces a massive deficit of 40 billion euros in 2024, a deficit that can only be closed by an injection of Western aid. The White House is trying to intervene, but its plans are stuck in a legislative battle in the US Congress, with no solution in sight.
The urgency is growing by the day: Brussels only has one payment left for Kiev, worth 1.5 billion euros, due to be issued later this month. This facility is supposed to serve as a long-term bridge to avoid sudden interruptions in the provision of financial aid.
But Orban equally threatened to derail the facility, claiming that the money would fall prey to corruption and be impossible to trace.
In his statements to reporters, Charles Michel paved the way for the impending confrontation.
“We are continuing to work because we are still working on the multi-year framework. It is a difficult discussion. I am confident that in the coming hours we will be able to make a decision to be united on this issue,” Michel said.
“We want to support Ukraine with more financial assistance, the first point, but we also want to take into account EU priorities and adapt (our budget).”
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