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European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a press conference. Image Credit: AP

London: European Union leaders agreed to open membership talks with Ukraine, in a historic political win for Kyiv as it grapples with uncertainty over future financial aid from the US and Europe.

European Council President Charles Michel announced the move Thursday as EU leaders met for a summit in Brussels.

"A clear signal of hope for their people and for our continent," he wrote in a post on X. He said the bloc also agreed to open accession talks with Moldova and granted candidate status to Georgia.

Up until now, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had opposed opening members talks, saying Ukraine wasn't ready and the topic should be removed from the summit agenda, prompting frustration in other European capitals.

While Kyiv still faces hurdles in clinching funding from both the EU and US, the country's progress on joining the bloc will at least boost morale as it seeks to fight off Russia's invasion.

Failing to open accession talks would have been a severe blow for Ukraine, after it invested so much time, energy and reforms in the process. It also could have damaged the EU's reputation in the country, as the bloc falls short on a key plank of its support.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said earlier this week that of all the issues on the table at the summit, opening accession talks was "the mother of all decisions, the most important decision."

The European Commission, the bloc's executive, formally recommended in November starting the talks with Ukraine, as well as Moldova. At the time, the commission said it would monitor Ukraine and Moldova's progress with the aim of reporting back to member states by March.

The commission said that before negotiations could start, Kyiv would need to enact legislation on minorities and corruption, and to regulate lobbying to bring it in line with European standards, among other steps. Kuleba said of the four laws the EU demanded it introduce by March, Ukraine has already signed three of them into law and the fourth would soon be adopted.

Even with a green light from member states, the negotiations would still take years as the path to membership is lengthy and complicated. Croatia was the last country to join the bloc and its application lasted 10 years before it was formally accepted in 2013.