Moldova and Ukraine Formally Open Accession Negotiations 

Politics - January 24, 2024

Ukraine and the Republic of Modova officially open accession negotiations with the European Union in record time after submitting their applications. In less than two years, the two countries have managed to complete the complex procedures for this stage, while Turkey has been waiting more than 20 years to complete negotiations and other Western Balkan countries have been knocking on the EU’s door for decades waiting to be invited to join.

The decision by EU leaders at the last EU summit on the two neighbouring states of the Russian Federation is not a surprise in the context of Moscow’s continued threat to the EU. But it was surprising in the context of vehement opposition from Hungary, which threatened to block Ukraine’s invitation to open negotiations using its veto. Hungary remains opposed to Ukraine’s EU membership, but the decision was taken in the absence of Hungarian PM Viktor Orban.

Moldova’s accession negotiations – a bubble of oxygen for Maia Sandu 

The presidents of Ukraine and Moldova reacted in the same tone after the official announcement.

“Two years ago, nobody imagined that in 2023 the European Commission would propose opening accession negotiations with Moldova. Today’s success is the merit of the whole society (…) We are Europeans and this is recognized by the whole EU,” Maia Sandu wrote on Facebook.

“Victory for Ukraine. A victory for the whole of Europe. A victory that motivates, inspires and strengthens us,” Zelenski wrote on X.

For Maia Sandu’s party – the Action and Solidarity Party – this decision could be the lifeline it needed after the crushing defeat it suffered in November’s local elections, when it failed to win any mayoral seats in the country’s 11 municipalities.

European Union leaders agreed on the 14th of December to formally open accession talks with Ukraine, after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had promised for weeks to block it. That’s why the decision, which would have required unanimity, came as a surprise. And to make it happen, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz suggested the Budapest leader leave the room. According to Politico, about three hours after the talks stalled, the German chancellor reportedly suggested to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban that he could take his coffee and drink it elsewhere. 

On the other hand, French President Emmanuel Macron later said that the idea behind Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s exit from the EU leaders’ meeting at the time of the decisive vote on Ukraine and Moldova was a collective effort, reports the same Politico. In other words, the “coffee break” that saved the day had been planned all along.

Emmanuel Macron says he had talks before the summit with European Council President Charles Michel, Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni and Chancellor Olaf Scholz, as well as “other leaders, including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte” to find a way forward without Viktor Orbán. All in all, the decision is truly historic and crucial for the credibility of the Union, as the head of the European Council said. 

EU needs reform to accept Ukraine 

The EU will start accession negotiations with Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova, Georgia will be granted candidate status, and Bosnia and Herzegovina will be the fifth of the six Western Balkan countries to start accession negotiations with the EU.

“This decision is particularly important for the credibility of the Union,” said Charles Michel after the EU summit.

But it will take many years for these negotiations to be completed, during which time the EU will need to go through a reform process, warns Dutch PM Mark Rutte. According to him, the EU needs to reform to be able to accept a large, war-torn country like Ukraine with a population of over 40 million. Not only the decision-making mechanisms, but the EU budget itself must be “fundamentally overhauled”, Rutte says. This is the same Mark Rutte who, not long ago, called on Brussels to tighten its belt and stop asking for additional contributions to the multiannual budget.

Unsurprisingly, Moscow’s reaction came relatively late, only the day after the announcement, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov conveying that it “will destabilise the EU”. At the same time, the pro-Russian current in Chisinau, through the voice of former President Igor Dodon, conveyed that the decision is “in advance” and is not due to the successes of the pro-European government and President Maia Sandu, but to the “rather difficult geopolitical context”.

Ukraine and Moldova applied for membership shortly after the outbreak of war and were granted EU candidate status in June 2022. In April 2023, the European Parliament called for accession negotiations to start by the end of this year, if Moldova meets the nine milestones identified by the European Commission as necessary to be completed. However, the launch of the negotiation process does not mean that it will be completed and there is no deadline by which the negotiating countries should be admitted to the EU.

According to Romanian MEP Siegfried Mureșan, Chairman of the Delegation to the EU-Moldova Parliamentary Association Committee, the objective set for this country would be for negotiations to start before the European Parliament elections in the first part of this year. The Romanian MEP suggested March as the timeframe, saying that negotiations would first start at political level, then continue at technical expert level.

However, apart from the political decision to start negotiations, there are intermediate steps to be taken. In order for the Republic of Moldova to actually start negotiations with the EU, the European Commission must have a mandate to negotiate a future accession treaty, and then prepare this mandate and present it to the EU Member States for adoption. The second very important element is the preparation of an intergovernmental conference between Moldova and the European Union.

Hungary wants “all EU funds”, not half or a quarter” released to support Ukraine’s accession 

At the same time, the Budapest leader warns that Hungary could halt Ukraine’s EU accession process if necessary. Viktor Orban, through his delusions, consistently opposes Ukraine’s accession and uses his opposition to get EU funds that would go to the country unblocked.  Orban claims Brussels made a “bad decision” when it decided to start accession talks with Kiev, and has openly said that if the EU wants to change its current budget, then it will be “a great opportunity for Hungary to say that it should get the money it is entitled to”. In an interview in Brussels, Orban said Hungary could “stop this process later”, adding that the final decision on Ukraine’s accession would be taken by the Hungarian parliament. Orban also called for “all European funds” and “not half or a quarter” for Hungary, of which billions of euros remain blocked, before considering whether to lift the veto on the new €60 billion financial aid for Ukraine.

“I have always said that if we were to make a change to the EU budget (…), Hungary would seize the opportunity to clearly ask for what it deserves. Not half, not a quarter, but everything”, the nationalist leader stressed in an interview with Hungarian state radio.

In the same interview, the Budapest leader warned that Hungary has no interest in the European Union taking out loans to finance the financial aid it is giving Ukraine.

“We made an exception once and it went wrong. Not everyone was allowed to access this money in the same way. This should not happen again,” said Vickotr Orban, referring to joint loans to finance post-pandemic recovery.”

Photo: pickpik.com