The World This Year

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The World This Year
Russian Invasion on Ukraine: An assessment of its impact upon unity, economy and enlargement of the EU

  Shreya Pandey
Shreya Pandey is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Xavier’s College, Ranchi. Her research interests include EU-India relations, and current trends in international relations.

What happened?
The dictum of the EU of that of “United in Diversity” came into parlance in 2000. It reflects the process of integration of the Europeans under the EU umbrella for the constructive purpose of furthering peace and harmony and simultaneously “being enriched by the continent’s many different cultures, traditions and languages.”

The EU has held onto this belief tenaciously and this was exhibited adequately in their united response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The EU in fact expressed its whole-hearted support for Ukraine in the European Council conclusions of 26-27 October 2023. They termed this misadventure of Russia as a violation of the provisions of the UN Charter. The European Council went on to adopt the twelfth package of sanctions in order to inflict economic losses upon Putin so that it militates against his obduracy to wage war against Ukraine. The EU pledged to “continue to provide strong financial, economic, humanitarian, military and diplomatic support to Ukraine and its people for as long as it takes”.

The Ukraine war proved to be the decisive event which impressed upon the EU to manifest its solidarity in internal and external affairs. The EU did so with aplomb and considerable degree of finesse as it froze a huge sum of Russian economic assets amounting to USD 300 billion. The EU also gave a green signal to eleven comprehensive packages of sanctions against Russia. The EU member-states made a generous donation of USD 93 billion in military and financial aid. They also embarked upon the exceedingly difficult task of reducing their heavy reliance upon Russian oil and gas and opting for renewable energy resources. However, EU unity and solidarity seemed to have diluted in some measure in the second year of the war. And thus, it took quite a bit of an effort on the part of the EU to agree upon the twelfth sanctions package which was finalized on 14 December 2023. The Russian diamond imports was targeted and the pace of implementation of reforms in the light of the war also seemed to have slowed down. For instance, the reliance upon solar and wind power in the EU which had increased by a commendable 20 percent in the first year of the conflict in 2022, witnessed only a 12 percent increase in 2023.

What are the Issues?
Important economic and foreign policy decisions taken by the EU are essentially required to be unanimous in nature. However, we see a huge difference of opinion among the leaders of the EU member-states on extremely pertinent issues. For instance, the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was of the view that EU membership of Ukraine was a remote possibility. However, in stark contrast, Germany had come out in full support of Ukrainian membership of the EU. Ukraine is widely acknowledged to have fulfilled seven key reforms which puts Ukraine on the right trajectory for securing eligibility to kick-start official negotiation for EU membership this month. Robert Fico, who has served as a former Slovak Prime Minister was victorious in the elections owing to his pro-Russian stance. He was very prompt in declaring after a week that the weapon supplies to Ukraine would cease. Geert Wilders, a far-right politician was opposed to directing more EU funds towards Ukraine and consequently enjoyed huge support in the Netherland elections. To make matters worse, the Americans also did not prove to be a strengthening force in 2023. Jens Bastian, currently a fellow with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs explained the American point of view by stating that “The Republicans are effectively pushing the ball indirectly into the camp of the Europeans, telling them, ‘If you don’t put more money or weapons on the table, then we are reluctant to compensate for what you are not doing.”

The acerbic and demoralizing comments and observations were now increasingly making their way and encouraging ballistic assurances of EU watching Ukraine’s back seem to fizzle away owing to the prolonged duration of the war with no end or solution in sight. The EU leaders also seemed to appreciate better that the war effort was considerably expensive and they had to find ways and means of paying and funding the war. Consequently, the European Commission’s overture to take a relook at the EU’s long-term budget and provide assistance amounting to EUR 50 billion through 2027 was not hailed unanimously and it came under sharp attack from several quarters. 

This twist in the tale has not taken place on account of mood swings and flimsy grounds. The change in stance regarding EU’s contribution towards the war-effort is owing to the fact that the European economies are not envisioning a very bright future in the coming years. Germany is largely regarded to be already in recession. The European Commission has forecasted a growth rate of a meagre 0.8  per cent for the entire bloc in 2023 and a wee bit more in 2024. Inflation is sliding down but at a snail’s pace. The interest rates are most likely to be raised in the near future. Business confidence has slumped because of this gloomy scenario. The former European Central Bank’s chief Mario Draghi has been asked to come up with a solution to Europe’s economic woes. 

The European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared Ukraine “one of us” after the Russian attack on Ukraine in February 2022. The fact that the EU has provided more aid to Ukraine in comparison to the United States has held it in good stead, with individual states donating billions of euros more. The EU definitely scores more on this count and should feel elated. However, there is a downside to this fact as well. The Kiel Institute for the World Economy has come out with startling conclusions which state that the EU pledges for aid in August to October 2023 fell by almost 90 per cent compared to the same period in 2023. 

The invasion has revived the EU enlargement process as well and the bloc is trying to address the vacuoles in the geopolitical arrangement of their extended neighborhood. Brussels has been forthright in welcoming Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia who are their neighbors in Eastern Europe. EU has kickstarted accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania and has conferred candidate status upon Bosnia-Herzegovina in western Balkans where Russia and China are most likely to make sinister moves and bring harm to the entire region. EU is also seen to be making concerted efforts towards greater integration by means of investing in the regional energy framework, making the Western Balkans a part of the EU educational initiatives and introducing visa liberalization for Kosovo. However, all the candidate countries will require to bring about large-scale economic and political reforms for acquiring full membership. 

What does it mean for 2024?
The EU has had to contend with a new geopolitical reality which it must strive to deftly deal with in 2024. This will require addressing a whole gamut of issues and effecting change in the desired direction. One of the most important initiatives that EU must take is towards reforming of EU institutions and updating of EU treaties as per the needs of the rapidly changing dynamics of the international economic and political order. The EU shall have to remain firm and not become anxious on the issue of reaching out to Ukraine and sanctioning Russia. The bloc will have to spruce up its defence capability and military strategy. They will have to work diligently towards ensuring energy security and work towards decarbonization. The EU member-states should continue to play the role of being an effective normative power and advance a “heavy digital legislative docket” which shall prove to beneficial not only for the EU but also for the rest of the world.

Thus, the EU surely finds itself in a brand-new setting with old rivalries gaining prominence. The bloc’s re-profiling has not been a matter of choice but a matter of chance. The EU member-states will have to translate the motto of “united in diversity” in letter and spirit in every sphere of policy-making and policy implementation both internally and externally. The Ukraine war has perhaps given the EU the required push, thrust and motivation which was required to get its act together. The EU member-states seem to have not only realized that staying united is the need of the hour but they also seem to approach the EU agenda with a new vigor and utmost seriousness which was conspicuous by its absence in the recent years. The illustration of this trend is the gusto with which the leaders of the member-states are dealing with the upcoming European parliamentary elections next year. The year 2024 is likely to bring more challenges to the table for the EU which shall be dealt with by the bloc collectively by application of new agencies, strategies and techniques. Thus, the deconstruction of the stereotypical EU image has been initiated and the emergence of the EU in its new avatar is bound to be an inevitable occurrence in 2024. 

About the author
Shreya Pandey is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science, Xavier’s College, Ranchi. Her research interests include EU-India relations, and current trends in international relations.

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