EU agrees to open membership talks with Ukraine

Published December 15, 2023
European Council President Charles Michel delivers remarks to journalists in the European Council atrium ahead of an EU leaders’ dinner at the European headquarters in Brussels, on December 14, 2023. — AFP
European Council President Charles Michel delivers remarks to journalists in the European Council atrium ahead of an EU leaders’ dinner at the European headquarters in Brussels, on December 14, 2023. — AFP

BRUSSELS: European Union leaders granted Ukraine a major political win on Thursday by agreeing to start membership negotiations at a time when its counter-offensive against Russia’s invasion has failed to make major gains and US military aid has become more uncertain.

Diplomats and officials in Brussels said the unexpected green light for talks took place as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who had for weeks said he would block such a deal, agreed to leave the room, knowing the other leaders would go ahead and vote.

Orban confirmed that he had abstained from the vote at the EU summit on what he called a “bad decision”.

It was unclear at this stage what exactly he could be getting in return.

Such an unusual way to approve a decision, especially such a major one, is unheard of in Brussels, even for a place where diplomats have long been very creative about how to strike deals.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the decision.

“This is a victory for Ukraine. A victory for all of Europe. A victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens,” he said.

Ukraine badly needs support from its Western allies in its nearly two-year fight against Russian forces. Its counter-offensive has failed to make major gains and the Biden administration has so far been unable to get a $60 billion aid package through the Congress.

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

Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2023

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