EU leaders approve Ukraine accession talks, bypassing Orbán

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European leaders have approved the opening of accession negotiations for Ukraine, European Council President Charles Michel announced Thursday.

The announcement comes at a critical time for Ukraine as its counteroffensive against Russia’s invasion stalled in recent weeks and $60 billion in aid from the U.S. is stuck in Congress.

While accession talks are likely to continue on for many years, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the news was “a victory of Ukraine … a victory that motivates, inspires and strengthens.” This was a historic moment for Ukraine, which has made its aspirations to join the EU known for many years.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who had vehemently opposed the opening of accession talks for Ukraine, criticized the agreement reached without him by European leaders.

“Hungary does not want to be part of this bad decision!” Orbán said in a statement posted on Facebook.

Orbán left the room when the decision on enlargement was taken, according to a national official and a EU diplomat who were both briefed on the discussion. This allowed for an unanimous decision from the European Council, which another EU official, who like the others was granted anonymity to speak candidly about the circumstances, said was completely legal under EU law.

“If someone is absent, they are absent. Legally it is totally valid,” added the official.

EU leaders will still meet during the summit to debate the €50 billion aid package to Ukraine. The summit is supposed to end on Friday but could last longer if leaders cannot come to an agreement by then.

European leaders were quick to celebrate the announcement.

Michel hailed the decision as “a clear signal of hope for their people and for our continent” in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

“Historic day! Against all odds, we achieved a decision to open accession negotiations with #Ukraine and #Moldova,” Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.

Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo similarly said the decision was “historic” and “an important message of hope for these countries and their citizens.”

Leaders also approved the opening of accession negotiations for Moldova.

Moldovan President Maia Sandu welcome the agreement, and said her country was “committed to the hard work needed to become an EU member.”

The much-awaited decision came surprisingly early, as Orbán had been threatening to use his veto to block the opening of accession talks in the days leading up to the summit.

The European Council’s decision follows a recommendation from the European Commission, which had advised to open accession negotiations in November.

Ukraine applied to join the EU in February 2022 — just days after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of the country — and was granted candidate status in June.


Read More: EU leaders approve Ukraine accession talks, bypassing Orbán

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