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[Editorial] A year of war in Ukraine. A paradigm shift for Europe

(B2) For a year, the Russian war in Ukraine has already shaken up European politics. A development which will continue over the coming years and could lead to transforming the current Union in a major and structural way. Some food for thought.

Kyiv © NGV / B2
  • At a time when everyone is looking at the immediate consequences of the war on the ground or on the economy, we must look a little further. For almost 15 years, B2 has chosen to focus its attention on defense and geopolitics. At the time, we were viewed a little with pity by defense specialists (focused on their nation) as well as by Europeans (focused on the “real” areas of European competence). Today is very different...

A question in all areas

The subject “Ukraine” is systematically placed on the agenda of meetings of foreign ministers and heads of state and government. But the question is transversal. Today, in the Council of the EU, there is not a single sector, not a single one of some 150 working groups, even those furthest from foreign policy, which does not have the Ukraine question on its agenda. Whether it is telecoms (with the extension of roaming to Ukrainians), culture (with the question of the protection of cultural heritage or artists in danger), economy and finance (for questions of macro-financial loans) or transport (with the extension of trans networks -Europeans in Ukraine and Moldova), all European experts must deal with the Ukraine question whether it is an action on site or in relation to the war or its internal consequences.

European political defense

Defense is becoming, willingly or by force, a mixed European policy (both community and intergovernmental). Without a change of line in the Treaty. Which is, in itself, hardly trivial in European history. Even the question of establishing at European level a purchasing center and financing for sending ammunition to Ukraine, on a massive scale, and replenishing ammunition stocks, is today being addressed head on (read: [Confidential] Ammunition. Looking for a practical and concrete solution by the end of March?).

No question is more taboo

The principle is no longer to shelter behind a legal or financial impossibility (as in the 2010s when all the arguments were good for not intervening). The principle becomes: how to do it, bypassing existing obstacles, to do it anyway. The time has come pragmatism recently summed up an ambassador. With reason. The terms “European sovereignty” or “strategic autonomy” which previously sparked epic battles are accepted. The question becomes: how do we apply these terms concretely?

An ideological convergence

Even if some personal rivalries may arise, between the liberal Belgian Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, the German Christian Democrat Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, the liberal French Thierry Breton, the European commissioner responsible for Industry and Defense, and the Spanish socialist Josep Borrell, the head of European diplomacy, the "heart" of Europe converges on one point: defense is essential, European strategic autonomy and sovereignty must be reinforced. At Member State level, the differences are deeper, but this objective is fairly shared. The nuances mainly come from putting it into practice.

A budget at 2%

Defense, previously considered a European “non-policy”, represents around 2% of the European budget (€25 billion) over the multi-annual period 2021-2027 according to our calculations (1). Or quite simply the objective defined by NATO for the expenditure of its member states (read: What a spending target for NATO Allies. The debate has begun). And if you add the other sovereign tasks (foreign policy, enlargement, security, borders, migration, etc.), this represents 13% of the European budget (nearly 160 billion euros) (2).

... growing exponentially

And this budget is growing. Without much difficulty (because a few months of debate on a European scale are not that important), the 27 decided in December to add two billion straight away to the European Peace Facility, and another potential 3,5 billion ( read : [Alert] Ceiling increase approved). The European Commission scraped the funds to allocate 500 million euros more to a new defense fund (intended for joint acquisitions, EDIRPA). And another fund (EDIP) must see the light of day which has not yet been financed. For the next budgetary framework 2028-2035, these amounts will not decrease beforehand, but rather increase. This means that other policies (agricultural or regional) will be taxed. Unless you find new resources... Which is far from obvious.

A changing Europe

The status of candidate country granted to Ukraine (and Moldova) in record time should not create any illusions either. Even if it is a very political gesture - showing European solidarity - the mechanism of enlargement of the European Union has resumed quickly. kyiv and Chisinau, the two capitals concerned, have taken the problem head on. And with the enthusiasm of neophytes, they are throwing themselves headlong into bringing their legislation into compliance with European standards. In the midst of conflict, the Ukrainian government and the Rada (the national parliament) therefore adopt law after law. Including on subjects very far removed from the conflict (e.g. on the recognition of civil and commercial judgments). So much so that the objective set by Ukrainian President V. Zelensky to see accession negotiations open by the end of 2023 (read: [Story] Zelenksy in Brussels: a successful one-man show?), or early 2024, is no longer entirely utopian.

…towards a Europe of 35 or 36 members?

In addition, discreet negotiations are underway between Belgrade and Pristina, aimed at normalizing relations between the two capitals, and therefore between the two countries (read: [Exclusive] The ten key points of the normalization agreement between Belgrade and Pristina presented to the 27). If they succeed, Serbia's path to membership no longer has any major political obstacles. Nine countries are in the European waiting room. And some are determined to return. Europe at 35-36 is therefore no longer a theory. But a possibility for which the “old” European countries must prepare. The European Union is changing its nature and therefore its functioning.

Conclusion: a Europe in transformation

For the second time in its short history, European integration does not really know where it is going. But she's going. Like Europe in 2004 (after the big bang of enlargement to the East) no longer quite resembled the Europe of 1989, the Union of 2035 will therefore not quite be that of 2020. We are betting on this: the European transformation in progress n is neither minor nor cyclical. All policies will be impacted tomorrow by these changes.

The world is also evolving at high speed, with the reconstitution of a Non-Aligned bloc (the global south), a questioned multilateralism. " We enter a new world confided to me an ambassador recently.

Anyone who claims to follow European affairs today, without taking a look at these major developments in defense and diplomacy, is committing a singular error. It's like sailing in the middle of a storm, without a sextant or GPS and without ensuring life jackets... Designed to provide reading keys, information tools, B2 will continue to support this development. By also evolving and transforming in its own way.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

Read also: [Analysis] These ten months that have changed European defence. Without his knowledge, of his own free will

  1. Included are the defense fund, military mobility, the CFSP budget (essentially CSDP missions) coming from the community budget and the European Peace Facility (with the ceiling increases decided in December) which is outside the budget but funded by a compulsory budget of the Member States. This does not include either the future EDIP nor the expenditure for the various EU military structures (general staff, defense agency, satellite center etc.) which exceeds €80 million per year (i.e. half a billion on the period).
  2. This covers internal security, borders, foreign policy including enlargement, civil protection, etc. Other civil but dual-use budgets are not included, such as Horizon 2020 (Research), ITER (nuclear research), or support for the Turkish Cypriot community (which depends on the Regions budget) etc.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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