The European Union comes of age during Ukrainian crisis
BarcelonaThere is no doubt that in recent decades the European Union's project has experienced moments of crisis. First there were the failed referendums to approve a European Constitution, then the management of the very serious economic crisis, and finally it was Brexit that turned the EU into what seemed to be a soulless alliance of states, where the right of veto made it near impossible to take important decisions and which seemed to be immersed in a dangerous process of dissolution of its values. But with the pandemic, things began to change, and with the Ukrainian crisis, the EU has reacted in a swift and forceful manner that has surprised most analysts. The European Parliament yesterday warmly applauded the emotional speech by Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenski, as well as those by Council President Charles Michel, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and head of European diplomacy Josep Borrell. The invasion of Ukraine has raised awareness of what it means to be European.
For the first time since its founding, the European Union is facing an enemy with which it shares a border and which may put the security of the continent at risk: Vladimir Putin. And also for the first time, Europeans feel the need to turn what until now was only an economic giant, the EU, into an international actor to be respected. And this means achieving a strategic autonomy and a common foreign and security policy that it has so far lacked in a solvent way. But things are changing very quickly. Germany has decided to break the militaristic taboo and will increase its defence budget to 2% of GDP. The EU as a whole will take advantage of an intergovernmental fund it had for financing peace operations around the world to send arms worth €450m to Ukraine. France's long-held aspiration to have a joint European army, or at least a rapid-action force that would not make it as dependent on NATO as it is now, seems closer today.
Thus, whilst during the pandemic the EU decided to act jointly in the purchase of vaccines and to launch an ambitious economic reconstruction plan, it is now time to go a step further. With the UK out of the EU, it should be easier to move towards a common foreign and defence policy, but also towards strategic autonomy so that Europe does not have to depend, for example, on Russian gas. And just as we have accepted that sanctions against Russia will have a cost for Europeans' pockets (in the form of price increases), we must now be aware that in order to defend the European project it may also be necessary to increase military spending.
This common foreign policy, moreover, must be based on European values and interests, which may not always coincide with those of the United States, whose main focus is now on the Pacific. Europe, in short, must become an adult and understand that its model of freedoms and welfare state faces multiple threats, starting with the most imminent one: Putin's Russia.