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Presidents of Ukraine and Moldova with Charles Michel, President of the European Council last month. Alamy Stock Photo
EU membership

EU leaders agree to open membership talks with Ukraine and Moldova

Zelensky welcomed the decision as a “victory” for all of Europe.

EUROPEAN UNION LEADERS agreed this afternoon to open formal membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, despite an earlier threat from Hungary to veto the deal.

European Council President Charles Michel, host of the EU summit, announced the agreement in a social media post, dubbing it: “A clear signal of hope for their people and for our continent.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky today said the European Union’s decision to open accession talks with Ukraine was “a victory” for his war-torn country and “all of Europe”.

“A victory that motivates, inspires, and strengthens,” he posted on X, formerly Twitter. “History is made by those who don’t get tired of fighting for freedom.”

 Today’s summit was described this morning by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar as “probably one of the most important” he had attended because of its significance for Ukraine.

Speaking on the RTÉ Six One News this evening from Brussels, Varadkar said that today’s decision is part of the Europe’s “strategic message not just to Moscow but to the rest of the world as well, that when the European Union says we stand for democracy we do, and when we say we stand alongside Ukraine for as long as it takes we mean that.”

“It’s a very important decision and we are glad to be able to make it here for this very historic meeting,” the Taoiseach added. 

Speaking about the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s public opposition to expanding EU membership, Varadkar said: “He disagrees with this decision, he has not changed his mind in that sense, but he decided not to use his veto power.”

“I have to say I respect that he didn’t do that, because it would have put us in a very difficult position,” he added. 

Varadkar said that the negotiation talks will take some time, and pointed out that the negotiations can take ten years, so it is difficult to put in place a timeline for Ukraine to become an EU member state. 

Varadkar said that today’s decision shows that Ukraine and Moldova are on the “path” to EU membership. 

He added that when he has spoken to Ukrainians who have fought on the front line, they have told him that the political statement of the EU opening negotiations with their country would provide a much needed morale boost. 

President of Moldova Maia Sandu wrote: “Moldova turns a new page today with the EU’s go-ahead for accession talks.”

“We’re feeling Europe’s warm embrace today. Thank you for your support and faith in our journey.

“We’re committed to the hard work needed to become an EU member. Moldova is ready to rise to the challenge,” she added. 

The White House welcomed the “historic” move in a key show of western support as Kyiv battles Russia’s invasion.

“We welcome the EU’s historic decision to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova, a crucial step toward fulfilling their Euro-Atlantic aspirations,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on X, formerly Twitter.

A European diplomatic source told AFP that Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had agreed not to be in the room when the other 26 leaders backed a consensus decision.

A senior European official told reporters: “There has been a decision of the European Council on this matter which has not been opposed by any member of the European Council.”

More to follow…