EU chairman says bloc already has “strategic partnership” with Ukraine

DUBAI (Reuters) – The European Union already has an association agreement with Ukraine, the bloc’s chairman said on Friday when asked to comment about Hungary’s call to sign a “strategic partnership” with Kyiv before starting membership talks.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban called for the “strategic partnership” instead of allowing Ukraine to advance on its path to an eventual EU membership.

His comments come ahead of a Dec.14-15 summit of EU leaders where unanimity of all the bloc’s 27 member states is needed to agree to start accession negotiations with Ukraine once it meets final conditions.

Orban’s comments threaten to upset that decision and deny Kyiv a coveted prize as the country struggles to push back against a Russian invasion launched in February, 2022.

Asked to comment on Orban’s remarks, the chairman of the EU summits – European Council President Charles Michel – told Reuters on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai:

“We have an association agreement with Ukraine, which offers a lot of possibilities for close cooperation with Ukraine.”

“In December, we’ll have an in-depth debate with the 27 colleagues to assess what decision we’ll make.”

(Reporting by Kate Abnett, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska)