Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day

Lilia RagutskaPolitics
Ukrainians support the European path of their country. Source: Telegram channel of Volodymyr Zelenskyy

On June 25, the European Commission announced an important decision regarding Ukraine's European integration. In Luxembourg, where an intergovernmental conference between Ukraine and the EU is taking place, the European Union officially launched accession talks with Ukraine, while negotiations between the EU and Moldova have also started.

This was stated by EC President Ursula von der Leyen. Meanwhile, Western media warn that the start of negotiations today is rather formal, and real progress should be expected no earlier than 2025.

"We congratulate Moldova and Ukraine on the start of accession negotiations. This is very good news for the people of Ukraine, Moldova, and the entire European Union. The road ahead will be difficult but full of opportunities. We wish you a successful start to the negotiations!" she said.

Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day

President of the European Council Charles Michel called the announcement of the start of EU membership negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova a "historic moment". He is convinced that both countries are now embarking on a "real transformation to full membership," which, according to the politician, is "a moment of pride for both nations and a strategic step for the EU."

According to Charles Michel, the launch of accession talks is the result of "enormous reform efforts by Ukraine and Moldova. The EU's cooperation with both countries continues, especially as Ukraine continues to defend itself against Russia's full-scale aggression and Moldova is suffering the consequences of the war.

"The opening of accession talks through the first intergovernmental conferences is a key milestone. It is also proof of the tremendous progress that both countries have made on the road to European integration, despite the enormous challenges they have faced and are still facing. Ukraine's efforts are all the more admirable given that Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine has brought unprecedented hardship and disaster. The people of Ukraine have shown extraordinary courage and solidarity in defending their sovereignty and their European future," the President of the European Council emphasized, adding that Moldova has had to face economic pressure and political intimidation from the Russian Federation in its quest for a European future.

Charles Michel noted that Ukraine and Moldova "have demonstrated an impressive commitment to reform and alignment with European values". He emphasized that transformational steps have been taken in the areas of rule of law, governance, and judiciary, which demonstrates the desire of both countries and their people to become part of the EU.

"This is the beginning of a long process. While today we celebrate a significant step forward, we must also recognize that the road ahead will require continued effort, dedication, and further substantial reforms. Ukraine and Moldova will need to continue to strengthen institutions, continue to fight corruption and enhance economic stability in order to meet the rigorous standards of full EU membership. The European Union, through its institutions and member states, stands ready to support Ukraine and Moldova every step of the way. We will provide the necessary resources, expertise, and political support," the President of the European Council assured.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy also called the day of the announcement of the start of negotiations a historic one.

"Today is a historic day when we are moving to actual, real negotiations with the European Union on Ukraine's membership. On February 28, 2022, a few days after the start of the full-scale invasion, we signed the application for membership. Almost two years ago, in June 2022, we gained candidacy, and last December we received a political decision on negotiations. But it is from today that our membership in the European Union will start: the first intergovernmental conference between Ukraine and the EU will take place today," the Head of State emphasized.

He also thanked all those involved in making Ukraine a full-fledged member of the EU – and above all those who risk their lives every second on the frontline, fighting for the present and the future for their people.

"I am grateful to each and every person who defends Ukraine, our country, and our people. I am grateful to the team that is doing everything to make us part of the European Union. We will never be sidetracked from our path to a united Europe to our common home of all European nations. A home that must be peaceful!" Zelenskyy emphasized.

Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day

At 17:13, the Prime Minister of Ukraine, Denys Shmyhal, announced that the EU-Ukraine membership talks had officially started.

"A historic moment. The European Union has opened negotiations on Ukraine's accession. 2 years, 3 months, and 29 days ago, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy signed Ukraine's application for membership in the European Union. 2 years and 3 days ago, the European Council granted Ukraine the status of candidate for EU membership... Today marks the beginning of a new phase in relations between Ukraine and the European Union. We still have a lot of work to do on the way to accession. We are ready for it," the Prime Minister emphasized.

He emphasized how important the path to Europe is for Ukraine and what a huge price the Ukrainian people have paid and continue to pay for their civilizational choice.

"For Ukraine, the European Union means much more than physical space. It is values. It is hope. It is a symbol. Thousands of the best sons and daughters of Ukraine gave their lives for an independent European Ukraine... I thank everyone who made effort, who defended us, and who did everything to make this dream come true. Together we will overcome all challenges. Together we will win, rebuild Ukraine, and make Europe stronger and more united – from Lisbon to Luhansk," emphasized Shmyhal.

Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day

The Prime Minister of Ukraine participated in the conference remotely via video link from Kyiv. Instead, a Ukrainian delegation headed by Deputy Prime Minister Olha Stefanishyna arrived in Luxembourg. The delegation also included Taras Kachka, Deputy Minister of Economy and Trade Representative of Ukraine, Serhiy Derchak, Deputy Minister of Community Development, Territories, and Infrastructure, Yevhen Perebyinis, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Oleksandr Ilkov, Director of the Government Office for Coordination of European and Euro-Atlantic Integration.

