European leaders decided on Thursday to open EU membership talks with Ukraine in a significant political win for Kyiv. The European Council will also open talks with Moldova and granted candidate status to Georgia, and agreed to start membership negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina once the country meets its membership requirements.
The decision paves the way for a significant expansion of the European Union, which has not allowed a new country into the bloc since 2013.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán made clear Thursday that he will not support EU accession talks for Ukraine.
“There is no reason to negotiate membership of Ukraine now,” Orbán told journalists as he arrived at an EU summit where Ukraine will be top of the agenda.
Orbán cuts a solitary figure in Brussels. All of the EU’s 27 national leaders except him have supported starting Ukrainian accession talks. But the EU’s consensus-driven decision making means that Orbán can veto starting the multiyear process of bringing Ukraine into the EU.
Orbán comes around to Ukrainian accession talks
In the run up to the EU summit in Brussels, Viktor Orbán looked set to spoil Ukraine’s chances at starting talks with the EU. While the rest of the EU’s 27 national leaders supported starting the process of integrating Ukraine, Orbán had vowed to veto any talks. It remains unclear why Orbán caved on his promise to block negotiations.
Earlier this week Orbán claimed on X that a swift Ukrainian accession would have “devastating consequences for European farmers, the EU’s budget and European security.” A recent survey conducted by the Hungarian polling company Magyar Társadalomkutató found that six out of 10 Hungarians are against Ukraine joining the EU.
Europeans are divided on Ukrainian membership
Despite the strong support for Ukraine accession talks among most EU leaders, there is no such clear majority backing among European citizens, according to a survey of six EU countries by the ECFR. While 35% of those polled supported expanding the EU, 37% did not think the EU should be adding member states at this moment. Resistance to Ukrainian membership was highest in Austria, where 52% of respondents said the country should not be allowed to join the bloc. The polling showed that despite European leaders’ backing for EU enlargement, they have failed to bring voters on board, ECFR analysts wrote.
Ukrainian EU membership comes at a hefty price
In public, EU officials do not question the likelihood of EU expansion. But in private, some officials in Brussels think it may never happen, the director of the Center for European Reform wrote. Ukraine would soak up a big part of the organization’s funds at a significant cost for other EU states, he said. The cost of integrating Ukraine into the EU may be more than $200 billion over the next seven years, according to an analysis by economists at the German Economic Institute.