Until spring: what to expect after the milestone decision of the European Union on Ukraine

December 16, 2023

European leaders managed to break the resistance of Viktor Orbán

On Thursday, December 14, the European Council made a historic decision: to start negotiations on the accession of Ukraine and Moldova to the European Union, while Georgia was granted the candidate status. Representatives of all the EU member states voted for it. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was not personally present at the summit, called the decision of the European Council a victory for Ukraine and the whole of Europe. Till the last, many doubted that the summit participants would be able to reach an agreement because of Hungary's obstructive position. Its Prime Minister Viktor Orbán insisted that Kyiv was not ready for the start of the negotiation process. How and why the leading EU countries managed to "persuade" the Hungarian prime minister, read in the column of the co-director of international programmes of Razumkov Centre Mykhailo Pashkov, specially for "Apostrophe".

We expected such a decision of the European Council, while not ruling out the possibility of a delay until the beginning of next year, in part, because of the position of Budapest. Another important issue for us is the provision of EUR50 billion in financial aid to Ukraine. The European Council President Charles Michel said that negotiations on this issue were underway. It remains to be seen what decision the EU countries will make regarding military and technical assistance to Kyiv, but it will probably be announced on the second day of the summit.

Earlier, on November 8, the European Commission recommended starting negotiations on the accession of Ukraine and Moldova to the EU, but the governments of Hungary and Slovakia were extremely sceptical. If the Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico softened his stand literally at the last moment, with some reservations though, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was remaining reluctant.

Before the very beginning of the EU summit, Viktor Orbán insisted that Ukraine was not ready for the start of the negotiation process, because, in Orbán's opinion, Kyiv had not met all the requirements.

Immediately before the start of the EU summit, the European Council President Charles Michel, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Viktor Orbán held a meeting where, apparently, the Hungarian Prime Minister was made a serious offer that he could not refuse.

The conversation with Viktor Orbán took place the day after Michel’s meeting with Macron, Scholz and the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen where the common political line of the European Union was discussed. The question of Ukraine was the main subject. In recent weeks, European leaders have repeatedly made it clear that they support the start of negotiations.

Apparently, they created such a political atmosphere for Viktor Orbán that he practically had no room left for manoeuvre. Most likely, the compromise looked like this: Budapest withdraws its objections to Ukraine at the summit, and the European Commission unfreezes EUR10.2 billion for Budapest, which were blocked due to the situation with the rule of law in that country. For Hungary, currently experiencing economic difficulties, such an amount is of significant importance.

We also cannot rule out that due to Viktor Orbán's too pro-Russian position, the idea of applying Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, according to which a country in the EU can be deprived of its right to vote, was in the air more and more often. Clear thing, such threats were not voiced publicly, since a number of important procedural steps must be observed for the application of this norm, but such ideas were already in the air, most likely. Moreover, Viktor Orbán's too tough position regarding Ukraine already looked like an attempt to put pressure on Brussels with destructive goals, not just as an element of political bargaining.

So, the final stage of Ukraine’s European integration has opened for us — the start of the negotiations on accession to the European Union. At the moment, it appears that the first part of the negotiations will most likely start next March. And it will be a difficult process for a number of reasons.

First of all, if now Viktor Orbán, Robert Fico and other sceptics said yes, it does not mean that they will have no objections, proposals and demands at all during the negotiation process. It is important to realize that for our neighbours (Hungary, Slovakia, and Poland), Ukraine’s integration in the EU means a series of economic challenges, especially in matters of transport, logistics, and agriculture. And these issues will need to be discussed.

Secondly, when we say that Ukraine has met the requirements for the start of negotiations, it does not mean that we have automatically met the requirements for membership. Currently, the Agreement of Association between Ukraine and the EU is being implemented in parallel. As part of the accession negotiation process, we must do a lot of work in Ukraine: adapt about 3,000 (approximately) regulatory documents, improve the judicial system, the work of law enforcement agencies, and settle issues related to the rights of national minorities.

There is still a lot of work ahead, but it is important for us now that the European leaders not just gave us the "green light". They also showed that the leading states of the EU are also interested in Ukraine, as we are interested in them, and they are ready to take difficult political steps to this end.



Mykhailo Pashkov

Co-Director, Foreign Relations and International Security Programmes

Born in 1958 in Roslavl, Smolensk oblast, Russia


Smolensk Institute of Pedagogy, Faculty of the Russian Language and Literature (1979)

Moscow Institute of Youth, Faculty of Journalism (1986)

Kyiv Institute of Political Science and Public Administration (1991)

Ph. D. in Philosophy; the author of more than 50 publications

1979 – 1989 — worked at different positions in district, regional and republican newspapers in Russia and Moldova

1991 – 1994 — worked in scientific institutions of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1994 – 1998 — Diplomatic Service at the Embassy of Ukraine in the Russian Federation

Since December 1999 — Razumkov Centre's Leading Expert

Diplomatic Rank: First Secretary. Most recent position in state structures — Chief Consultant, Analytical Service of Ukraine's NSDC Staff

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