The EU agreed on Thursday to take a crucial step and open negotiations with Ukraine for its integration into the community club. The Twenty-Seven overcame the veto of Hungary and its Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, who had categorically refused to begin the historic process. Isolated from the rest of the leaders, the Hungarian ultraconservative avoided voting and left the room in which the 26 other leaders gave free rein to kyiv, which has resisted Russian aggression for almost two years. “This decision shows the credibility and strength of the EU,” European Council President Charles Michel told journalists at the summit of heads of state and government in Brussels. “We want to support Ukraine and this is a strong political signal,” he added hastily. With this leap forward – which however includes the nuance that kyiv will have to finalize certain details of the required reforms before setting the negotiating framework – the most sensitive point of this European meeting is unlocked. While Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted on Thursday about weakening Western support, the EU managed to heal the cracks and maintain its commitment.
“This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe,” celebrated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on social media minutes after the decision was made public. In fact, the EU decision, although very symbolic, because the road is long, is the only victory for months in Ukraine, where the war is almost entrenched in the face of Russian defenses and where the weariness of the citizens, despite the resistance, that’s clear.
This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A victory that motivates, inspires and strengthens. https://t.co/zk44CeL5Ui
— Volodymyr Zelenskyy / Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) December 14, 2023
A few hours before its adoption, Zelensky solemnly appealed to European leaders. “Today, I ask you one thing: do not betray the (Ukrainian) people and their faith in Europe,” urged Zelensky, shortly before the decision, during an intervention by videoconference before the summit. “Today is a special day. And this day will go down in history. Whether it is good or bad for us, history will capture everything. Every word, every step, every action and inaction. “Who fought for what”, he stressed. And he added: “It is very important that Europe does not fall back into indecision today. Nobody wants Europe to be considered untrustworthy or incapable of making the decisions it has prepared. “The Europeans will not understand if Putin’s satisfied smile becomes the reward of a meeting in Brussels.” In addition to Ukraine, the EU is also considering the accession of Moldova , even if it leaves Bosnia in suspense until March.
The EU has therefore agreed to open a dialogue to bring these two countries together, but will only adopt the framework indicating how to achieve this “once the relevant steps established in the Commission’s recommendations have been adopted”, according to the draft conclusions of the summit. … to which this newspaper had access and which is now managed by the legal service of the European Council. In November, in its report on Ukraine’s progress towards EU membership, the EU executive recommended launching the accession dialogue, but determined that there were still some problems remaining. resolve in three of the seven conditions to achieve this, as reported by EL PAÍS.
The link to this report seems to have saved Orbán’s resistance. The Hungarian ultra-conservative – closer to Moscow than to kyiv – who had insisted for weeks on the fact that Ukraine had not met all the conditions to begin a process based on merit, once again insisted on this point . “It is a completely insane, irrational and wrong decision to start accession negotiations with Ukraine. “Hungary is not going to change its position because 26 other countries insisted on it,” he said. Budapest “stayed out of the decision today,” he commented in a video posted on his social networks. The membership vote, which like everything related to the expansion of the community club must be unanimous, is valid even if the Hungarian Prime Minister was not present in the room. The creative choreography – another leader suggested Orbán leave the room, according to diplomatic sources – is highly unusual.
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The Hungarian leader finally opened his hand. And this after an intense diplomatic offensive and the unfreezing by the European Commission, on Wednesday, of 10.2 billion euros withheld for its violations of the rule of law, which Brussels now considers partially restored thanks to several reforms of its judicial system .
The decision taken by the EU is not only about support for kyiv, but also about the EU’s resistance to this support. Upon his arrival in Brussels, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte – probably during one of his last European Councils, after announcing this summer his retirement from politics and the November elections won by the far right – had already defined the meeting as “decisive.” “We must show our commitment to Ukraine,” said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas. The summit was to clarify two “crucial” elements for Ukraine, according to Rutte and Kallas: the decision to ‘start dialogue for EU membership and an economic lifeline package for kyiv.
Once the enlargement aspect has been settled, this other crucial element for Ukraine remains on the table: 50 billion euros (33,000 in loans and 17,000 in grants) over four years that the technical teams are currently negotiating. This amount would be part of a broader review of the multiannual financial framework (the EU multiannual budget), which includes other ingredients, such as a new chapter on immigration management or competitiveness. On the table, a proposal from Michel which includes partners providing a little more than 22 billion euros, or a third of what the European Commission demanded. Hungary is blocking it for now and other member states only support new funds for Ukraine. Final approval is therefore difficult but not impossible. The discussions are now technical.
The leaders are, however, studying an alternative plan so that, if this budget revision does not take place, Ukraine does not leave empty-handed and provides it with these 50 billion or part of these 50 billion through an off-shore program. budget or through an agreement with the 26 Member States (all EU Member States except Hungary). Another option is to do this through bilateral loans. Orbán, who is experiencing his great moment of notoriety within the EU, assured Thursday that he was not opposed to an “extra-budgetary” package. “The most important thing we must decide here today and this weekend is that long-term financial support for Ukraine will come from the European Union,” concluded Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
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