Before the start of the first Intergovernmental Conference with the EU, the Ukrainian delegation met with the delegation of the Republic of Moldova, headed by Prime Minister Dorin Recean.

Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day

In addition to mutual congratulations on the start of negotiations with the EU, the parties discussed the current situation in Ukraine related to the ongoing Russian aggression against our country. The Vice Prime Minister thanked Moldova for its continued support and participation of Moldova and the Prime Minister personally in the Conference on Ukraine's Recovery in Berlin, as well as the participation of President Maia Sandu in the Peace Summit in Switzerland.

Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day

The Ukrainian and Moldovan delegations also discussed issues of bilateral economic cooperation, in particular in the context of developing border infrastructure. The Ukrainian side specifically thanked Moldova for its support in the face of war-related difficulties with the export of goods. The participants of the meeting noted their mutual commitment to developing cooperation in this area.

Meanwhile, Zelenskyy, along with Shmyhal and Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada Ruslan Stefanchuk, recorded an address to Ukrainians on the occasion of the start of negotiations on EU accession.

"When on the fifth day of the full-scale war we signed the application for accession to the European Union together, many people said that it was nothing more than a dream. But we realized this dream. We knocked it out, convinced them, and removed every single doubt that existed. On June 22, Ukraine's candidacy was approved. Despite the opposition. On December 23, the leaders of Europe supported the political decision to negotiate with Ukraine," the Head of State reminded of the path already traveled.

Now Ukraine can deservedly rejoice that all previous efforts have yielded results.

"Today, the negotiations start. There are thousands of meetings and calls between these steps. Ukraine has fully fulfilled the conditions. Laws that have been adopted and are now in force. And the most important thing is the determination of our people, our nation. The determination that has worked, that has not let Ukraine and the whole of Europe down, and that proves that all Ukrainians together, all Europeans together, are able to realize even the biggest dreams – able to win," Zelenskyy emphasized.

Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU: the start cannot be postponed

Despite the announcement of the start of negotiations and the congratulations of Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, today, according to the Financial Times, a new stage on Ukraine's path to the European Union has been formally launched. The publication clarified that the main stage of work on this issue should be expected no earlier than 2025.

"EU officials expect the negotiations to begin in earnest during Poland's presidency of the bloc, which starts on January 1," the article says.

The authors of the article attribute this "postponement" to the fact that Hungary will hold the EU presidency from July 1, which may complicate Ukraine's path to membership. There are grounds for this version: Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has already been involved in delaying several decisions regarding Ukraine, including the start of negotiations on our country's accession to the EU.

For example, Volodymyr Zelenskyy stated that Ukraine had fulfilled all the prerequisites for the start of accession negotiations at the end of April. A little more than a month later, in early June, the European Commission confirmed this, and some time later, EU ambassadors met with him. However, due to Hungary's objections, EU representatives were then unable to approve a recommendation to the European Commission to start formal negotiations.

Budapest explained its position by saying that Kyiv had allegedly not done enough to protect the rights of the Hungarian minority in Ukraine. To remove these objections, a compromise wording on minority rights was agreed upon in the framework agreement, which also included a provision that the European Commission would monitor Ukraine's implementation of reforms in the area of minority rights and report regularly to EU member states.

"The EU leaders gave the green light to negotiations on Ukraine's accession only in December 2023 at a summit in Brussels, when the EU had to unblock €10 billion for Hungary, which had been frozen due to problems with the rule of law in that country.

Budapest no longer prevented the announcement of the start of negotiations on June 25, although Orban said that Hungary would have many more opportunities to veto Ukraine's accession.

So, because of Hungary's position and the obstacles it created on Ukraine's path to the EU during the two years, it was a candidate for accession, there is reason to assume that the negotiations will be very difficult.

At the same time, it was important to announce the start of negotiations with Ukraine before that date because Hungary's EU presidency begins on July 1. After all, Hungary's official representative to the EU, Balint Odor, said at a briefing on June 18 that Budapest would closely monitor developments in Ukraine and "include all necessary aspects on the agenda as needed," hinting that Ukraine is not a priority for Hungary.

Instead, Odor named the competitiveness of the European Union, economic relations with third countries, easing the administrative burden on business, defense policy, and cooperation in arms procurement as priority areas for Hungary. The Western Balkans are among the European integration priorities of Hungary's presidency of the EU Council.

Not Hungary alone: what other problems may arise in the course of negotiations between the EU and Ukraine

However, it is not only Hungary that can create difficulties on Ukraine's path to EU membership. The problems can be both minor procedural and global.

