The vote to open accession negotiations with Ukraine at last week's EU summit remains a big topic of discussion in Europe's press. Commentators are worried by the fact that the required unanimity for the decision was only achieved because Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orbán left the room at the crucial moment. But looking forward also raises major questions about the process.

Veto potential remains

Ukraine cannot avoid seeking dialogue with Budapest, writes Ukrainska Pravda:

“Hungary is still in a position to put obstacles in Ukraine's way on almost a daily basis. This is because the accession process is organised in such a way that even technical interim solutions, not to mention major decisions such as decisions by the intergovernmental conferences on the negotiating framework, must be approved unanimously. Orbán has already calculated that Ukraine could be held up 75 more times if he sees fit to do so. ... And Kyiv should be aware of this. In practice this means that as vile and insulting as it may be for us, we will have to negotiate with Orbán.”

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Unacceptable behaviour

hvg criticises Hungary's prime minister for stepping outside at the moment of the vote:

“To give an idea of the significance of this event: the representative of a member state only leaves this room if, for example, unrest breaks out in their own country. Or if there is a suspicion that they could be infected with Covid. But you don't leave it when talk comes around to an explicitly important matter, and certainly not if your voice contradicts that of everyone else. Nevertheless, Viktor Orbán ducked out.”

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Haggling like at a bazaar

Radio Kommersant FM also finds Orbán's trick unworthy:

“It doesn't look good. Dear leaders of free Europe, we are not at a bazaar where people haggle. You represent the Western world - and its values - and should be a role model for everyone else. ... This is not how it works, this is not how the fate of the world is decided. Something must be done about it. But it's not clear what. However, strangely, for some reason other countries are nevertheless pushing to join this organisation, there's a huge queue of countries wanting to join. ... And - why oh why? - no one is applying to join the CIS.”

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Talks alone do not make the difference

Ukraine could suffer a fate similar to that of many Balkan states, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung warns:

“What relativises the significance of the invitation to Ukraine is the accession process. We see this when we look at the Western Balkans. Of the eight countries that were promised accession twenty years ago, only Slovenia (2004) and Croatia (2013) are members today. The others are at a standstill or have been derailed. This is partly due to the countries themselves, which are not prepared to implement the reforms demanded by the EU. But it is also due to the EU, which very quickly lost the desire to accept poorer and more difficult neighbours and support them on the path to membership.”

EU decision worth its weight in gold

Jyllands-Posten lauds:

“The EU's decision that Ukraine belongs in Europe and should return to the European family at some point is still worth its weight in gold for the Ukrainians, both morally and politically. The more Ukraine can be integrated into the institutions of the rules-based global community, the stronger it will be vis-à-vis Russia. No one is currently more pleased about Ukraine's problems in Washington and Europe than Putin. ... Putin feeds on the division of the West. And far too many in the West are naively contributing to his ice-cold game. It's time for the West to honour its commitments.”

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Let's not get ahead of ourselves

Naftemporiki shudders at the idea of the EU digesting another wave of accession:

“Imagine the bloc having up to 36 members and more than 500 million inhabitants: it will become an even more heterogeneous 'club': economically, socially and culturally. Moreover, cracks within the EU could become apparent. Unanimous decisions - already often a major hurdle - would become almost impossible. ... Cohesion and the capacity to act would be jeopardised. An example of the financial problems: Ukraine alone would be entitled to 186 billion euros over seven years if it joined the EU.”

No resorting to clever excuses this time

The political value of this step is enormous, La Repubblica comments approvingly:

“It marks an important turning point. Especially on the frontline of the war between democracies and totalitarianisms. There has been much talk in recent months of a certain 'fatigue' on the part of the West in its support for Ukraine. ... If European leaders had also shared in [the US's] diminishing vigour in the defence of the democratic order, the veto that Hungary's Orbán had imposed on the opening of negotiations with Ukraine would have given them the perfect excuse for a delay for which no one would have had to tEurope can be proud of itself

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Europe can be proud of itself

Putin's calculation didn't work out this time either, LB.ua writes:

“This is a moment of pride for all Europe, which Putin long considered to be completely toothless. He thought that if the US delayed its aid, the EU would also give in to Russia's pressure and abandon Ukraine. ... He miscalculated - just as he always does, by the way. Putin's calculation was quite simple: he saw the heads of government of Hungary and Slovakia, Orbán and Fico, as the players who would put the brakes on all European integration prospects for Ukraine. But what is the outcome of today's summit?”

Bringing war home

Eric Bonse is not convinced on his blog Lost in EUrope:

“Geopolitical reasons are in fact the only reasons in favour of starting accession negotiations. The aim is to give Ukraine hope in its deadlocked military situation and to rescue it politically and economically from the Russian attack. However, there are weighty arguments against this. The first is that one should not negotiate accession with a country that is at war. This applies to the EU just as much as it does to Nato - if not more so. After all, the EU wants to be a union of peace that brings stability and prosperity to the European continent. With Ukraine, however, it is bringing war instead, and unsafe borders and occupied territories to boot.”

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Everyone happy

The pro-government Mandiner attributes the release of EU funds for Hungary to Orbán's clever veto threats:

“Hungary gets the funds it is entitled to, the guarantee of the rights of the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia and the greatest possible distance from a decision that it does not want to support. The leaders of the large EU member states are given the satisfying certainty that they are still sovereign leaders of the EU in its most delicate moments. And Ukraine gets a little vitamin pill of motivation, which it probably desperately needs in view of the current situation on the front line.”

A non-starter without Washington

Support from Brussels alone won't be enough for Ukraine, Denník Postoj reminds readers:

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“Even the good news from the EU can't make up for the shortfall in US military aid to Ukraine. Ukrainian military commanders are now openly saying that if US military aid dries up they will not be able to hold back the Russian troops, who have larger ammunition reserves. If the burden remains solely on the shoulders of European countries, the Kremlin can start popping the champagne.”

Get tough on troublemakers

Brussels needs to take a harder line against Hungary and its veto games, demands Verslo žinios:

“The European lawyers must get active. There are a number of solutions that could be found. Perhaps a country that undermines the common interests of the EU and European security could be denied all payments from the common fund, have its voting or veto rights suspended, be excluded from participating in joint processes and even - as an extreme measure - have its membership suspended. Incidentally, similar clouds are also hovering over Nato. ... If Article 5 had to be activated, we would likely not only have to hear Orbán's 'arguments', but also those of Turkey.”

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