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The role of the Russian-Ukrainian war in renewing EU-third country relations

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The role of the Russian-Ukrainian war in renewing EU-third country relations

L’Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2014 and the large-scale invasion from 2022, alongside other developments in and around Europe, have again raised the fundamental question of the interests and values ​​that European nations should share. The extraordinary events following the annexation of Crimea by Russia ten years ago and, above all, the start of the large-scale war two years ago, have altered the political priorities of both the EU and its member stateson the one hand, are gods European countries outside the EU, including Turkey, on the other. In light of these events and the ongoing debate on Eastern Europe, the impending change in the composition and restructuring of the main EU institutions in 2024-2025 has taken on new dimensions.

In previous EU parliaments, commissions and councils, the main debates and political decisions focused on speed and direction of progress of European integration, conceived as a regulatory and economic project. Currently, the stakes for answering these questions have significantly increased, moving into the sphere of international security. What practical implications and repercussions should the EU address in response to the new military, geopolitical and geoeconomic situation in Europe? This is the challenge for Brussels today and in the years to come.

Already different transnational structures they bind together EU member states and third countries in Europe. These include, on the one hand, older institutions such as the Council of Europe (CoE), the OSCE, the EEA or the EU-Turkey Customs Union and, on the other hand, more recent innovations such as the Black Sea Synergy , the Eastern Partnership Program (EAP) or the Lublin Triangle. In the past, Russia was part of the Council of Europe, while, still today, it is part of the OSCE. However, the presence of these facilities was not sufficient to prevent the dramatic escalation of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2022. A similar dynamic was manifested in the recent military clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan – countries participating in the CoE, the OSCE and to the PO.

Relations between the EU and European countries outside the Union

Recent and decisive developments in Europe highlight the need for a substantial change in relations between the EU and European countries outside the Union, and this for two fundamental reasons. First, Brussels’ approaches and initiatives have proven insufficient in mitigating or countering the tensions in Eastern Europe that led to the war. In 2022 it was, and continues to be, necessary to re-examine these approaches and initiatives, in light of their clear failure to ensure peace in Europe. Second, the ongoing war and its multiple global repercussions require new perspectives and actions, aimed at preserving the integrity of the Ukrainian state and protecting the European security order from destruction. In this sense, a profound rethinking and at least partial reconfiguration of previous EU policies towards third countries are already underway, especially in Europe.

The most significant change in the last two years has been the rise ofUkraine and of Moldaviain 2022, and of Georgia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, in 2023, as official candidates for the full membership of the EU. While the Western Balkan countries have had a prospect of EU membership for more than 20 years, the fate of the association trio – Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia – remained uncertain after the launch of the Eastern Partnership Program (EAP) in 2009. Only following Russia’s aggression and Ukraine’s request for membership in the spring of 2022 did the European Commission take the initiative to persuade Member States to review their attitude not only towards Kyiv, but also of Chisinau and Tbilisi. At the end of 2023, the European Council approved the start of accession negotiations with Ukraine and Moldova and accepted Georgia as an EU candidate country. In this way, Brussels has finally clarified the hitherto overlooked objective of the three broad association agreements and related DCFTAs concluded with these three countries in 2014.

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A significant institutional change in response to Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 is the creation of the European political community, an initiative symbolically launched by French President Emmanuel Macron on 9 May 2022. Overall, 47 states, including Turkey, have joined the EPC, thus outlining a new European framework for consultations and for strengthening the EU’s relations with Third countries. The establishment of the CPE reflects a new sense of solidarity of European national interests towards Russia’s ferocious assault on one of Europe’s largest nations. This act can also be interpreted as a sign of a growing feeling of community among nations inside and outside the EU, who share European values ​​and wish to address the biggest regulatory challenge posed by Moscow and its anti-Western allies.

The future prospect of the CPE, in a narrower sense, and the possible impact of the motivations, more broadly understood, behind its establishment remain, however, to be verified. Their effective influence will not depend exclusively, but crucially, on the will, capacity and success of the EU in strengthening relationsassociations and, in part, integration with i European countries currently not belonging to the EU. Since the latter comprise a heterogeneous group of states, new generic initiatives such as the CPE can only function as a forum for discussion and networking. The CPE and established pan-European organisations, such as the CoE or the OSCE, can facilitate the circulation and discussion of ideas between the dozens of participating countries. However, general initiatives such as the CPE will have a more marginal role in the concrete planning and practical implementation of legal, institutional and material improvements in relations between the EU, its Member States and third countries in Europe.

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Cooperation between European democracies against anti-Western powers

L’bilateral and multilateral in-depth analysis cooperation in EU relations is crucial not only for European nations directly affected or threatened by Russian military aggression – such as Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and Armenia – but also represents a necessity for other European countries not belonging to the ‘EU at large, including Iceland, the United Kingdom, Azerbaijan and Turkey. The main themes of this collaboration have become the safety and the national and transnational resilience. The promotion of greater exchanges, collaborations and cohesion in various sectors, which concern the deterrence, prevention or, at least, containment of the Russian war and other anti-Western wars in Europe – whether kinetic, hybrid, psychological, political in nature , economic or otherwise – has acquired a real existential dimension. This commitment will determine not only the quality but also the survival of European democracies and their various alliances – especially, but not only, the EU.

Furthermore, broader and deeper cooperation in areas not directly related to the defense of Europe’s security, integrity and sovereignty will help strengthen the European community of States. The wide range of areas in which Brussels and other EU capitals can and must undertake more effective trans-European action ranges from promotion of industrial innovation to the guarantee of one better social and environmental protection, promoting greater gender equality, scientific progress and cultural exchange. Advocating for greater collaboration and integration in these and other fields across Europe is not just the expression of a normative preference for transnational humanism, Europeanism and/or liberalism. It became a matter of self-preservation.

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Se it European democraciesinside or outside the EU, do not get closer or help each other develop and protect themselves, they are in serious danger. It can be assumed that Russia and other anti-Western powers are looking for weak links within the European community of states. As Moscow has been doing with Ukraine since 2014, they will choose these countries not only to attack their democratic policies and open societies, but also to turn their military, institutional and/or social weaknesses into fundamental challenges for all of Europe .

An ancient saying of political science states that not only states make wars, but wars also make states (Charles Tilly: “War made states and states made war”). For Europe as a whole, and for the EU, the possibility has emerged of verifying whether this rule also applies and has a transnational transposition. Will the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war strengthen or weaken the European community of states? Only the future will tell.

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