For example, the Polish Minister for EU Affairs Adam Szlapka recently said that the negotiations would be difficult for Ukraine. According to him, the difficulties will arise because "there are controversial areas," including the agricultural sector, which is one of the key sectors for the Ukrainian economy.

The fact that the agricultural sector is likely to become one of the key stumbling blocks is evidenced, in particular, by the blockade of the Ukrainian border by Polish farmers and carriers and the reaction to it from Brussels.

"It is significant that Adam Szlapka made the statement about the complexity of the negotiations at a briefing with Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic Integration of Ukraine Olha Stefanishyna after a meeting within the so-called Weimar Triangle – Poland, Germany, France and Ukraine. According to the Polish politician, Warsaw understands the complexity of the current situation for Kyiv, but Ukraine should also understand that Poland, Germany, and France have their own interests, and therefore, they must jointly find the best solutions and compromises," the BBC Ukraine publication says.

In a comment to Ukrinform, political analyst Ihor Reiterovych noted that each EU country may have its own reservations, which Ukraine will also have to take into account during the negotiations.

"Negotiations with individual EU countries will concern the entry of Ukrainian goods to the European market, because some countries have a priority in the production of certain products. For example, olives are grown in Spain and Greece, while sprats are produced in the Baltic and Scandinavian countries. If Ukraine wants to increase quotas for certain products, it will have to hold additional negotiations with countries that already occupy these markets and want to maintain their positions. Poland, for example, may advocate restricting imports of Ukrainian agricultural products by demanding quotas. Believe me, the Poles will drink so much blood from us... I think we will also have problems with Bulgaria, Slovakia, and possibly the Czech Republic. That is, with those countries where Ukrainian grain is imported and which believe that it poses a great danger to them," the expert believes.

Hungary, in addition to the usual "violation of the rights of national minorities" allegedly committed in Ukraine, may use the war with Russia as an argument against Ukraine's accession to the EU. At the same time, the occupation of part of the Ukrainian territories will not be an obstacle to Ukraine's European integration, as there is already a precedent in the EU's history: Cyprus became a member despite the fact that its northern part is occupied by Turkey.

The already difficult "search for compromises" may become even more difficult due to changes in the alignment of political forces in Europe after the last European Parliament elections and the upcoming elections in individual countries.

According to EU estimates, the EU will need to increase its budget by 20% or about 200 billion euros over the seven years that Brussels has allotted for Ukraine's accession. However, the EU leadership now calls this a "justified investment."

A few steps to the goal

The day before, on June 24, commenting on the planned announcement of the start of negotiations between the EU and Ukraine, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said during a telethon that Ukraine was getting closer to Europe.

"We are literally three steps away from membership in the European Union. And this is, without exaggeration, an event of global importance for Europe," he said.

And the start of negotiations is extremely important for Ukraine in itself, the minister is sure.

"Even the movement towards EU membership, not to mention the membership itself, is a powerful tool for restoring Ukraine, rebuilding infrastructure and normal economic life in our country," Kuleba said.

Kuleba said that the first step after the EU negotiations with Ukraine are completed should be the conclusion of the European Commission that these negotiations were successful and that our country meets the criteria for accession.

The second step is to make a decision to sign the EU-Ukraine Accession Agreement.

Once the agreement is ratified by the parliaments of all EU member states, Ukraine will become a full member.

However, at the stage of membership negotiations, Ukraine has a lot of work ahead of it.

"Tomorrow (June 25 – Ed.) there will be an inaugural part, and then there will be six clusters of negotiations that will open and close, it will be the experts in the relevant fields who will work and bring Ukraine's legislation in line with EU standards," Kuleba explained.

As explained by Ukrinform, the talks will be held in 35 different sections (so-called "chapters") covering various areas such as the economy, human rights, environment, justice, etc. In each chapter, the EU and Ukraine will discuss how Ukrainian laws, policies, and standards can be brought into line with EU standards.

The EU will conduct an in-depth analysis of Ukrainian legislation for compliance with European standards, identify common and controversial points, agree on certain points, and discuss with the Ukrainian side what exactly our country should change and what can remain unchanged.

Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day
Negotiations on Ukraine's accession to the EU have started in Luxembourg: Zelenskyy called it a historic day

After each section is discussed and Ukraine fulfills the necessary requirements, the section will be considered "closed". The next stage will be possible after all clusters are closed.

In general, experts have different estimates of when Ukraine might become a full member of the European Union. Forecasts range from optimistic 3-5 years to more moderate 6-7 years, to at least 7-10 years. The more pessimistic forecasts are related, in particular, to the fact that some EU member states may see Ukraine as a competitor in the economy and another candidate for investment, and to the fact that our country needs to change the primitive type of economy based on the export of raw materials.

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