The European Commission gave Ukraine the green light to start negotiations on EU membership in its annual enlargement report on Nov. 8 – but now the Hungarian government has categorically opposed it.

For membership talks to start, the leaders of all 27 EU member states at the European Council meeting on Dec. 14 and 15 in Brussels have to agree to them.

“There may be a political problem with Hungary, which will try to get some unjustified concessions for itself,” Alexander Merezhko, chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Foreign Policy and Inter-Parliamentary Cooperation, predicted in comments to Kyiv Post the day the European Commission report was announced.

However, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that his opposition to Ukraine’s joining the EU has nothing to do with the freeze of billions of euros in funding for his government due to rule of law problems in Hungary.

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Instead, he claimed, Budapest is opposed to starting membership talks with Ukraine because of its opposition to a language law requiring that Ukraine’s Hungarian minority receive some 70 percent of their education in the Ukrainian language.

The language law, which Kyiv said is meant to ensure that its Hungarian-speaking minority population can function well in Ukrainian, the state language, violates Hungarian-speaking Ukrainians’ rights, Orban has said.

“I would like to state very clearly that Hungary’s refusal to start negotiations with Ukraine on EU membership is not a matter of business deal… It cannot be linked to the issue of money that Hungary has the right to receive,” he said on state radio, Reuters reported.

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However, Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, a member of the European Solidarity Party and head of the committee on European integration issues told Kyiv Post that she is convinced that these two issues are related.

Currently, Klympush-Tsintsadze sees avenues for further negotiations on the issue of minority language rights, with Hungary and the other 26 EU countries.

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“By doing so, it is possible to ensure that there will be a consensus when the European Council makes a decision on opening negotiations with Ukraine… Because this concerns not only Ukraine. If this issue is blocked for Ukraine, it will be blocked for all other countries as well. In fact, Ukraine is now a flagship and a beacon for a potential new wave of expansion,” the parliamentarian said.

Regarding the possible reaction of Brussels to the possibility of Budapest using Ukraine minority language law as an excuse to gain EU concessions, Klympush-Tsintsadze asserted that this is a matter of diplomacy within the European Union.

“We must understand that there are internal negotiations and dialogue. This is a complex dialogue that takes place within the EU. Unfortunately, I see a very limited number of tools that Brussels is ready to apply today in order not to give member countries the opportunity to criticize on false grounds and block the path of candidate countries to the EU. This is a question of further internal EU reform, and it obviously will not be resolved in a month,” she said.

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On the other hand, the parliamentarian said that even Hungary’s blocking of the decision at the December meeting of the European Council will not be the end of the world for Ukraine.

“First of all, we all need to mobilize today to prevent this from happening. Second, this European Council meeting is not the last. That is, this does not mean that this issue cannot be unblocked in the future. Therefore, we should not treat these statements and possible problems as the end of the world… So, together with our partners, we will look for other ways to convince Hungary to change its position,” Klympush-Tsintsadze said.

Regarding the potential negative impact on Ukraine’s EU integration negotiations during Hungary’s presidency in the second half of 2024, the parliamentarian predicts that Budapest is unlikely to prioritize providing assistance to Ukraine or its European integration track.

“We must understand that this will actually be a difficult period, a challenge… Because from the beginning of next year, when Belgium takes over, Hungary will enter the so-called trio of countries – together with the current and previous presidencies – that participate in decision-making and priorities. Therefore, December is a serious window of opportunity for us, and I believe that we should now fully focus on December,” she said.

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A few months ago, the European Parliament for the first time in history recommended denying Hungary the opportunity to preside.

The precedent has not yet occurred, but no steps have been taken to develop it since.

Overall, Klympush-Tsintsadze sees Russian influence in Budapest’s position on opening negotiations with Ukraine on EU accession.

She said that in 2014 Russia attempted to impede the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.

Later, we had to conduct dozens of rounds of negotiations to prove that this agreement does not harm Russia’s interests in any way, Klympush-Tsintsadze said.

“Today we see the imprint of Russian policy towards Ukraine, the rejection by Russia of the right of Ukrainians to live as a people and state, as well as the right to choose their future. Unfortunately, this translates into statements by Hungary in particular… And as long as the European Union does not realize that its basic principles are being undermined from within and does not act more decisively, we will have such problems,” the parliamentarian said.

Based on the recommendations of the European Commission regarding the start of negotiations, Kyiv will prepare a National Program for the preparation of Ukraine’s membership in the EU.

A member of the president’s party Servant of the People, and of the permanent delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe Yevheniya Kravchuk told Kyiv Post that Ukraine will develop a national program of preparation that will be responsible for bringing Ukrainian legislation in line with Europe’s. And since the start of the negotiation process, Ukraine has a lot of work ahead of it, she said.

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