‘No turning back’: How the Ukraine war has profoundly changed the EU

By | September 30, 2023

Patrick Wintour writes:

“The EU has changed. There is no turning back. We have turned out the lights behind us and there is basically only one way.”

The words of the Danish politician and EU commissioner Margrethe Vestager at a conference in May neatly reflect the mood among the Brussels elite, taken aback at their own ability to shed EU bureaucratic torpor, defend Ukraine, embrace enlargement and move closer to fulfilling Ursula von der Leyen’s ambition for the EU to become a “geopolitical force”.

“Our response to the invasion was by the hour at first, now not to the same degree, but it is absolutely Europe’s top priority and we will stay supportive of Ukraine until the war is won and Ukraine has been rebuilt, and become a member of the European Union,” Vestager continued.

“I think that is the crucial commitment that has been made, and that will be a better union when that is brought about – a more dynamic union and a more united union.”

Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the Russian invasion, Josep Borrell, the EU foreign and security chief, argued the EU had grown up, “making more progress in a week toward the objective of being a global security player than it had in the previous decade”. The example of the brave Ukrainian resistance sprang the EU into a newfound sense of purpose.

“Russia’s war had awakened a slumbering giant,” he claimed. Measures that were unthinkable just a few days earlier, such as barring leading Russian banks from the Swift international financial messaging system and freezing the Russian central bank’s assets, were imposed at an unprecedented pace.

The price of failure was also dauntingly high. Take Jonatan Vseviov, the secretary general in Estonia’s directorate of the ministry of foreign affairs, and one of the key influences on Kaja Kallas, the Estonian prime minister.

“Everything is at stake in this war: each and every one of the core principles of European security have come under attack,” he said.

“They will either be strengthened as a result of this war, or they will be fundamentally weakened. The notions of territorial integrity, sovereignty, the unacceptability of aggression, the illegality of war crimes are being tested right now.

“Furthermore, our own identity as Europeans is being tested. We are being tested, and we will be seen on the world stage through the lens of how we behave today in the context of this conflict.

“Western credibility is at stake, which depends not just on the things that we say, not just the things that we do, but primarily on the results that we get. The results matter. We might as well do the right things and say the right things; if we fail, we fail.”

In an effort not to fail, the EU activated its temporary protection directive for the first time in history, giving more than 5.3 million Ukrainians the right to residence. [Continue reading…]

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