How the Russian invasion renewed the drive for European Integration and Collaboration
On the 24th of February, under President Vladimir Putin, Russia invaded Ukraine in a culmination of a conflict that has been brewing ever since the 2014 annexation of Crimea. This has had a profound impact on Europe and the European Union, as prior to the invasion no one had expected a major war on European soil in the near future. Instead of weakening or dividing the EU over how to deal with the conflict, however, Putin’s invasion has done the opposite–it has led Europeans to focus on renewed European integration and policy commonalities rather than differences, and find new agreements in areas of previous conflict.
Putin seemingly did not anticipate the EU’s united, strong response to his war on Ukraine. President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced that for the first time, the European Union would activate its Temporary Protection Directive, which grants refugees the right to employment, education and health care for up to three years without requiring them to go through the usual asylum or visa processes (Barigazzi, 2022). This ensures that Ukrainian refugees can flee to EU countries without being stopped by bureaucratic processes. Furthermore, the EU has also announced major financial aid packets intended not only for the protection of the civilian population, but also for the purchase of military equipment (European Council, 2022). These measures come on top of the heavy sanctions the EU has already imposed on Russia, such as excluding Russian banks from the SWIFT payment system and freezing the assets of oligarchs (Rankin & Inman, 2022). The perhaps surprising unity of the EU on this matter is exemplified by the fact that Poland, which over the past few months has repeatedly been in conflict with EU leadership in Brussels, is not only unconditionally backing all EU sanctions on Russia, but is one of the leading forces demanding even more sanctions to be put in place (Tilles, 2022; Amaro, 2022). The agreement among EU members regarding both sanctions and military aid highlights that by coming under threat from Russia, there has been a shift in the EU defence and security policy. The common foreign and security policy area has seemingly become a possible site for further European integration; in response to Russian belligerence, national, foreign, and defence policies are showing signs of convergence. Thus the Russian invasion has given the prospect of centralising EU defence policy new steam - which is evident through calls by many members of the European Parliament, even those from parties previously against centralisation, for a “defence union” (European Parliament, 2022).
Another area in which Russia’s aggression has forced the EU to make drastic changes is energy policy. Currently, EU member-states, and particularly its most populous member-state Germany, are highly dependent on Russian natural gas to fulfil their energy demands whilst reducing their use of oil as fuel (Thompson, 2022). Due to the current conflict, the EU has been forced to change course and announced that it would be independent from Russian oil and gas by 2027 (Thompson, 2022). This has major implications for the EU–for one thing, future independence from Russia means the EU no longer has to fear a loss of gas supply if it were to antagonise Russia, and can thus act more freely against the regime. Additionally, this means that the EU will need to find other sources for energy–a process which has already started. For example, Germany has announced that it will build two new LNG terminals, and promised to explore other options in order to quickly become energy independent (Scholz, 2022).
Aside from changes to its energy policies, Germany has also made a myriad of other changes in response to Russia’s aggression. Due to Germany being the most powerful country in the EU, these changes are very significant and can have a profound impact on the policies of the EU as a whole. For example, Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany would raise its defence budget above the NATO requirement of 2%, with an additional 100 billion euro budget for the next fiscal year in order to rebuild the weakened German military (Karnitschnig et al., 2022). Furthermore, Germany has also pledged to deliver 500 anti-air stinger missiles and 1000 anti-tank missiles to Ukraine (Reuters, 2022). This represents a monumental, once-in-a-generation reversal of Germany’s political stance. Previously, Germany had been very reluctant in its military spending, and refused to deliver arms to warzones, a policy that can be traced back to the deep-seated guilt felt by many Germans for the country’s war-crime-riddled past. However, the government has now reverted its stance: as minister for the economy and climate Robert Habeck put it: “We don’t even know who to apologise to first [for past war crimes] … but if we do not do anything now, we load guilt upon ourselves again” (German Ministry for Economy and Climate protection, 2022). It seems likely that this shift will have major implications on both German and EU military and defence policy going forward, as it already has–without German approval, the aforementioned EU military aid would not have been possible.
As a consequence of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the EU’s position as a global power is changing. Its foreign and defensive political playing field has drastically changed, with more centralization and the rise of Germany as a new leading defensive power. What the implications of these changes on the future of the EU will be remains to be seen, but one thing is certain--Putin has, at least temporarily, renewed the movement for European integration and collaboration.
Written by Jonathan von Dürckheim, Amsterdam Chapter of European Horizons
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