Putin’s aggression brings Europe to a moment of transformation

The European Union, NATO and the G7 are in overdrive as the world’s democracies react to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the first full-scale war in Europe since the end of the Second World War. World War. The war dramatically ended the dividends of the 1989 peace, although that peace never extended to the Balkans. It may be rash to conclude that this is a moment of transformation as there is enormous uncertainty and contingency about the outcome of this war.

For my part, I believe this is a moment of transformation with profound implications for Europe’s security architecture, its political economy and the dynamics of European integration itself. The quality of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s leadership, the determination of the Ukrainian army and the dignity and courage of the Ukrainian people have galvanized democracies around the world and reminded us that democracy is precious, fragile and worth living for. to be defended.

Brigid Laffan is Professor Emeritus of the Robert Schuman Center for Advanced Studies at the European University Institute in Florence

It shook Europe out of its complacency and graphically demonstrated that hard geopolitics is back. The EU responded to the invasion with broad and severe sanctions that were quickly intensified and used the Temporary Protection Directive for the first time to facilitate the passage of millions of refugees fleeing the conflict.

Europe’s immediate response is one thing, but what about the longer-term implications? Will the pressure for change and transformation be sustained? Three interconnected policy areas stand out: security, EU enlargement and the political economy of Europe, including energy and climate change.

The EU has struggled to cope with a world of great power competition and cracks in the institutions of global governance. Joseph Borrell, when he took office as High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in 2019, challenged the EU and Member States to become an actor, a geostrategic actor, or good to be a playground for the great world powers. Since his election in 2017, French President Emmanuel Macron has consistently advocated for European sovereignty and strategic autonomy. Macron’s diagnosis was very complimentary, but he struggled to gain traction. That has now changed.



The recent integration of Ukraine and Moldova into the European electricity grid offers a model of gradual but differentiated integration

Putin’s desire to rewrite the European order by force makes it much more likely that Europe will move beyond economics and trade to become a more comprehensive strategic player. In all Member States, especially in Germany, defense spending is increasing. Finland and Sweden are actively discussing NATO membership and Denmark will hold a referendum on its security opt-out. Even in Ireland, which suffers from short-sightedness on everything concerning security, a hesitant debate is opening up. NATO has been invigorated by the war and is strengthening its eastern flank, not an outcome Putin would have liked.

Strategic plan

The EU has just released its Strategic Compass, an action plan that aims to strengthen the bloc as a security and defense provider. The plan aims to complement NATO and that will remain the goal as long as the United States remains resolutely committed to European security. We are likely to see a strengthening of formal and informal ties between the EU and NATO. Both institutions are headquartered in Brussels, after all. The pressures on the EU to become a more robust security and defense actor are structural and will not dissipate.

Since the last enlargement in 2013, when Croatia joined the EU, the phrase “enlargement fatigue” has become commonplace and there was a marked reluctance to make progress on enlargement to the Western Balkans. The war in Ukraine has radically changed the enlargement policy. Ukraine, followed quickly by Moldova and Georgia, has formally applied for membership, with President Zelenskiy demanding accelerated membership. The Versailles European Council clearly stated that “Ukraine belongs to our European family” and the European Commission was invited to prepare an opinion on the candidacy. Opinions on Ukraine’s membership across the EU are divided, with the strongest support coming from Central and Eastern European countries.

I expect that if Ukraine survives the Russian onslaught, it will become a candidate state. Moreover, Ukraine will probably trigger a reassessment of the enlargement process itself. I expect a gradual integration of Ukraine into EU policy-making with intensive support to rebuild and strengthen Ukraine so that its choice for Europe is justified. The recent integration of Ukraine and Moldova into the European electricity grid offers a model of gradual but differentiated integration.

Europe is in the long term because it has to be. War is a driver of change and Europe owes Ukraine a home

There are those like former MEP Andrew Duff who favor developing new forms of membership or affiliation that could accommodate Ukraine or the UK, for example. I doubt that kyiv is in favor of this. Following the trauma of the war, Ukraine will want to regain its place with its partners as a fully-fledged member state. A compromise between EU membership and neutrality could eventually be acceptable to Moscow, although there is no evidence of this yet.

Russian oil and gas

Finally, the war in Ukraine is forcing Europe to face up to its dependence on Russian oil and gas; 40% of Europe’s gas and 25% of its oil are Russian. This poses acute challenges for countries most dependent on Russian energy, but Nord Stream 2, which Germany should never embark on, is complete. The urgent need to reduce energy dependence will accelerate the green transition. The pressure on Europe to cut off all Russian oil and gas will increase if the war drags on or if Russia deploys chemical or biological weapons.

This is the EU’s geopolitical moment. It has already pushed the union and member states further and faster than anyone would have expected in early February. Some doubt the EU’s ability to hold together or maintain its support for Ukraine as the domestic implications of the war are felt. Europe is in the long term because it has to be. War is a driver of change and Europe owes it a home to Ukraine. In the longer term, the question of what to do with Russia will have to be confronted and here a Helsinki 2.0 should be explored, because Russia cannot be isolated forever. But that is entirely up to Russia. Only Russia can save itself.