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.


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.

Write to author
Maria Wiśniewska
Analyst for European Affairs
Maria Wiśniewska
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.