The War In Ukraine Transforms The EU

Crises are usually moments of social transformation. For better or worse, the realities that emerge after a crisis are different from those that existed before entering them. Ten days ago, when the European Union approved the first package of sanctions against Russia, when it was only a response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s recognition of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, the 27 were able to make decisions in record time , for European standards in foreign policy, whose competences reside in the States.

But the sanctions followed the usual pattern in Brussels: a list of leaders whose borders were closed and their assets, if they had any, within the EU, were blocked. It was a measure very much from the Brussels manual, even though it was taken in 48 hours and, furthermore, with the acquiescence of the 27, the same 27 that in the recent past took months to approve sanctions against Belarus, for example.

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On the same night that the sanctions were published in the Official Gazette of the EU, Putin decides to attack Ukraine. And then everything begins to speed up and decisions begin to be made, not only faster than ever, but with an unprecedented depth within the European Union at a time, furthermore, when a Conference on the Future of Europe is underway that it is going to be overwhelmed by the decisions that the EU leaders are taking.

And these decisions, which are taken day by day and unanimously, mutate into a European Union that is often resistant to change.

Options that were not even on the table

On Thursday the 24th, when the heads of state and government meet in Brussels, hours after the beginning of the invasion and while the Russian troops advanced towards Kiev, it was not even on the table to sanction Vladimir Putin, nor his head of the diplomacy, Sergei Lavrov, and there was also no agreement on disengaging any Russian entity from the Swift payment transfer system, for example.

But that changed in a matter of hours. And last weekend sanctions were already approved against Putin, against Lavrov, seven banks were unhooked from Swift and it was agreed to freeze the assets of the Central Bank of Russia. What’s more, more key measures were announced last weekend: that the EU will send weapons to Ukraine, that RT and Sputnik broadcasts will be blocked and that borders will be opened for refugees.

For the first time in history, the European Union, born from the ashes of the Second World War, conceived as a space for reconciliation between two eternal enemies, such as France and Germany, agrees to provide weapons to Ukraine, which, de facto, implies the EU in the conflict, apart from the open debate on the effectiveness or not of the measure and its repercussions. “We are in a war,” acknowledged the head of European diplomacy, Josep Borrell, last Monday.

In his speech before the European Parliament this week, Borrell explained the decision-making process that has changed the EU in a few hours; an EU that in the weeks prior to the Russian invasion was not summoned to the negotiations between the US and Russia.

“Last Saturday, after having held another Foreign Affairs Council and attending the debate in the Council of the European Union, I was speaking with you, President [del Consejo Europeo, Charles] Michel, and he said to me: ‘Are we doing everything we can? Is there anything else we can do? It’s enough? Are we so powerless?’ And you told me: ‘Think, do, act. We have to put pressure on the Member States to take decisions on Swift and get Russia out of the financial system. Think about how we can arm Ukraine. Not country by country, one after another in an uncoordinated way.’ And he encouraged me to talk to the Member States again, and within a few hours we agreed to use this European Peace Fund to provide financial assistance and coordinate the Member States to arm the Ukrainian army and people. In less than 24 hours, another taboo had fallen.”

Another taboo had fallen, in 24 hours

The EU took years to agree on a single currency; and the EU was unable to mutualize debt in the financial crisis of 2008, marked by cuts and the men in black. But in this crisis, the EU has been able to agree to buy vaccines jointly, issue common debt to support a recovery fund of 750,000 million euros; launch the ECB with an asset purchase program of 1.8 trillion euros immediately and suspend the Stability and Growth Pact to keep the public spending tap open.

And the EU, which since its foundations has walked under the umbrella of NATO, which had a Western European Organization that ended up dissolving without having developed in six decades of life, which two decades ago announced in Helsinki the creation of a common Army of 50,000 soldiers that never saw the light; and an EU that, after the fall of Kabul and the fiasco in Afghanistan, announced its intention to create a rapid intervention force of 5,000 soldiers within a strategic compass designed by Borrell that has been under discussion for months and that in the present context seems to be supported by the 27.

“The forces of evil, the forces that strive to continue using physical violence as a way to resolve conflicts, are still alive and against them we have to demonstrate a much more powerful, much more consistent and much more united capacity for action than the we’ve been able to do so far,” said Borrell.

milestone for refugees

Parallel to that speech hard power de Borrell in the European Parliament, the European Commission was preparing its proposal to activate, for the first time since its approval two decades ago, the temporary protection directive. It has not been activated in the past either with the refugees from the Syrian war or after the fall of Kabul this summer. But now it has been agreed within a week to start the bombing. For the first time, Europe opens its doors to those fleeing war and offers them temporary protection. That is, house, food, health, education, residence and work permit.

The world today is not what it was ten days ago. And neither is the European Union, which is being transformed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This is how Borrell put it before the European Parliament: “When a powerful aggressor attacks a much weaker neighbor without justification, no one can invoke the peaceful resolution of conflicts. No one can put the attacked and the victim on the same footing. aggressor. And we will remember those who are not by our side at this solemn moment”.

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