“Never again” is still the very essence of the EU
“War is the most important thing in the world. When the stakes are down, it rules the existence of every country, government and individual. That is why, although it only occurs once every 100 years, she must be prepared for each day.When the bodies lie cold and stiff and the survivors cry over them, those responsible have failed in their duty.
These are the opening sentences of More on War, a book by Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld.
This sums up why many Europeans are so shocked by Vladimir Putin’s brutal war in Ukraine.
Each bomb that hits a crèche, a building or a town hall conveys the message: for decades, we lived under the illusion that if we did not prepare for war, we would be rid of it forever. Now that turns out not to be the case.
This sudden awareness will change Europe. We are already seeing the first signs of this change.
We are not at war, although that could change at any time. Yet many of us Europeans feel that the Ukrainians are waging our war. In recent years, Ukraine has gradually turned away from Russia and moved closer to the EU and NATO.
Putin complains that the EU and NATO have eagerly drawn former Soviet countries and satellites to their side since the mid-1990s, but the truth is more complex: the two organizations have been ambivalent about enlargement for years.
Initially, we welcomed many countries from the former Eastern bloc, not out of enthusiasm, but because we couldn’t really say no.
The collapse of the Soviet Union caused chaos in countries formerly behind the Iron Curtain. Entire state structures collapsed. Without the prospect of future membership, a dangerous and destabilizing situation could have arisen on our borders.
Moreover, these countries knocked on the doors of Brussels of their own free will. They wanted to join the club of free and democratic countries and worked hard to meet all the requirements – how could we have left them out in the cold?
The EU and NATO believe that sovereign countries make their own decisions, including on their strategic alliances.
In recent years, the enlargement process has been bogged down by a certain fatigue on the European side, and by questions as to whether this or that new member was ready for membership.
As a result, Western Balkan membership stagnated.
As for Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, we were even more cautious than with Poland, Hungary and others, because Moscow opposed them and because of the way Moscow is opposed, namely by occupying parts of their territories.
The EU granted Ukraine an association agreement, so that it could enter the internal market and travel without a visa, but, above all, the EU and NATO refused to consider membership.
Former NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently said: “Everyone knows – including Putin – that in the foreseeable and unforeseeable future Ukraine will not become a member of NATO. It is already a buffer country. This is something you will never hear NATO boss. Jens Stoltenberg says his position doesn’t allow it, but I can say that now.”
For Putin, that was not enough.
He demanded that Ukraine itself renounce its membership offers. Kyiv refused. Was it reckless? Could such a revocation have avoided the war? May be. But sovereign countries have the right under international law to choose their own destiny. To deny Ukraine this right would go against everything that Europe stands for.
Even Russia recognized Ukraine as a sovereign country in 1994, with inviolable borders. In return, Ukraine got rid of its nuclear arsenal.
So, yes: Ukraine is waging Europe’s war, and Europe cannot help defend Ukraine for fear of starting a major, potentially nuclear war between Russia and NATO. And that’s why this war is on the nerves of Europe.
“Never again”, the raison d’être of Europe, is directly at stake.
War and peace. Then war again
Since February 24, no one can say that Europe needs a new narrative because the younger generations do not know war and cannot see Europe as a peace project. This war confirms that European integration is still, in essence, a matter of war and peace.
This is why European leaders are acting so quickly these days.
The euro crisis or the pandemic have already shown that they can rise to any occasion. This time they are stepping up a gear, proving once again that the EU depends on the political will of member states – without the need for treaty changes.
A few days after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU – which normally sends observers, special envoys and humanitarian aid to conflict zones – invoked a new peace facility to finance the purchase of weapons.
Germany has doubled its defense budget for this year and decided to supply arms to Ukraine. Denmark, which has an opt-out on European defence, will organize a referendum to reverse this trend.
Even Austria is finally distancing itself from Russia.
In the draft conclusions of this week’s Versailles summit, EU leaders say “Russia’s war of aggression constitutes a tectonic shift in European history”.
“When the crisis is over,” former UK Europe minister Denis McShane wrote for EUobserver, “Brussels should erect a statue to Vladimir Putin as the man who woke Europe up. a long sleep as its leaders decided to accept the responsibilities they had long shunned.
The date of February 24 was a turning point, comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. With one major difference: at the time, many were happy and relieved, except for a certain Mr. Putin. Now anxiety reigns. Some even fear Armageddon.
This is why Europe is acting quickly, closing airspace to Russian flights, seizing Russian yachts, freezing bank accounts and granting legal status to refugees.
In some meetings in Brussels, Hungary and Poland suddenly stopped obstructing. Some two million people have already fled Ukraine.
In 2015, with the arrival of one million Syrians, Europe was in political turmoil. Now a Polish minister proudly takes his French and German colleagues to the border to show thousands of citizens spontaneously welcoming refugees.
War dominates decision-making in Brussels. President Volodomyr Zelensky’s application for EU membership, signed in a sandbagged palace, is likely to give European enlargement policy a boost.
And not just for Ukraine. Georgia and Moldova (which have been on Putin’s blacklist for two decades) have also applied. A week ago, only Poland advocated its membership. Now it’s on the ambassadors’ agenda.
Once again, state aid rules are going to be changed: European economies are going to suffer from this war and governments want to be able to support businesses and households. Under these conditions, budget deficits will be tolerated. The ministers are discuss the use of Eurobondsas they have done during the pandemic: joint borrowing to enable investments in defense, energy and food independence of member states.
What would also be wise in the rush to build European defences, is that these intergovernmental arrangements, however laudable and urgent they may be, rest on a more solid European base.
The European Parliament must have its say. Accountability, largely absent when national leaders chatter behind closed doors in Brussels or Versailles, must be taken seriously.
Leon Trotsky once said, “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.
The desire to prevent war is at the origin of European integration. And this is still what propels him forward.