The war brings out the best and the worst in the EU

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WEST Christians commemorated Saint Benedict of Nursia, co-patron of Europe, on Saturday. His prayers may be needed more than ever as the continent approaches its fifth month of war in Ukraine. The conflict is reshaping European life far beyond the borders of this country.

On a positive note, the crisis has caused EU institutions and member states to work with a speed and unity rarely seen in the bloc’s history. Six rounds of increasingly severe economic and travel sanctions were enacted with remarkable determination, bolstering the EU’s previously lackluster profile as a foreign policy actor.

The exposure of Eastern EU states to potential Russian aggression raises the possibility that the previously symbolic “Defence” and “Solidarity” clauses of EU treaties could be invoked. This would provide a convenient mechanism for neutral EU members to support vulnerable frontline countries (especially Poland and the Baltic states) before or even outside of any NATO membership.

Granting EU candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova on June 23 was deemed impractical only a few months ago. Again, however, the conditions of war stimulated the EU to discover a deeper solidarity, both external and internal, than previously thought.

UKRAINE’s road to effective EU membership could be long. Turkey has been a candidate since 1999. The so-called Western Balkan states (North Macedonia, Montenegro, Albania and Serbia) have been killing time in the EU waiting room for 13 to 18 years each, despite considerable efforts, even sacrificial. to meet EU requirements.

But, while granting full EU membership to Ukraine is not an immediate possibility, given the complexity of the legal procedures, a faster path to membership appears to be a concern for some EU leaders.

“Ukraine is fighting for our values, under the most impossible conditions. . . We must not ignore them,” the President of the European Parliament, Maltese MEP Roberta Metsola, told her fellow lawmakers on April 5.

Ms Metsola’s speech set the tone for the European Parliament’s response to the crisis during deliberations on Ukraine’s EU candidacy. On June 23, an overwhelming number of deputies — 529 out of 588 — voted in favor of the motion (Actualité, July 1). It became effective upon its approval by the European Council on the same day.

That Ukraine might deserve more favorable treatment is, surprisingly, a view expressed not only by Ukrainian and European politicians, but also by aspiring members frustrated by Brussels’ procrastination in their own cases.

“Ukraine deserves special treatment,” Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama told Politico Europe last month ahead of the announcement. Indeed, by undergoing foreign invasion as the price of its attachment to liberal democracy, “Ukraine is doing something for Europe that no one has done”. [done] since World War II. »

AND yet war can bring out the worst, as well as the best, in EU institutions, which seem determined to appease authoritarian strongmen within EU borders. The EU agreed to a sixth round of Russian sanctions on June 2 only at the cost of significant concessions to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán (News, June 10). These allowed him to exploit a “temporary” derogation for Hungary on the indefinite import of Russian oil, and to maintain Patriarch Cyril’s access to the Schengen area, in the name of “freedom of religion”. .

The change in posture of Brussels in the face of the crisis of the rule of law in Poland is alarming. Poland’s strategic position on the border of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and its willingness to absorb refugees have made Brussels reluctant to withhold EU funds which have been withheld due to pressure from Warsaw on national judges and its disregard for the decisions of the European Court of Justice.

On June 2, Commission President Dr Ursula von der Leyen announced in the European Parliament a plan agreed with the Polish government (led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party) to release the 35.4 billion euros suspended from the country because of Covid. The funds, she claimed, would be strictly conditional on improving the rule of law in Poland.

Expert review, however, revealed a different picture. Contrary to the implications of Parliament’s claims, it appeared that money would start flowing to Warsaw before the reform process was completed. This process lacks safeguards against mere “token compliance” – a tactic previously widely used by Hungary to thwart Brussels’ efforts to ensure compliance with EU standards.

The credibility of the plan was further undermined when United Poland (a junior partner in the Law and Justice coalition) released a statement regarding the deal, saying that “we do not feel obligated to implement all of the provisions that it contains”.

Professor Laurent Pesch, from Middlesex University, has delivered a scathing critique of Dr Von der Leyen’s approach. In an article published on the Legal Affairs Portal Verfassungsblogon June 21, he said: “Never underestimate the willingness of the President of the Commission to feign her commitment to the rule of law and the willingness of the Council of the EU to support her in authorizing those who are engaged in its systemic violation.

If the EU survives the military threat posed by Russia from the outside, it can still destroy itself morally from within.

Reverend Alexander Faludy is a freelance journalist. He lives in Budapest and Cambridge.


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