Russia's war against Ukraine affects all EU policy areas far beyond security and defense policy. Against the backdrop of this year's crises, there are currently more questions than answers. One certainty, however, remains: The EU offers the basis and the necessary strength against all challenges. Provided it remains united and resilient. The EU's current turning point is a process, not a one-off event. Germany's "turning point" is just one example of the changes the EU must undergo to adapt to the new reality.
EU could prove to be a complementary actor to NATO
When it comes to the future of the EU’s foreign, security, and defence policy, the essential question to ask is what kind of “animal” the EU is as a defence actor. The current crisis has reinforced the primacy of NATO for territorial defence in Europe. The EU has, however, a broad set of tools in defence policy and could prove a significant complementary actor to NATO if it seized its potential. The EU could do so by strengthening decision-making structures, for instance with a defence ministers’ council in the EU, and by increasing cooperation in defence procurement. The EU may also provide political capital for cooperation with third countries. It remains to be seen whether these will be focus topics of the European Political Community, which met for the first time on 6 October 2022.
Preventing regression of the rule of law in the EU
In order to be a significant actor in its external relations, the EU needs at the same time to “keep its own house in order”. The EU’s toolbox to safeguard the rule of law has been steadily expanded in the past years. However, all rule of law tools are ineffective without the political will of member states. It is therefore crucial to support local civil society, but also to keep up political pressure. The erosion of democracy in Hungary and Poland is a story of missed opportunity for the EU, as more should have been done to prevent the systematic and apparently irreversible backsliding of the rule of law, especially in Hungary. Germany in particular should have played an essential role in this regard, given the pre-eminence of its industry in these two countries. It seems that economic interests have taken precedence over common values. The conditionality mechanism could prove to be an important instrument to counter violations of the rule of law - at least for net recipients of the EU budget.
Securing the future of the EU’s Economy in times of a polycrisis
In addition to the energy crisis, high inflation, and supply chain pressures, the EU must ensure that any measures taken do not jeopardize the long-term strategic interests in decarbonization. It must also continuously safeguard the single market against external shocks. In the short term, low-income households need to be supported, for example through a SURE 2.0 program at the EU level. Current fiscal rules could be further suspended in light of the current situation, but this does not make them obsolete. In the near future, the EU should also discuss how to ensure sufficient support for Ukraine, for example through a "Next Generation Ukraine" plan.
Financing climate protection measures requires European solidarity
The current energy crisis is at least partly the result of past policy failures. Germany's decision to rely on Russian fossil energy is a clear example in this regard. Germany, Austria and other states should therefore not expect strong European solidarity. Rather, European solidarity is needed to ensure sufficient funding for climate action across the EU. At the same time, the EU should increase its efforts at the global level to ensure climate finance and enable mitigation and adaptation in the Global South. Whether the EU succeeds in shaping global climate policy as a "leadiator" (both as a leader or guide and as a facilitator or mediator) depends on whether EU countries manage to present a united front at the upcoming COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh.
Against the unprecedented times we are living in and the watershed moment Europe is going through, the EU remains the obvious – and only – way for all EU countries to pursue internal and external policy objectives. Exchange with European and trans-Atlantic partners is crucial for the ongoing process of reformulating the EU’s as well as German identity on the international scene. To exit the current poly-crisis, unity and resilience are key concepts to orient German European and EU policy. Only as a united EU can Member States seize their potential and shape global governance at a time when it is more needed than ever.
The IEP Annual Conference 2022 took place on Thursday 29 and Friday 30 September 2022 in Berlin in cooperation with IEP’s Academic Advisory Board. It was kindly supported by the German Federal Foreign Office, the Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values (CERV) Programme of the European Union and the Otto Wolff Foundation.