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EU leaders agreed to hold accession talks with Ukraine on Thursday, after Hungary’s prime minister voiced his opposition to the historic move to the war-torn country.
The decision marks an important milestone in Kevin’s determined path to joining the union once the war with Russia ends and represents an endorsement by Brussels of the country’s westward trajectory.
It is part of the EU’s proposed support package for Ukraine, discussed at a summit in Brussels, with four-year, €50bn funding from the bloc’s shared budget. After talks ended early Friday morning, leaders failed to reach a deal on funding, but they plan to resume talks later in the day.
The EU’s determination to continue supporting Ukraine has become critical since the US Congress failed to agree to a $60 billion package for Kyiv proposed by the White House.
“The European Council has decided to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova,” said Charles Michel, president of the European Council, who will chair the summit. “A clear signal of confidence to their people and to our continent.”
He added to reporters: “It is important that no member states oppose this decision”.
“We are proud to have delivered on our promises,” said European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen, who called it “a strategic decision”.
The decision came after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán chose to leave the room during the debate to allow the agreement, according to people briefed on the talks.
“Hungary’s position is clear,” Orbán said on Facebook. “Ukraine is ill-prepared . . . starting negotiations with Ukraine under these circumstances is a completely pointless, irrational and wrong decision.
But, he said: “Hungary decided that if the 26 decided to do so, they should go their own way. Hungary does not want to take part in this bad decision, so Hungary is abstaining from this decision today.
The leaders agreed that “negotiated frameworks” for joining Ukraine and Moldova, the first part of the process, would be adopted after both countries are committed to meeting the reform demands set out by the commission in a November report.
The formal process of joining the EU can take years and require more than 70 decisions, allowing any member state to block progress.
Ahead of the summit, Orban threatened to block both the membership talks and the financial aid package, exposing Russia’s fractured position on Kyiv after nearly 22 months of war.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, wrote in response to the EU action on social media platform X: “This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A success that inspires, motivates and empowers.”
Apart from Ukraine and Moldova, EU leaders also agreed to open accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina, pending a March review by the Commission of compliance with membership criteria. Georgia was also granted EU candidate status.
Apart from the debate on support for Ukraine, EU leaders are also talking about a proposed top-up in their shared budget.
A sizable group of wealthy members, led by the Netherlands and Sweden, have said they would agree to increase the budget only to help Ukraine, while others – such as Italy and Greece – want the capitals to contribute large amounts of new money. Spend on managing migration and other priorities.
“Discussions are difficult, but constructive,” an EU diplomat explained at the debate.
EU officials have begun technical discussions on an alternative solution to raising money for Ukraine outside of the common budget, but have publicly insisted that their only aim is to convince Orbán to drop his veto on the financial package. Officials say a non-budgeted device would last only a year, cost more and take longer to set up.
“I am ready to negotiate. I have packed several shirts [if] It will take us a long time,” said Finland’s Prime Minister Petteri Orpo, who was originally scheduled to last two days. Supporting Ukraine “is about our security and our existence as a credible union. We need strong resistance here. We need to show our solidarity,” he added.
Additional reporting by Andy Pounds and Javier Espinoza in Brussels, Marten Dunay in Budapest and Max Seddon in London