Hungary has blocked a crucial EU aid agreement for Ukraine but the European Union has opened the door to the eastern Ukrainian country to start membership talks.
The EU voted for the €1.2bn (£1bn) assistance package for Ukraine in December 2017, but Hungary, one of the most vocal advocates of closer ties between the EU and its eastern neighbours, has refused to approve the agreement.
The decision is a major setback for Ukraine, which is under growing pressure from Moscow. Ukraine also wants to apply to join the EU, but Budapest says it would prevent that from happening if Kyiv does not meet its demands.
However, the EU has now indicated that it is willing to enter into membership talks with Ukraine and is committed to preserving Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “The European Union will always stand by Ukraine. We are grateful for the courage of the Ukrainian people and the resilience of its government in pursuing a difficult reform agenda under extremely challenging circumstances.”
The talks are expected to cover a wide range of topics, including trade and security issues. Hungary has reportedly demanded that any deal with Ukraine significantly reduce the influence of Russia in the country. It is also seeking improved access for Hungarian companies to Ukrainian markets and citizens.
The EU wants to foster closer economic integration between the two countries and is hoping to use the talks to ensure political stability in Ukraine.
Both sides are expected to use the talks to address lingering historical tensions, which have hampered Ukraine’s chances of joining the EU. The aid package is seen as a precursor to full membership, and the EU wants to make sure Ukraine is not derailed by internal discords.
It remains to be seen if these talks will lead to a successful outcome, but it is certainly a promising start.