EU to open membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova

Originally Published: 14 DEC 23 13:24 ET
Updated: 14 DEC 23 19:32 ET

Brussels (CNN) — European leaders have agreed to open EU membership talks with Ukraine, in a move hailed as a “victory” by the country’s President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Charles Michel, President of the EU Council, announced on X on Thursday that it would “open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova” and had granted candidate status to Georgia.

The move was “a clear signal of hope for their people and for our continent,” Michel said.

The news was promptly welcomed by the Ukrainian leader.

“This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens,” Zelensky posted on X following the announcement.

“History is made by those who don’t get tired of fighting for freedom,” Zelensky said.

The announcement by the European Council comes nearly two years after the bloc accepted Ukraine as a candidate state, though Ukraine has held ambitions to join the EU for more than a decade.

It sends a strong message to Russian President Vladimir Putin following concerns that the West had lost interest in supporting Kyiv in its fight against Moscow’s invading forces.

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

‘We have lived up to our promises’

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

“Proud that we have lived up to our promises and delighted for our partners,” she said.

And German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote on X that “it’s clear these countries belong to the European family.”

There was a note of dissent, however, from Hungary’s leader Viktor Orban, who suggested his country was at odds with the decision and that it had been made by the other 26 countries of the 27-member bloc.

Hungary and Orban have proved to be the most significant barrier to Ukraine regarding further EU funding and accession talks.

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

Orban on Thursday called the announcement that Ukraine was beginning accession negotiations “a completely senseless, irrational and incorrect decision,” adding that his country “did not participate in the decision today.”

“Hungary’s position is clear; Ukraine is not prepared to start negotiations on EU Membership,” Orban said in a post on X.

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

Obstacles remain

Despite the political significance of the move, Kyiv still faces a number of obstacles in its bid to join the EU.

Ukraine is not going to be allowed to bypass the process that all countries must go through before joining the EU and in all, it could still be a decade until Ukraine actually joins the EU and can enjoy the benefits of full membership.

Ukraine will likely still need to meet the conditions of the Copenhagen Criteria – an opaque trio of requirements that the EU must be satisfied are met – before moving to the next stage of negotiations.

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

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

If Ukraine can meet the Copenhagen Criteria, EU and Ukrainian officials can start negotiating under the 35 Chapters of the Acquis, which lay out the accession conditions.

All chapters of negotiations must be fully closed, signed off by every EU member state, then ratified by EU parliament.

This is a developing news story. More to come

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