Hungary blocks Ukraine aid deal but opens door to EU membership talks

Brussels, Belgium

Hungary blocked a crucial game European aid package for UkraineHours after EU leaders agreed to open membership talks with Kyiv.

“Nightshift summary: Veto for more money for Ukraine,” Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán posted on Twitter earlier on X after a late-night session of the EU Council in Brussels. “We will come back to the issue next year #EUCO After proper preparation.”

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Hungary was the only country among 27 EU members to oppose a multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine. According to Reuters, the financing deal is worth 50 billion euros ($55 billion).

“It was a good decision. We still have some time. Ukraine has no money in the next two weeks. So we have that time and I think we can get there,” Rutte added.

Rutte said it had been agreed that funding negotiations would resume in early 2024, adding that “given the state of negotiations, I am confident that we can have a breakthrough early next year.” But he added that it was “no guarantee”.

Earlier, at the EU Council, member states agreed to start so-called accession talks with Ukraine, two years after it was accepted as a candidate country. Ukraine has had ambitions to join the EU for more than a decade.

Orban – the Kremlin’s closest ally in the EU – has said he is not taking part in accession talks, letting other member states decide.

Orban called Ukraine’s announcement to open accession talks on Thursday a “totally senseless, irrational and wrong decision” and added that his country “does not participate in today’s decision”.

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Earlier this week, Orban said Ukraine still had to meet three of the seven conditions required for greenlight accession talks, and therefore there was no current reason for EU membership talks for Ukraine.

“Hungary’s position is clear; “Ukraine is not ready to start negotiations on EU membership,” Orban posted on X.

“On the other hand, 26 other countries insisted on making that decision,” he continued. “Therefore, Hungary decided that if the 26 decide to do so, they should go their own way. Hungary does not want to be a part of this bad decision.

EU Council President Charles Michel said the move was “a clear signal of confidence to their people and to our continent”. He confirmed that accession negotiations with Moldova would be launched and that the EU had granted candidate status to the former Soviet state of Georgia.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the news. “This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. An inspiring, motivating and strengthening victory,” Zelensky posted on X following the announcement.

“History is made by those who never tire of fighting for freedom,” Zelensky said.

The decision to open formal membership talks with Kyiv sends a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin, following concerns that the West is swaying in favor of Kiev in its fight against Moscow’s invasion forces.

Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky shakes hands with visiting European Parliament President Roberta Metzola during a summit at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on February 9, 2023.

Thursday’s decision was hailed as a milestone by various European leaders, although experts warn that some fundamental obstacles still stand in the way of Ukraine joining the bloc.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the decision “strategic” and “a day that will be etched in the history of the European Union”.

“We are proud to have delivered on our promises and are happy for our partners,” he said.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholes wrote in X, “It is clear that these countries belong to the European family.”

Despite the political significance of the move, Kyiv still faces many hurdles in its bid to join the EU.

We are not going to allow Ukraine to ignore the process that all countries must go through before joining the EU, and it may be another decade until Ukraine actually joins the EU and can enjoy the benefits of full membership.

Ukraine will still have to meet the conditions of the Copenhagen criteria – an opaque trio of requirements that the EU must satisfy – before moving on to the next stage of negotiations.

Focuses on whether or not a candidate country has a functioning free market economy, and whether the country is a functioning, inclusive democracy, if the country’s institutions are qualified to uphold European values ​​such as human rights and the EU’s interpretation of the rule of law.

All of those things are hard to prove to any country, let alone one that is currently in a state of invasion and war.

If Ukraine can meet the Copenhagen criteria, the EU and Ukrainian authorities can start negotiations under the 35-mandate, which provides access conditions.

All chapters of the negotiations must be fully closed, signed by each EU member state, and then approved by the EU Parliament.

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This story has been updated with additional updates.

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