Ukraine begins ‘historic’ membership negotiations towards joining EU

Opening of membership talks the start of a ‘long and demanding’ reform process for Ukraine, says Belgian minister

Olga Stefanishyna (left), deputy prime minister for European Integration of Ukraine, with Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib (right) at the EU Council building in Luxembourg on Tuesday. Photograph: Jean-Christophe Verhaegen/AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine has formally begun negotiations with the European Union about joining the bloc, in what has been described as a “historic day” for the country and Europe.

Olha Stefanishyna, Ukraine’s deputy prime minister for European integration, said she was optimistic her country would be ready to join the EU before the end of this decade.

In the days after Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, Ukraine applied to start the years-long process of joining the EU. It was granted candidate status as a prospective member later that year, and last December EU leaders agreed to let it start accession talks. After several months of delays, an EU-Ukraine intergovernmental conference was held in Luxembourg on Tuesday to formally open the negotiations.

Addressing the conference by video link, Ukrainian prime minister Denys Shmyhal said the start of the talks was a “historic day for Ukraine and Europe”. Mr Shmyhal said the EU represented “values and hope” for Ukrainians, thousands of whom had given their lives in the war with Russia fighting for “an independent, European Ukraine”.


Belgian foreign minister Hadja Lahbib, who was representing the EU in the talks, said the road towards joining the bloc “will not always be an easy one” for Ukraine. The move to accession talks was only the “start of a long and demanding reform process”, which she said would require more work improving the rule of law and tackling corruption.

Earlier this month the European Commission said it was satisfied Ukraine had made enough progress to open accession talks. This included reforms to strengthen anti-corruption measures, such as increasing the number of staff in its national anti-corruption agency, and new laws regulating lobbying.

Hungary’s government had previously held up the formal start of membership negotiations over what it said were concerns about the treatment of minorities in Ukraine.

EU enlargement commissioner Oliver Varhelyi said he believed the union would be in a position to welcome new members within the next five years. “This is not a question of the European Union giving deadlines, the European Union could give indications that if these countries are ready to join by then, the European Union will be ready to receive them, but the conditions will have to be met,” he said.

Speaking after the conference, Ms Stefanishyna said she would be “much more optimistic” about joining earlier than the end of the decade, if it was up to Ukraine. “Nothing in the accession process could be a bigger challenge than the war we are going through,” she said. Formal EU accession talks were also opened with Moldova during a separate intergovernmental conference on Tuesday.

Make no mistake, this will be a more eastern, more Balkan EU. What will that mean for Ireland?Opens in new window ]

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is acting Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times