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The future of Europe: lessons from the invasion of Ukraine


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The Conversation

Guillem Ripoll Pascual

Professor teaching assistantDoctor of the Schoolof Economic and Business Sciences

It seems that every time the EU wants to redefine itself as an actor, war appears on the continent. This was the case in the 1990s with the war in the Balkans. The EU was born with the Maastricht Treaty and war made its presence felt.

Today we are immersed in preparations for the lecture on the future of Europe and war has once again appeared on the EU's borders. Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine is what many political scientists call a critical juncture: a turning point event that changes the course of history.

Indeed, it is, along with the 2003 Iraq war, the most recent threat to the founding principles of the United Nations.

The Covid-19 pandemic reminded us that we citizens suffer from historical events and that our margin of action over them is really limited. If we add to this fact the confrontation of values launched by a system in which collectivity overrides any yearning for freedom, it is not surprising that the greatest casualty of the current status is human security and, consequently, human rights.

These are seen by China and Russia as Western and not universal values. In the area of women's rights (e.g. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), we find Russia talking about traditional rights with the will to erase the existence of such rights from the international arena.

However, it should be added that this erosion has been accelerated by Trump's United States, with the partnership of some EU member states such as Hungary and Poland. This begs the question of whether the consequences of the war in Ukraine for the EU go beyond those initially envisaged. Thus, while many simply speak of the EU's emergence as a geopolitical power in the wake of these events, we believe it is necessary to emphasise the following two elements.

Europe's defence

First, the Europe of defence seems to be accelerating. This coincides at a time when the French presidency of committee has as goal to build a sovereign EU in this area. Germany's decision to increase its expense in defence can also be read at core topic internally: to counterbalance France's weight in this area. On this point, it is worth noting that a defence EU is not being built in Westphalian terms. In other words, the EU will not replace the role of the Member States, but will accelerate the transition (already underway) from exclusive competences (in the hands of the Member States) to shared competences (Commission, Parliament and Member States). This means that, within the EU, sovereignty will no longer be the main factor in the governance of national security.

Does Europe protect our values?

The second element focuses on protecting the pillar of our political systems. The EU is, in principle, the standard-bearer for democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Values that it has underpinned through the treaties, with Lisbon as the most recent.

However, before our eyes, and with the blessing of many institutions, different challenges to these values have emerged. The liberal redefinition of the rule of law driven by Hungary and Poland, the so-called refugee crisis in 2015 or the Covid-19 pandemic are clear examples of these trends. The Commission, when it seemed to take such threats seriously, has tended to look the other way.

So what defence of European values can be made outwardly, when internally we have unresolved threats? Fortunately, President Zelenski seems to have awakened the EU from its lethargy. A lethargy that had turned it into a passive and reactive force, oblivious to the need to act to protect its value system.

It will now be necessary to assess to what extent the EU of values exists and to what extent the Commission initiates the application of the protective shield at its disposal (e.g. Next Generation funds and rule of law mechanism).

The emergence of an open international order

Many fear that this conflict will entail the fragmentation final of the international order with the emergence not of a new Cold War, but the emergence of the era of non-peace(unpeace), a systemic rivalry characterised by inherent tensions between liberal democracies and authoritarianism. There are effects to be seen and actions to be taken.

The EU is certainly responding to the crisis. It remains to be seen whether its actions serve to strengthen its position on the international chessboard. However, crises serve, as Jean Monnet said, to advance the idea of Europe. Let us hope that this crisis does so, and that, like the British writer and historian Tony Judt, reference letter , in the future we will not speak of a time that was devoured by locusts.