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5 Dec, 2023 16:46

European Council chief cuts China trip short – media

Charles Michel will attempt to defuse an ongoing spat with Budapest over Kiev’s bid for EU membership, Politico reported
European Council chief cuts China trip short – media

European Council President Charles Michel will return from China ahead of schedule in a bid to save Ukraine’s bid for EU membership, Politico reported on Tuesday. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has urged Michel to postpone accession talks with Kiev until the bloc gets its Ukraine strategy straight.

Michel will fly back to Brussels after one day of meetings on Thursday, an EU official told Politico. “He will return to Brussels to continue his discussions with leaders on a way forward,” the official stated.

Ukraine applied for EU membership last February and was granted candidate status four months later. According to Politico, a set of draft conclusions for a summit of EU leaders later this month will include a line stating that “the European Council decides to open accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova.” 

In a letter on Monday, Orban urged Michel to postpone a decision on these negotiations. “The European Council is not in a position to take key decisions unless a consensus on our future strategy towards Ukraine is found,” he explained.

Hungarian government spokesman Zoltan Kovacs was more blunt. “How can [we] talk about the accession of a country that has been in the last two years at war, with public administration working only thanks to foreign money, with the level of corruption, with 20% of the country occupied … how can anyone suggest the country is ready for accession talks?” he told reporters on Monday.

Despite the EU’s announcement last month that it would unlock €900 million ($972 million) in frozen funds for Hungary, Kovacs said that Budapest’s “position on Ukraine … would stand regardless of what is going on with the funds.”

Any decision on Ukraine’s membership would require the unanimous consent of all 27 EU member states, meaning that Orban could use Hungary’s veto to block the entire process.

Hungary is not the only country taking issue with Michel’s plan to fast-track negotiations. Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Blanar said on Monday that he “can’t imagine” Ukraine becoming a member state amid its ongoing conflict with Russia, while Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg warned last month that accelerating membership talks could alienate other candidate countries in the Western Balkans, where some states have been waiting almost two decades for their accession process to begin.

“I think that Ukraine’s membership in the EU is terribly, terribly far away,” Blanar told the Standard news portal, with Schallenberg telling the Financial Times that Ukraine would “probably never be part of” the EU if its application was assessed like those of previous candidates.