March 1, 2024

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Zelensky hails ‘victory’ as EU agrees to open Ukraine membership talks |  EU News

Zelensky hails ‘victory’ as EU agrees to open Ukraine membership talks | EU News

A moment of celebration turns bittersweet as Hungary continues its threats to withhold financial aid from Kiev.

President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed a “victory” for Ukraine and Europe after EU leaders agreed to open membership talks with Kiev, but the mood soured just hours later after Hungary made good on threats to block plans to direct vital financial aid to Ukraine.

European Council President Charles Michel, host of the summit in Brussels, announced the agreement reached Thursday on membership talks in a social media post, calling it a “clear signal of hope for their people and for our continent.”

Zelensky welcomed the decision, calling it a “victory for Ukraine.” A victory for all of Europe. “A victory that motivates, inspires and strengthens,” he said in a post on the X website.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “a strategic decision and a day that will remain engraved in the history of our Union.”

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “These countries belong to the European family.”

The European Union also agreed to open talks with Moldova, and grant Georgia candidate status for EU membership. Michel said he would also submit a bid for EU accession by another promising country – Bosnia and Herzegovina – once it reaches the “necessary degree of compliance” with the standards.

From left, Bulgarian Prime Minister Nikolai Denkov, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, and Slovenian Prime Minister Robert Golub at the EU summit in Brussels. [Omar Havana/AP Photo]

Hungary blocks financing

But the public mood soured in the early hours of Friday after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, announced he had blocked EU plans to send 50 billion euros ($54 billion) in financial aid to Kiev. While fighting to expel Russian forces from its lands.

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For weeks, Orban has been promising to block the membership and financing agreement, which he claimed was not in the interests of Hungary or the European Union.

Although Orbán agreed not to be in the membership voting hall – allowing him to pass – they were unable to overcome his resistance to Michel’s budget proposal.

“Ukraine will not run out of money in the next few weeks,” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters as he left the talks. He added: “I am fairly confident that we can reach an agreement early next year, and we are thinking about late January.”

Zelensky is working to rally the support of allies for his country amid fears that their support may decline.

Earlier this week, he traveled to the United States, where he hoped to convince Republican lawmakers to approve billions of dollars in new funding, which they blocked in Congress.

US President Joe Biden warned that their refusal to support new spending was in Putin’s interest.

“United and ready”

Ukraine launched its bid to become part of the European Union after Moscow began its full-scale invasion in February 2022 and was officially selected as a candidate for accession in June that year.

Fellow former Soviet republic and neighbor Moldova applied at the same time as Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine has breathed new life into the European Union’s faltering bid for new members as the bloc looks to keep Russian and Chinese influence in check.

In June 2022, the European Commission set out seven reform benchmarks for Kiev to complete, including tackling corruption and reducing the power of oligarchs, before talks begin.

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Ukrainian Prime Minister Denis Shmygal said the EU’s decision on Thursday showed that it “highly appreciates the reforms we have undertaken in recent years and the implementation of all the recommendations of the European Commission.”

“There is a difficult road ahead. We are united and ready.”

The talks themselves are likely to take years.

The EU treaties oblige members to assist another EU state “by all possible means” that is the victim of armed aggression on its territory. If Ukraine becomes a member of the European Union while the war with Russia continues, the EU countries must respect this.

The EU would also gain long new borders with Russia and Belarus, with implications for security, migration and defence.