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Is Europe Broken?

The European Council's decision to launch accession talks with Ukraine has met with much fanfare. But not only was it merely a symbolic breakthrough; it also required a payoff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, confirming that there is no accountability for member-state governments that break the rules.

PRINCETON – Last week, in a major political victory for embattled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, the European Council decided to open accession talks with his country. According to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, it was “a day that will remain engraved in the history of our Union.” In fact, the real winner was Hungary’s anti-EU prime minister, Viktor Orbán.

After threatening for weeks to block the decision, Orbán apparently relented by simply leaving the room so that the other leaders could come to an officially unanimous agreement. Not only will he still have plenty of opportunities to sabotage Ukrainian accession in the future, but he also managed to extort EU funds that the European Commission had been withholding over concerns about corruption.

Ironically, that outcome further reinforces arguments against European enlargement. After all, as the Hungarian government has demonstrated for all the world to see, once you are inside the European club, it seems nobody can force you to abide by the club’s rules. The closer that Ukraine gets to joining, the louder will be the chorus reminding us that – contrary to all the treaties and moralistic rhetoric from European elites – there are no real limits on corruption and autocratization within the bloc.