Risks and Trends

Risks and Trends: how to stitch the EU back together

Preview 2022-10-18
At the Polityka Insight conference on 24 October, we will discuss how war affects EU cohesion, the balance of power among states, and the EU's global standing.


Is the EU facing a crisis of unity? This will be a key question during the panel entitled "How to stitch the European Union together" at this year's Risks and Trends conference. In the face of war, the EU has decided to take unprecedented steps - it has started financing arms supplies in an ongoing armed conflict, imposed sanctions on Russia and gradually cut economic ties with this key partner. It also maintained its solidarity in opening its borders to the largest number of refugees in its history and, after years of impasse, accelerated the enlargement process. However, the spectre of economic crisis is testing EU solidarity in the face of war. Economic calculation and national interests are playing an increasingly important role in the adoption of successive sanctions packages, and the joint response to the energy crisis is being delayed. The question is: to what extent will the EU remain united in the context of growing economic uncertainty and anxiety of its citizens?

Are we dealing with a crisis of leadership? The invasion of Ukraine exposed the failure of a lenient policy towards Moscow and of strengthening economic interdependence with Russia. It confirmed the validity of the concerns expressed by the Baltic states and Poland, as acknowledged by EurCom President Ursula von der Leyen during her State of the Union address on 14 September, when she stated that "we should have listened to those who know Putin". Russian aggression has not only made Central European countries more assertive, but has also deepened distrust between them and Berlin, which is more lenient towards the Kremlin, and Paris, which seeks dialogue with Moscow. This has sparked debate about the extent to which the Franco-German tandem is able to shape European policy and whether Germany will retain its dominant position among the member states after the Angela Merkel era.

Will the EU reform and expand? Successive crises hitting the Union necessitated a common response, which deepened European integration in, for instance, health, financial management and border protection. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, a recovery fund of unprecedented scale was set up, financed by common loans. Now the key challenge is the war. During the panel, we will consider whether it can provide an impetus for stronger cooperation in the EU or even - as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz wants - shape it along new lines, e.g. by moving from unanimity to qualified majority voting on certain issues. Scholz has made further enlargement of the EU conditional on this reform, which requires the agreement of all capitals. Although the Czech presidency is probing the possibility of a change in voting methods, opposition has already been signalled by, for instance, Poland.

Will it retain its important geopolitical role? In recent years, the Union has strengthened its role in the world by exporting policies in important areas of the global economy, such as climate or digitalisation, and through the rise of the euro as an international currency. The bloc has also begun to develop its assertiveness within the framework of strategic autonomy, which is becoming an important tool for commercial and economic independence from global players such as China. However, the war has highlighted the importance of partnership in the bloc's immediate neighbourhood - the European Political Community, whose first summit took place in Prague on 6 October, is to become such a forum for cooperation with the closest neighbours. It was attended by the United Kingdom, which is loosening its relations with the community following Brexit, Turkey, which is often assertive vis-à-vis the EU, and the Western Balkan and Eastern Partnership countries, some of which are hoping to join.

the panellists

The panel "How to stitch the EU back together" will feature Zaki Laïdi, Senior Advisor to Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Our guest is a professor of international relations at Sciences Po in Paris, and between 2014 and 2016 served as security advisor in the cabinet of Manuel Valls, then French Prime Minister. Jaroslav Kurfürst, the Czech Deputy MinFor, a diplomat with experience in Belgium and the US, will also take part in the conversation. Our guests will also include sociologist Gerald Knaus, founder of the think tank European Stability Initiative (ESI), who has lectured in Ukraine, among other places.

Write to author
Magdalena Cedro
Fmr. Senior Analyst for European Affairs
Magdalena Cedro
PI Alert

EU summit: Member States launch discussion on financing joint defence initiatives

State of play

Leaders approved appointments to top posts. At the EU summit that ended on Thursday night, they nominated Ursula von der Leyen for a second term as head of EurCom, former Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa as head of EurCou and Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as head of EU diplomacy. Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni abstained from voting for von der Leyen and voted against Costa and Kallas. This means that Meloni is preparing for tough negotiations and may demand a high political price in return for his party's support for von der Leyen in her approval in the EurParl. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán voted against von der Leyen and abstained on Kallas.

They adopted the Union's strategic agenda for 2024-2029. Over the next five years, the Union's goals include a successful digital and green transformation by "pragmatically" pursuing the path to climate neutrality by 2050. Another objective is to strengthen the EU's security and defence capabilities.

Von der Leyen spoke of EUR 500 billion for defence over a decade. This was the EurCom estimate of needed EU investment presented by its head at the EurCou meeting. Poland and France were among the countries that expected the EurCom to present possible options for financing defence investments before the summit, such as EU financing of common expenditure from a common borrowing. This idea was strongly opposed by Germany and the Netherlands, among others. In the end, von der Leyen decided to postpone the debate until after the constitution of the new EurCom, i.e. in the autumn. And the summit - after von der Leyen's oral presentation - only launched a preliminary debate on possible joint financing of defence projects.

Poland has submitted two defence projects. These might be co-financed by EU funds. On the eve of the summit, Poland and Greece presented in writing a detailed concept for an air defence system for the Union (Shield and Spear), which Prime Ministers Donald Tusk and Kyriakos Mitostakis had put forward - in a more general form - in May. In addition, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia presented the idea of jointly strengthening the defence infrastructure along the EU's borders with Russia and Belarus. Poland is pushing for the EU to go significantly beyond its current plans to support the defence industry with EU funds and agree to spend money on defence projects similar to the two proposals. But EU states are far from a consensus on the issue.

Zelensky signed a security agreement with the Union. The document, signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky in Brussels, commits all member states and the EU as a whole to "help Ukraine defend itself, resist efforts to destabilise it and deter future acts of aggression". The document recalls the EUR 5 billion the EU intends to allocate for military aid and training in 2024 (in addition to bilateral aid from EU countries to Kyiv). It says that "further comparable annual increases could be envisaged until 2027, based on Ukrainian needs" i.e. it could amount to up to EUR 20 billion. Ukraine's agreement with the EU comes on top of the bilateral security "guarantees" Ukraine has already signed with a dozen countries (including the US, UK, Germany, France, Italy). As Prime Minister Donald Tusk confirmed in Brussels, talks are also underway between Ukraine and Poland on the text of mutual commitments on security issues.

PI Alert

KO wins elections to the European Parliament

KO received 38.2 per cent of the vote and PiS 33.9 per cent, according to an exit poll by IPSOS. Konfederacja came in third with 11.9 per cent, followed by Trzecia Droga with 8.2 per cent, Lewica with 6.6 per cent, Bezpartyjni Samorządowcy with 0.8 per cent and Polexit with 0.3 per cent. According to the exit poll, KO gained 21 seats, PiS 19, Konfederacja 6, Trzecia Droga 4 and Lewica gained 3. The turnout was 39.7 per cent.

According to the European Parliament's first projection, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), which includes, among others, PO and PSL, will remain the largest force with 181 MEPs in the 720-seat Parliament. The centre-left Socialists and Democrats (S&D), whose members include the Polish Lewica, should have 135 seats, whereas the liberal Renew Europe club (including Polska 2050) will have 82 seats. This gives a total of 398 seats to the coalition of these three centrist factions (EPP, S&D and Renew Europe) on which the European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen has relied on so far. The Green faction wins 53 seats according to the same projection, the European Conservatives and Reformists faction (including PiS) 71 seats and the radical right-wing Identity and Democracy 62 seats.