EU Agrees To Open Membership Negotiations With Ukraine And Moldova
The European Union decided Thursday to open accession negotiations with Ukraine, a momentous moment and stunning reversal for a country at war that had struggled to find the backing for its membership aspirations and long faced obstinate opposition from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
European Council President Charles Michel, who was chairing a Brussels summit of the EU’s 27 leaders where the decision was made, called it “a clear signal of hope for their people and our continent.”
Although the process between opening negotiations and Ukraine finally becoming a member could take many years, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the agreement as “a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe.”
“History is made by those who don’t get tired of fighting for freedom,” Zelenskyy said.
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said it also was a black eye for Russian President Vladimir Putin: “It is a very clear message to Moscow. Us Europeans, we don’t let go of Ukraine,” he said.
Orban said his opposition remained steadfast, but, with a unanimous decision required, he decided to let his right to oppose lapse because the 26 others were arguing so strongly in favor. Under EU rules, an abstention does not prevent a decision from being adopted.
At the same time as Ukraine, the EU leaders also decided to open membership negotiations with Ukraine’s neighbor Moldova.
Left on the summit agenda now is a promise to give Ukraine the money and wherewithal to stave off Russia’s invasion, another agenda item held up by Orban.
EU leaders had expected the summit to take at least until late Friday before any sort of breakthrough might be clinched, so the fateful announcement came totally unexpectedly after Orban did not block the move by his colleagues.
A beaming Michel came down in the summit media room unscheduled and said “This is a historic moment, and it shows the credibility of the European Union. The strength of the European Union. The decision is made.”
He said the negotiations would open before a report will be made to the leaders in March.
The surprise came at an dire time for Zelenskyy, straight off a trip this week to Washington where his pleas for more aid from the U.S. Congress fell on deaf ears. Ukraine’s president is looking for a better response in Brussels.
“It is just as important that Ukraine has the means to continue the war and rebuild its country,” De Croo said.
The urgency to find a solution is matched only by the potential blow to the EU’s credibility, the Ukrainian president said in a video address to the leaders assembled in Brussels.
“Nobody wants Europe to be seen as untrustworthy. Or as unable to take decisions it prepared itself,” he said.
“Whatever it takes” had been the relentless mantra of the EU in pledging its support, leaders dressed up in the yellow and sky-blue colors of Ukraine, and countless speeches ending with the rallying cry “Slava Ukraini!” — “Glory to Ukraine!”
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