BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union decided Thursday to open accession talks with Ukraine, a stunning reversal for a country at war that has struggled to find the support it needs for its membership aspirations and has long faced opposition. From Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
European Council President Charles Michel, who presided over a Brussels summit of the EU’s 27 leaders, said it was a “clear signal of confidence to their people and to our continent”.
Although the process between the start of negotiations and Ukraine’s eventual membership could take several years, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the agreement as “a victory for Ukraine”. A victory for all of Europe.”
“History is made by those who never tire of fighting for freedom,” Zelensky said.
Also on the agenda for the summit are payments to Ukraine and a pledge to deter Russian aggression.
The Hungarian leader arrived at the summit to block plans by his 26 fellow leaders to formally announce that membership talks with Ukraine could begin, and, emphatically, denied Kyiv 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in much-needed financial aid. stay afloat
“The EU is going to make a terrible mistake and they have to stop – even though 26 of them want to do it, we are the only ones against it,” Orban said in comments released by his office on Thursday. “It’s a mistake, we’re destroying the EU.”
EU leaders had hoped the summit would take at least until late Friday to make any progress, so the unexpected announcement came as Orban did not block action by his colleagues.
“This is a historic moment, and it shows the credibility of the European Union. The strength of the European Union. The decision has been made,” said a beaming Michel, unannounced in the summit’s media room.
He said talks would begin before presenting a report to leaders in March.
“It is important that no member state opposes this decision,” Michael said, adding that he hoped a consensus could be found on financial aid.
The surprise came at an awkward time for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky A trip to Washington His pleas for more help from the US Congress fell on deaf ears.
“Ukraine will not stand still without the support and backing of both the EU and the US,” Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has warned. “Barring that, Putin will win,” he said.
The urgency to find a solution is only matched by a potential blow to the EU’s credibility, Zelenskyy told leaders in a video address.
“Nobody wants to see Europe as unreliable, or as having prepared itself for not being able to make decisions,” he said.
Referring to Putin, he said: “Don’t give him the first victory of the year. Europe must win, agreements must be respected.
“Whatever it takes” has become the EU’s unrelenting mantra pledging its support, leaders dressed in Ukraine’s yellow and sky-blue colors, and countless speeches chanting “Slava Ukraini!” ended with the rally. – “Glory to Ukraine!”
Again, against the odds, the EU has won.
The European Union, a group of 27 countries, still cherishes its independence in strategic and foreign affairs, with consensus on most issues related to Ukraine. Putin’s foot in the door at the Orban summit is seen by many as Putin’s wrecking ball to undermine EU support for Zelenskyy.
Ahead of the summit, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz have already sidelined Orbán in an attempt to sway him.
“It is important that a clear signal of support is sent here – a signal to the brave citizens of Ukraine defending their country, but also to the Russian president,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said.
Orban has complained of corruption in Ukraine and a “strategic debate” on the country’s future in Europe is needed as the war with Russia winds down and worries grow about what kind of administration Washington might form after US elections a year from now.
Orban has been at odds with his fellow EU leaders for years, from fights over Covid-19 rescue money to declining respect for the EU’s core Western democratic ideals. Yet as the longest-serving EU president, he knows how to play the summit game like few others, and has repeatedly managed to secure financial concessions to boost his struggling economy.
The European Union relented on Wednesday and provided Hungary with 10 billion euros ($11 billion) in funding. Blocked by the European Commission Because of concerns that Orbán’s democratic backsliding could jeopardize the camp’s policies. The Commission said it did so after denying that it was a bargaining chip after Budapest made the necessary concessions on the rule of law.
AP writers Lorne Cook in Brussels and Justin Spike in Budapest contributed.