The Security Situation in Europe

Published on 22nd February 2022

Allow me to recall the EU's position on the current crisis around Ukraine and Russia, along with a few additional comments.

We, Europeans, are fully united. Within the EU and with our transatlantic allies and with our strategic partners, such as Japan, for instance. This is the paradox of the Kremlin's actions. They hoped to sow division, to weaken our Alliance, to divide us. In fact, they have done exactly the opposite. Our unity has been cemented, both within the EU and across the Atlantic. This was crystal clear during our last informal European Council meeting two days ago in Brussels, and in the last phone call together with Joe Biden and other transatlantic leaders on Friday evening.

Of course, the big question remains: does the Kremlin want dialogue? A few days ago, their words offered a very small ray of hope. But their actions take the form of continued military build-up, with serious incidents in Donbas, including today.

We cannot forever offer an olive branch while Russia conducts missile tests and continues to amass troops. One thing is certain: if there is further military aggression, we will react with massive sanctions. The cost for Russia must be, and will be, severe. But let's be frank, it will also be a cost for us, in Europe.

We staunchly support Ukraine, its sovereignty, its territorial integrity and its democracy. The people of Ukraine made the free choice of democratic values, rule of law and reform, and this has great value. But this democratic choice is perceived by the Kremlin as an existential threat due to its potential spill-over effect in the entire region. The Russian goal of weakening Western and European support for Ukraine is a miscalculation because it only galvanises our resolve.

In the very short term we have decided to mobilise €1.2 billion of macro-financial assistance to Ukraine, and I have proposed to launch an international donors conference in order to shore up the macro-economic stability of Ukraine and to support their economic reforms. But in my opinion we should also deepen the political and economic rapprochement with Ukraine, together with the European Union.

The EU on the global stage

The EU is a much more powerful global actor than we think. Our strength is anchored in our prosperity, our economic power and our capacity to use it in order to influence the world.

In the last two years we have taken major decisions to reinforce our global position. The EU is one of the three major economies and trading blocs in the world and during the pandemic we have taken critical decisions to reinforce our position. To shore up our economies we took a historic leap, adopting a massive recovery plan financed by common borrowing. In my view, one of the most important decisions the EU has taken in the last decade is this budgetary and recovery funds decision: politically, economically, but also geopolitically.

We also took decisive action on COVID vaccines and we are the global leader in the cutting-edge mRNA technology. We also became the number one exporter of doses, while managing to import ingredients from several dozen countries.

There is something else that is very important: our regulatory power, often called the 'Brussels effect'. Our standards, inspired by our European values, tend to become global standards. And this is true in many sectors. For instance, in the chemicals sector our standards have become global standards. In the digital field, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) had a similar effect, and we are working on our Digital Services Act and our Digital Markets Act.

The EU is also – we shouldn't forget it – a global trading power and a partner everyone wants to trade with. Our trade deals strengthen our economic base and are underpinned by our fundamental values.

In 2019 we took a fundamental decision when we decided to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. This put us at the forefront of global climate action and climate diplomacy, and others followed. We are also the first major bloc to put forward a concrete plan to reach climate neutrality – this is called 'Fit for 55'.

We are also trying to be very active in our neighbourhood. Last year, with Western Balkan partners, we reaffirmed our commitment to the enlargement process and decided to adopt a €30 billion investment package for the region. And we further committed to our Eastern Partnership, both politically and financially.

A few days ago we hosted our EU-African Union summit in Brussels. This was a major event for our two continents. We agreed to renew our strategic partnership, in a new spirit of mutual respect and shared values. Because there is something that is crucial: Africa's stability and prosperity is in Europe's strategic interest. We are changing how we work with Africa, to try to build together a new paradigm, and mobilising public and private investment to support Africa's development in key sectors such as infrastructure, green and energy technologies, digital and health. We are renewing our strategic partnership and making a positive proposal to Africa, as China and Russia compete with their own proposals and vision. But I am convinced that our EU principles of transparency, accountability and governance offer the best guarantees to our African partners.

To exert greater influence, we need to be less dependent. The pandemic has shed light on our strategic dependencies, which is why Commissioner Thierry Breton has just set out a plan to boost EU production of microchips, for instance, and reduce our dependency on foreign suppliers. But we are also over-dependent in another area: hydrocarbons. Our climate strategy is precisely to depart from fossil fuels, but managing this transition will be a challenge, a difficult one, from both a competition and a geopolitical point of view.

The EU has a powerful hand to play across our external relations: in trade, development, competition, regulation and migration, for instance. Not to mention our common foreign and security policy. We have the tools to be effective and the means to act, but too often, let's recognise, we act with a silo mentality. In my opinion we need to be much more coherent. By linking our policies and tools, and working more closely across sectors, we can and will maximise our impact and achieve our strategic objectives.

Much has been said in recent months on the security dimension of the EU's strategic sovereignty, and the current crisis with Russia has only confirmed what many EU leaders have been saying. First, that NATO is the backbone of Europe's defence and Russia's attempt to divide has only reinforced the unity of the Alliance. Second, strong partners make strong allies. That is why the EU and its member states are trying to strengthen our capabilities. We are now in the process of agreeing our European Strategic Compass proposed by the High Representative and in March we will have an important summit in Brussels on this important question. We are also preparing a new EU-NATO statement that should be adopted very soon.

By Charles Michel

President of the European Council.

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