European Western Balkans

Ukraine and Moldova start EU accession talks, hold their first conferences with member states

First EU-Ukraine Accession Conference; Photo: European Union

LUXEMBOURG – The European Union has officially launched the accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova today, at the separate intergovernmental conferences in Luxembourg. The Ukrainian delegation is led by Olga Stefanishyna, Deputy Prime Minister for European and Euro-Atlantic integration, while the Moldovan delegation is headed by Prime Minister Dorin Recean.

“We have surpassed the barrier of promise to delivery. It’s a decision that’s merit-based, Ukraine has reached all the necessary criteria for the talks to begin”, Olga Stefanishyna told the Financial Times ahead of the opening of the negotiations.

The EU accession negotiations with a candidate country are launched after unanimous agreement by all member states endorsed by the European Council. Negotiations take place in intergovernmental conferences between the governments of EU member states and that of the candidate country.

The negotiating frameworks, designed to guide the accession talks and approved by EU member states, are presented today to Ukraine and Moldova. A candidate needs to first open, and then close six clusters of negotiating chapters covering different areas of EU legislation.

The European Commission recommended launching accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova in November 2023, and the European Council agreed on it a month later. The EC then presented the negotiation framework and stated that the two countries were ready to begin the talks by the end of June.

The opening of the EU accession talks put Ukraine and Moldova on an equal footing with Albania and North Macedonia. In July 2022 North Macedonia and Albania held their first intergovernmental conferences with the European Union, and the so-called screening process has been completed but no cluster of chapters has been opened so far.

When it comes to other EU candidate countries in the Western Balkans, Serbia has opened the majority of the negotiating chapters but saw no formal progress of its accession process since 2021. Montenegro, meanwhile, has opened all negotiating chapters and is expected to receive a positive Interim Benchmark Assessment Report this week, which means that it will be able to start closing the chapters.

In March 2024, the European Union leaders agreed to open the EU accession talks with Bosnia and Herzegovina, but there has been information yet on a possible date for the first intergovernmental conference. Kosovo is a potential candidate country.

The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated that “it is very good news that the European Union opens accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova”.

“We stand at the threshold of a significant and transformative moment for these two countries and for our Union. And we celebrate the values and principles that bind us together. The EU has always been more than a political and economic union. It is a testament to our collective aspiration for peace, for security, for democracy and for prosperity. The people of Ukraine and Moldova have demonstrated their unwavering commitment and determination to be a part of this project. Even in a time of war and turmoil, they have started extensive reforms”, Ursula Von der Leyen said in a video-message.

The President of the EC emphasized that the journey of Ukraine and Moldova “will be rigorous and demanding”.

“The accession negotiations are designed to prepare the candidates for the responsibilities of membership. This is why there are no shortcuts. We embark on these negotiations in a strong spirit of openness, engagement, and commitment. The path ahead will be challenging. But it is also filled with immense opportunities for Moldova and Ukraine – as well as for our entire Union. Together, we can forge a larger, more dynamic and forward-looking Europe. So, I wish you a very successful start of the accession negotiations”, Ursula von der Leyen stresses.

The formal start of the EU accession talks of the two countries follows an agreement by EU ambassadors last week. Officials in Kyiv and Brussels were reportedly pushing for the June starting date before Hungary takes over from Belgium the helm of the EU Council the following month. Ukraine and Moldova received EU membership candidate status in June 2022.

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