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EU launches membership talks with Moldova and Ukraine

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A symbolic ceremony will mark the beginning of the negotiations in Luxembourg, signalling that the two ex-Soviet countries are on a path away from Russian influence.

The European Union is to formally launch accession talks with Ukraine and Moldova after the bloc’s member states gave the nod last week.

The start of negotiations will be marked by a ceremony in Luxembourg on Tuesday. While the process is likely to take years and be tough, the opening of the talks will give the pair – war-torn Ukraine in particular – encouragement to continue on their path to leaving their Soviet past behind them.

The agreement of the bloc’s 27 members was secured last week, despite efforts by Hungary, whose government maintains close links to Russia, to block the move.

The ceremony on Tuesday afternoon will be followed by an arduous process, with negotiations only set to start in earnest after the EU has screened their legislation to assess the reforms needed to meet the bloc’s standards.

There is no guarantee that the talks will ultimately lead to EU membership. Turkey and several Western Balkan states have spent years in the accession process.

‘European dream’

However, Russia’s war in Ukraine has reinvigorated the EU’s efforts to expand its membership, much to Moscow’s chagrin.

In December, candidate status was granted to Georgia. The former Soviet state has since become embroiled in a bitter political row that Brussels has warned could delay its progress.

Still, for Ukraine, the launch of negotiations is a major boost as it battles Russia’s invasion.

The conflict can be traced to the Maidan uprising of 2014 when protesters toppled then-president Viktor Yanukovych after he reneged on a pledge to develop closer ties with the EU.

Ukraine lodged its bid to join the bloc in the immediate aftermath of the invasion in February 2022.

Neighbouring Moldova followed closely behind. Russia is accused of seeking to unseat the country’s pro-Western government.

“These are truly historic moments. Ukraine is and will always be part of a united Europe,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said when the bloc’s members signed off on starting the talks.”Millions of Ukrainians, and indeed generations of our people, are realising their European dream.”

Deputy Prime Minister Olga Stefanishyna will lead the Ukrainian delegation at the event, known in EU jargon as an Accession Conference. The Moldovan delegation will be headed by Prime Minister Dorin Recean.

Belgian Foreign Minister Hadja Lahbib will speak for the EU as Belgium holds the bloc’s main rotating presidency.

Long process

The meetings with Ukraine and Moldova on Tuesday will set off a process of screening how far laws in the countries already comply with EU standards and how much more work lies ahead.

The EU then has to begin laying out conditions for negotiations on 35 subjects – from taxation to environmental policy.

It appears unlikely that there will be progress towards the next step in the coming six months, when Hungary will hold the EU’s rotating presidency.

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