Against Putin, more Europe
BarcelonaThe European Union is a project that moves forward in the midst of crises. It did so during the pandemic, abolishing taboos such as joint debt issuance and setting aside fiscal rules, and now it is stepping up during the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The Versailles summit leaves two clear messages: on the one hand, Europe needs to strengthen its foreign and security policy; on the other, it must guarantee its energy autonomy. All these ideas have been on the table for some time and are part of what is called the European strategic compass, but it is only now, when we are seeing tanks and bombing raids on European territory on a scale not seen since the Second World War, that European leaders are getting down to work.
We are only at the beginning of a process that should turn the European Union, which is an economic giant but a geostrategic dwarf, into a world power with its own diplomatic agenda and deterrent power. The alliance with the United States through NATO has been useful in recent decades, but in some ways it meant subletting our own security policy to a third party, with all that this entails. This has also allowed Europeans to cut military spending very significantly, and now, according to the latest available data, it stands at around 1.3% of GDP (Russia's is 4.2% and the United States' 3.7%). Experts say that, rather than increasing spending, which would also be required, what is crucial is to coordinate European armies more effectively. It makes no sense to have 27 different defence budgets.
As for strategic autonomy, Europe's great Achilles heel, a transitional plan must be drawn up as quickly as possible to enable Eastern European countries and Germany to do without Russian gas. Norway, for example, had decided to close its gas fields, but is now considering reopening them. Perhaps we should also look to Algeria and revive the project for a gas pipeline connecting the Iberian peninsula with France via Catalonia. Even so, true energy autonomy will only come through renewable energies, and therefore, in parallel, the energy transition will have to be accelerated. And, of course, the necessary measures must be taken to ensure that rising electricity and gas prices do not strangle the economy.
Finally, the EU-27 have also closed the door on Ukraine's immediate accession to the European Union. This is a reasonable decision considering that this country, although it is currently suffering unjustifiable aggression, is far from meeting European standards. What is needed is to deepen relations within the framework of what is called the "Eastern partnership" and to help the country as much as possible, both in resisting the invasion and by welcoming refugees.
In short, Europe is obliged to take steps that it would certainly not take under normal circumstances, but which are essential if it wants to play a role in this unstable and uncertain world order that characterises the first quarter of the 21st century. And if against the pandemic the way forward was more Europe, so was it against Putin.