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Brussels says Ukraine and Moldova ready for membership talks as Hungary mounts opposition

A member of protocol arranges the Ukrainian and EU flags during an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023.
A member of protocol arranges the Ukrainian and EU flags during an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Virginia Mayo/Copyright 2023 The AP. All rights reserved
By Mared Gwyn Jones
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Diplomatic sources say Hungary is threatening to derail the opening of accession negotiations.


The European Commission has told EU member states that both Ukraine and Moldova have met the necessary criteria to kick off formal negotiations on their accession to the bloc.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has injected a new sense of urgency in the EU's enlargement policy, with Kyiv and Chișinău both granted candidate status just months after Russian tanks first entered Ukrainian territory in February 2022.

But the accession process is notoriously long, with countries required to meet a series of judicial, constitutional and economic reforms before they can progress onto the next stage of their path to EU membership.

Ukraine has completed outstanding reforms related to stifling oligarchs and corruption, and protecting the rights of its national minorities, a Commission spokesperson confirmed on Friday, while Moldova has tied up pending its judicial reforms.

Whilst this means the start of talks should be imminent, diplomatic sources say the Hungarian government is currently blocking the move over concerns Ukraine is unprepared to join the 27-country bloc.

Before talks can kick off, member states must unanimously rubber-stamp the negotiating frameworks - which set out the principles and guidelines that will steer Brussels’ accession talks with both Kyiv and Chișinău - and also back the convening of an intergovernmental conference, the forum where talks begin.

"Now the decision is in the hands of the member states," the Commission spokesperson said.

Last December, the executive said that membership talks with both countries could start once the loose ends in their ongoing reforms had been tied up.

That decision was then firmly opposed by the Hungarian government of Viktor Orbán, who cited concerns over the levels of corruption in the country and the lack of measures to protect the rights of the Hungarian minority in the border region of Transcarpathia.

Member states were able to swerve Orbán's opposition campaign by tactically asking him to leave the room during a vote.

The government of President Zelenskyy has since made bolstering the rights of national minorities a priority in a bid to appease Budapest, including by amending laws to allow the provision of education in minority languages.

But with the accession process fraught with steps that require leaders' unanimous backing, member states have several opportunities to derail the process.

In a letter addressed to the Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib, whose government currently holds the presidency of the Council of the EU, twelve member states have called for accession talks to start before the end of June.

With Orbán's government due to take on the presidency of the Council of the EU from July - giving it the power to set the agenda and chair ministerial meetings - EU ministers are fearful that the talks could be further derailed unless Hungary concedes by the end of June.

It comes as exasperation with Orbán's government grows as it continues to veto key decisions on military aid to Kyiv.

A spokesperson for the Hungarian government told Euronews last week that their focus was fully on the finalisation of the negotiating frameworks.

Responding to the decision on Friday on X, Ukraine's deputy prime minister Olga Stefanishyna said she was "looking forward" to the decision of EU member states on the negotiating frameworks and the "actual start of the accession negotiations."

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