EU leaders hail ‘historic’ decision to begin accession talks with Ukraine

Move, widely expected to be blocked by Hungary, paves way for country to eventually join bloc

European Union leaders have hailed as “historic” a decision to begin accession talks with Ukraine in a move that will pave the way for the country to eventually join the bloc.

In a breakthrough announced during a crunch EU summit last night, European Council president Charles Michel said it was a “clear signal of hope” while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the decision had come “quicker than anyone had expected”.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban had been widely expected to block the move to approve accession talks, but a spokesman for Mr Michel said “there was a decision on enlargement, which was not blocked by anyone”.

A source said Mr Orban left the room, allowing the remaining 26 leaders to make the decision.


Speaking last night, Mr Varadkar described the outcome as a “real boost” and a “breakthrough” for Ukraine, which comes at a time when the country is grappling with potentially waning support from the United States.

“It was a strategic message, not just for Moscow but the world as a whole, that when the EU says that when we stand for democracy we do, and when we say we’ll stand with Ukraine for as long as it takes we mean that,” Mr Varadkar said last night.

“In fairness to prime minister Orban, he made his case, he made it very strongly, he disagrees with this decision. He is not changing his opinion in that sense. But essentially he decided not to use the veto power. I respect the fact that he did not do that because it would have put us in a difficult position as a European Union.”

He said it would take some time before Ukraine could fully join the EU, but that morale would be boosted by the decision reached by the European Council. The EU has also agreed to accession talks with Moldova and granted Georgia the status of candidate country.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Varadkar had denied that the EU was trying to buy off Mr Orban, after the European Commission unblocked €10 billion of Hungary’s EU funds which were frozen over rule of law concerns. While Mr Varadkar admitted the timing of the announcement was “not good” he denied it was effectively an incentive.

Instead, Mr Varadkar insisted the money was unlocked because Hungary met the criteria set by the EU.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy addressed leaders at the EU council summit via video and said the summit would go down in history. “Whether it’s good or bad for us, history will capture everything. Every word, every step, every action and inaction. Who fought for what.”

Separately, Mr Varadkar said the EU had “lost credibility” with young people and around the world due to its inability to take a stronger stance on Israel and the situation in Gaza.

“I’m a huge believer in the European Union,” Mr Varadkar said on arrival to the summit. “But our inability to take a stronger and clearer position on the situation in Gaza, I think has undermined our credibility.”

Ireland is expected to again call for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza and for the opening of routes for humanitarian aid.

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Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times