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Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said it was important for talks to begin "during the Belgian presidency". Alamy Stock Photo
Brussels

Ireland among member states seeking EU membership talks with Ukraine to begin next month

The European affairs ministers are keen to start the accession process ahead of the Hungarian presidency in July.

IRELAND IS AMONG the European member states seeking to kick start EU accession talks with Ukraine next month, before Hungary take over the Presidency of the Council of the EU in July.

The Eurosceptic Hungarian government – which has previously expressed clear opposition to Ukraine and others joining the EU – will chair meetings of EU ministers from 1 July.

Currently, the Belgian government chair meetings each month and its term will conclude on 30 June.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels this morning, European affairs minister Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said Ireland is keen for discussion on Ukraine’s membership to start “during the Belgian presidency”.

The suggestion, by Ireland, France and Sweden was met with opposition by Hungarian minister Zoltan Kovacs who said: “There can be no exception on the basis of political or ideological considerations.”

The Council of the EU, the institution in Brussels representing member states and ministers, oversees the beginning of accession discussions. The council is chaired by the Government of a different member state every six months.

There have been heightened concerns among many European ministers that the Hungarian government will stall the beginning of accession talks with Ukraine will be impossible until it’s presidency.

At almost every point of accession with Ukraine, Hungary – who are viewed as Russia’s closest ally in the EU since the invasion of Ukraine – has vetoed some portion of discussions and halted the process further.

Some member states, including some Irish MEPs, feel there is a threat the Hungarian government will chose to wave off debates on progressive policy decisions and push out talks on EU expansion from the council’s agenda in the second half of this year.

While not giving mention to the Hungarian presidency, Carroll MacNeill said: “What we (Ireland) would like to see is the beginning of [accession talks] at the Council meeting at the end of June. We would very much like to see that during the Belgian presidency.

“It’s a very important statement,” Carroll MacNeill said. “Ireland has been one of the earliest supports of Ukrainian – and indeed, Moldovan – accession and we would like to see that happen as soon as possible.”

During the meeting of European affairs ministers from all 27 Member States, France’s  Jean-Noel Barrot called for “the effective opening of negotiations” before Belgium’s rotating presidency concludes at the end of June.

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However, Hungary’s Kovacs said that it’s his Government’s view is that Ukraine has made “very little, if any, progress” towards fulfilling the correct criteria to qualify as a member state and beginning accession talks.

“Again, I can repeat to you that membership, approval should be a merit based process. No exceptions,” he added.

As previously reported, a poll conducted by The Journal & IrelandThinks found that the overwhelming majority of Irish voters support Ukraine’s bid to join the EU – but were not in favour of the application being fast-tracked.

Some internal reforms to the accession process were agreed by the European parliament last year, to make the path to accession smoother and more accessible by introducing qualified majority voting on foreign and security policy decisions.

Despite applying for member state status in 2022, starting the negotiations would put Ukraine still only at the start of what is likely to be a years-long process of reforms before it can finally become a member.

The wave of support for accession talks to begin comes as the Council today also approved a scheme to use the profits from immobilised Russian assets to continue to arm Ukraine.

Speaking before the general affairs meeting today, Carroll MacNeill noted that whole finance ministers at the G7 have said the fund should be used for its original purpose, reconstruction, the use of the profits was still being discussed.

“Ireland has been at the front of trying to provide support. Obviously, our contribution on the military side has been slightly different, but there is an enormous body of work to do, not just supporting Ukraine now, but reconstruction in the future.

“We’ve tried to be at the front of that in every way that we can so far,” the junior minister said.

Contains reporting from © AFP 2024

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

 

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