The European Union may just have ditched its policy of unanimous decisions for good, after 26 countries decided to bypass Hungary’s very serious reservations, and approve the opening of ‘accession negotiations’ for Ukraine.
European Council President Charles Michel jubilantly announced the outcome on Thursday (14), at a critical time for Ukraine.
“While accession talks are likely to continue on for many years, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the news was ‘a victory of Ukraine … a victory that motivates, inspires and strengthens’. This was a historic moment for Ukraine, which has made its aspirations to join the EU known for many years.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán who had vehemently opposed the opening of accession talks for Ukraine, criticized the agreement reached without him by European leaders. ‘Hungary does not want to be part of this bad decision!’ Orbán said in a statement posted on Facebook.”
The move came about in the strangest of ways. Orbán left the room as the decision on enlargement was taken, which allowed for a ‘unanimous’ decision from the European Council.
The summit is still ongoing, as EU leaders will still debate a €50 billion aid package to Ukraine – which also faces opposition from Hungary.
European leaders were quick to celebrate the announcement of Ukraine’s ‘victory’.
“Michel hailed the decision as “a clear signal of hope for their people and for our continent” in a statement on X, formerly Twitter. ‘Historic day! Against all odds, we achieved a decision to open accession negotiations with #Ukraine and #Moldova’, Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said.”
There is no mechanism in the EU for a country to abstain on a decision of this magnitude, but Hungary made it clear that it was a decision endorsed by 26 member states rather than 27.
The Guardian reported:
“Speaking in a video on social media, Orbán said he had not voted as he did not want to take part in what he thought was ‘a completely senseless, irrational and incorrect decision’.
Budapest had decided that the other member states ‘should go their own way’, he said. ‘Hungary does not want to share in this bad decision and for this reason Hungary did not participate in the decision today’.”
The move to open the path for Ukraine comes at a critical time for Zelensky, who filed in getting US Congress to support a $61bn (£47.9bn) military aid package for Ukraine.
“Michel said negotiations would now open in March, when a report on the final changes Ukraine must undertake to make the first steps on the path to EU membership is expected to be complete.
‘This is extremely important; we want to support Ukraine. This is a very powerful political signal, it is a very powerful political decision and today and tonight I think to the people of Ukraine – we are on their side and this decision made by the member states is extremely important for the European Union’, Michel said.”