Ukraine ready for EU membership talks, Brussels says

Ukraine ready for EU membership talks, Brussels says

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The European Commission has recommended that the EU start accession talks with Ukraine this month, in an effort to signal support to the war-torn country before Budapest takes over the rotating presidency of the bloc, according to people familiar with the matter.

Kyiv applied for EU membership in the weeks following Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022 and was granted candidate status a few months later, in one of the fastest decisions by the bloc, catalysed by Moscow’s aggression.

Russia’s war has prompted an overhaul of the EU’s enlargement process, as Ukraine and Moldova became candidate countries in June 2022 and Georgia in late 2023, while talks with some of the six western Balkan candidates have accelerated after years of stasis.

The commission is pushing for formal talks to begin with Kyiv and Chișinău, capital of Moldova, this month to give a positive signal to both countries on their EU aspirations.

On Friday it told a meeting of member state ambassadors that Ukraine now met previously outstanding criteria including anti-corruption measures, restrictions on political lobbying, rules on asset declarations for public officials and protection of languages used by national minorities.

Georgia, which in recent weeks adopted a “foreign agents” law in defiance of Brussels’ warnings, did not get the green light.

Brussels’ recommendation requires unanimity from all the EU’s 27 governments and Hungary is expected to raise objections, citing issues including Kyiv’s treatment of Ukraine’s Hungarian minority.

A formal debate on whether to agree to start talks would be held next week, two of the people said.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has in the past held up other decisions related to Ukraine, including giving the country EU candidate status and delaying a $50bn aid package.

While it has eventually relented under pressure from other capitals, Budapest has this year refused to drop its veto on setting aside EU cash to provide military aid to Kyiv.

Budapest has additional concerns regarding the rights of other minorities in Ukraine, particularly on the use of non-Ukrainian languages — that go beyond the commission’s official conditions, said a senior EU diplomat.

Spokespeople for the Hungarian government did not respond to a request for comment.

Hungary will take over the rotating presidency of the EU on July 1, which will give it additional leverage in setting the agenda of meetings where Ukraine-related matters are discussed.

Belgium, the current holder, is pressing ahead hoping to achieve unanimity and hold the initial round of accession talks on June 25, before it hands over the baton to Hungary.