Risks and Trends

Is reform and enlargement of the EU possible amidst war

Takeaway 2022-10-25
Participants of the panel "How to stitch the EU back together" agreed that there is no chance of a rapid and complete enlargement of the community to include new countries. They warned of a refugee crisis.

Takaway

The panellists talked about how to stitch the EU back together. Polityka Insight Senior European Affairs Analyst Magdalena Cedro moderated the debate with the head of the European Stability Initiative Gerald Knaus, the Director of the Warsaw office of the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank Piotr Buras, and the Director of the Polish Economic Institute Piotr Arak. The panellists discussed how the war affects EU cohesion, the balance of power between states, and the Union's global standing.

They discussed the EU's response to the war in Ukraine. Buras acknowledged that the Union has managed to remain united in the face of the Russian invasion and successfully imposed sanctions. But he pointed out that financial support for Ukraine was insufficient, and this poses a growing problem in transatlantic relations. He also noted that tackling the crisis is not only the task of the EU institutions, but also depends on the initiative of the member states. According to Buras and Arak, maintaining public support for helping Ukraine in the EU depends on the scale of the winter energy crisis, as well as the efficiency of managing another potential refugee crisis.

On unprecedented immigration to the EU. Knaus pointed out that the arrival of refugees from Ukraine, the largest migration in Europe since the Second World War, is not being effectively managed by the Union. In his view, compulsory relocation - a proposal opposed by Warsaw - is unenforceable, but a laissez-faire approach is also ineffective. It leads to a situation in which very unequal numbers of refugees arrive in individual member states. The solution, however, does not lie at the national level, but with civil society and, for instance, cooperation between cities. During the debate involving the audience, Jolanta Szymańska from PISM recalled in this context the EU solidarity platform, created after the outbreak of the war, to enable member states to exchange information on their capacity to take in refugees. Szymańska also said that the arrival of Ukrainian refugees cannot be called a "crisis"; on the contrary, their arrival helps to solve the EU's problems in the labour market.

On the threat posed by China. When asked how to make the Union independent from Chinese imports of rare earth elements, Arak replied that Europe's primary objective should be to prevent an invasion of Taiwan. Potential aggression would present Europe with the dilemma of whether to cut or maintain trade ties with China. During the pandemic crisis, however, the EU and the US became aware of the scale of supply chain dependence on third countries. Arak argued that the Union is developing tools allowing the community to build capacity in strategic sectors and diversify suppliers. Here he mentioned, for instance, the EU Chips Act, which will strengthen Europe's chip manufacturing infrastructure, and trade agreements with new partners (e.g. ASEAN countries, India). He also referred to the economic sanctions imposed by the US on 14 October 2022, which will hit the Chinese technology sector. Arak pointed out that the EU could tap into the workforce and natural resources from Central Europe.

On the enlargement of the community. The panellists noted that despite the progress of the enlargement policy, there is no consensus within the EU when it comes to welcoming new countries into the community, especially in Western capitals. Arak noted that there are alternative partnership formulas that would allow Ukraine to become part of the West, such as OECD membership. Buras pointed out that the Union is ready to welcome Ukraine into the common market and disburse funds to it, but not to integrate Kyiv into EU institutions. Knaus said that the EU should create a new vision for enlargement policy, as the current procedures take many years and do not translate into political decisions. He suggested that candidate countries should be offered inclusion in the common market, but not unconditionally. Instead, this offer should be made once reforms such as the rule of law have been implemented.

On the reform of the Union. Cedro said that the war had revived discussions on moving from unanimity to qualified majority voting in the EU. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has made the bloc's enlargement conditional on such a reform, alluding to French President Emmanuel Macron's vision. The EU's eastern member states, led by Poland and Hungary, are opposed to the reform. Buras said that changing the treaties is not possible now, but the Union can be improved, for instance by creating so-called coalitions of the willing. In his view, the EU already works outside the treaties in everyday life. He also described the discussion on reform as disingenuous, as there is no consensus on enlargement in the Union anyway.

The partners of the Risks and Trends 2022 conference are Amazon, Deloitte, Żywiec Group, IKEA, Janssen, KGHM, Żabka Group, European Council on Foreign Relations, and Clean Air Fund.

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Maria Wiśniewska
Analyst for European Affairs
Maria Wiśniewska
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