Ukraine war puts EU ‘at crossroads’ on anniversary

Analysts say the EU still has a long way to go to become a strategically autonomous goliath – Copyright AFP ISAAC LAWRENCE

Marc BURLEIGH

As the EU prepares to celebrate its birthday on Monday, it is transforming into a more muscular global player, a transformation accelerated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“(The) war in Ukraine fundamentally challenges our European peace architecture,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday.

This can be seen in the evolution of the EU.

What began seven decades ago as a trading bloc linking formerly warring nations is now a political juggernaut funneling arms to kyiv and imposing unprecedented sanctions on Russia.

The EU is also challenging an assertive China, and it has learned the bitter lessons of Brexit and four years of Donald Trump in the US.

But analysts say he still has a long way to go to become the strategically autonomous goliath championed by French President Emmanuel Macron, who currently holds the EU presidency.

“Fundamentally, for Europe to turn into a geopolitical player, it requires more than a few political or institutional fixes,” said Luuk van Middelaar, a Dutch political theorist who served in the former European Council president’s cabinet. Herman Van Rumpuy.

The EU has indeed “crossed a Rubicon” by deciding to fund 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) in arms deliveries to Ukraine, he said, a turnaround” striking” of its pacifist history.

Yet it has an ill-defined common strategy vis-à-vis its close neighbours, whether it be Russia or the “grey zone of countries” aspiring to join it, including Ukraine, he said. -he declares.

– “Pragmatic federalism” –

Newly re-elected Macron is expected to pursue his agenda more vigorously, backed by other leaders this week and a bloc-wide citizen consultation for fundamental changes to the EU’s underlying treaties.

The EU needs a “pragmatic federalism” that would see member states lose their ability to veto decisions passed by a super majority, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi told MPs on Tuesday.

If there is a treaty revision, it must be adopted “with courage and confidence”, he said.

Current EU institutions and processes are “inadequate” to deal with the fallout from the war in Ukraine, he added.

Fabian Zuleeg, director of the European Policy Centre, told AFP: “We are at a crossroads, for me that is indisputable.”

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, “everything changed”, he said.

“A lot of taboos have fallen and countries are doing things they never thought they would do,” Zuleeg said.

Not only has the EU’s foreign and security policy been affected, but also its agriculture, migration, industrial policies and other areas, he added.

“We can decide to use this as a moment when the European Union will have the type of decision-making processes, the type of competences, the type of laws that it needs.

“Or we try to go the route of individual countries doing things on their own, which I think is going to fail.”

Treaty change was an option, he said. Another was for EU countries to band together and exclude dissenting member states from their decisions.

Zuleeg said some decisions would still have to be made together, and where that was not possible groups could work in smaller intergovernmental formats.

– Abandon the vetoes? –

The European Parliament has endorsed a rewriting of the Treaties, brandishing more than 300 recommended changes formulated by the citizens’ consultation of the Conference on the Future of Europe, broken down into 49 proposals.

One idea is qualified majority voting put forward by Macron and Draghi to streamline decision-making.

Another is more powers for the European Commission in areas jealously guarded by national governments, such as defence.

EU officials said the list of proposals – which will be formally handed over to Macron on Monday – would be assessed, but it was too early to say whether any of those retained would require a treaty overhaul.

An EU diplomat said: “More than 90% of the proposals can be implemented below the treaty change threshold”.

Other EU countries that support the treaty change are Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Analysts, however, warned that those against – small EU states that would regret losing their veto power – would likely remain silent initially.

If a majority of EU member states decided that a treaty change was necessary, there could be a vote in the European Council which would lead to negotiations.

“We should be able to get a simple majority in the Council for this,” said another European diplomat.

Any resulting text would require ratification or approval by all 27 EU countries.

Attempts have been made before to reform the EU, not always with success.

In 1992, Danish voters rejected the Maastricht Treaty, the founding text of the modern EU, only to approve it a year later after their government negotiated waivers in sensitive policy areas.

In 2005, voters in France and the Netherlands rejected a treaty that would have introduced a formal EU constitution.

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