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Ukraine and EU push to start membership talks in June – POLITICO

Ukraine and EU push to start membership talks in June – POLITICO

by host

After EU leaders gave Kyiv a political thumbs-up, the next step in the accession process is to start formal talks via an intergovernmental conference with Ukraine. That would represent the opening of membership negotiations. 

In order for this to happen, EU countries have to agree on a so-called negotiation framework. The 27 capitals have been haggling over that document since the European Commission sent it to them in March. So far, the negotiations on a technical level are going well, two of the diplomats said, and they expect a new draft to be sent to EU ambassadors in the coming weeks so that they can hammer out the thorniest issues. 

Ukraine and its backers in the EU have been calling for the intergovernmental conference between Brussels and Kyiv to be held before Hungary takes over the rotating Presidency of the Council of the EU on July 1.

EU leaders told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy last December they wanted Ukraine and Moldova to join their club. | Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán has been the biggest internal obstacle to the EU’s ongoing support for Ukraine over the past two years. He has several times threatened to block decisions on EU funding for Kyiv as well as on accession negotiations, and sanctions against Russia. Before agreeing to the negotiating framework, Budapest wants more guarantees about improving the legal protection of minorities in Ukraine. 

At the same time, Hungary is keen on a successful presidency of the Council of the EU, the diplomats said. The Belgians, who currently have the rotating presidency, are also trying to convince Hungary this is their political interest as well, especially as Hungary could use one of several methods to block Ukraine’s accession later on if it wanted to.

Belgian officials have now penciled in June 25 for the intergovernmental conference (IGC), only days before Budapest takes over the presidency on July 1. But “as always, it is impossible to predict what Hungary will do until we hear from Orbán himself,” said one of the diplomats. 

A spokesperson for the Hungarian Permanent Representation to the EU said that Hungary’s focus is on the negotiating framework. “The first step is to find consensus there. It is premature to discuss the IGC dates before that.”

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