The conclusion of 2023 marked a significant milestone in European politics. At the EU summit in Brussels on 14-15 December, the European Union resolved to initiate negotiations for the accession of Ukraine and Moldova to the EU, and to grant Georgia the status of a candidate country. This critical development was the central focus of the pre-New Year discussion on “Brussels, my love?”, a Euronews TV talk show.
Marta Barandiy, Ph.D., LL.M. Eur., founder and president of the Promote Ukraine NGO, shared her insights on this and other vital EU-related issues on the show. The talk show, moderated by renowned journalist Méabh Mc Mahon, also featured Antonios Nestoras, deputy executive director of the European Liberal Forum, and Philippe Lamberts, Belgian MEP and co-president of the Greens.
The panel’s discussion highlighted that 2023 was a pivotal year for European politics, with significant implications for Eastern European countries. The unfolding situations in Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, against the backdrop of the Middle East crisis and the internal dynamics of the European Union, illustrate a complex and dynamic geopolitical landscape. The role of international support, the resilience of nations like Ukraine, and the imperative for institutional reform within the EU are essential factors shaping the future of these regions.
Marta Barandiy emphasised the deep commitment of Ukrainians to European values, evidenced by their sacrifices since 2014 and the discovery of European symbols in reclaimed territories. She pointed out that this commitment evokes varied responses from the European community, ranging from viewing the conflict as a threat to seeing it as a direct attack, influenced by geographical and political perspectives within Europe.
The unwavering determination of the Ukrainian people to pursue a European future, despite Russian armed aggression, significantly influenced the European political establishment’s historic decision. The presence of President Zelensky at the EU Summit and his international engagements underscore the gravity of Ukraine’s situation. The commencement of EU accession talks is perceived as a momentous and symbolic commitment by the EU.
Talk show participants concurred that this development underscores a fundamental challenge within the EU: the struggle to maintain unity and take decisive actions. The lack of a cohesive geopolitical vision among the 27 member states, particularly regarding the Middle East, weakens the EU’s capacity to articulate a unified stance.
Several European leaders, including Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, voiced opposition to the initiation of Ukraine’s EU accession negotiations. Following the EU’s decision to start talks with Kyiv, Orban criticised the move as erroneous and declared Hungary’s non-participation. During the voting, he notably left the summit meeting room. When questioned by journalists regarding his stance on Ukraine’s EU accession, Orban revealed that he had “abstained.”
Despite the majority of Europeans favouring Ukraine’s EU membership, numerous concerns linger about the process’s future and its technical aspects. Similarities were drawn with the Western Balkans’ experiences two decades ago, a topic raised by other talk show participants.
As Europe prepares for a year replete with political events, including crucial elections, there is growing concern over diminishing focus on the war in Ukraine. Civil society organisations strive to keep Ukraine at the forefront of European political agendas. Yet, there is an underlying fear that some political factions, while outwardly supportive, might covertly favour a Ukrainian capitulation, highlighting the problem of “false friends” in Europe.
The discussion also touched on the urgency of rethinking the EU accession process. Acknowledging the significant impact of past expansions, speakers emphasised the need for a more efficient approach. The longer Ukrainians stay in Europe, the more they integrate, particularly women and children, while men continue to fight on the front lines, Barandiy said. This situation raises concerns about potential labour shortages in Ukraine and the necessity to create conditions conducive to their eventual return.
Barandiy pointed out the need for a reassessment of the EU’s decision-making processes, particularly in security and geopolitical challenges. She advocated for moving beyond unanimous decision-making to a majority voting system.
Another pressing issue is the allocation of financial assistance to Ukraine. The jubilation in Ukraine, marked by widespread celebrations and the prominent display of the EU flag, masks the difficult journey ahead. With the war now in its 22nd month, financial support for Ukraine remains uncertain. The ability of Ukraine to maintain morale amid these challenges is a pertinent question.
Barandiy highlighted a disparity in military support. “We need more help in terms of weapons from Europe and from the West,” she said. “I have to say that we are a bit disappointed in terms of comparison. In one year, Europe helped us with 300,000 rounds of ammunition and compared to that, South Korea with 330,000 just in four months.”
This comparison underscores potential inconsistencies in support from European leaders, who, according to Philippe Lamberts, appear fatigued and detached from the existential significance of Ukraine’s war for Europe.
The necessity of 50 billion euro illustrates the dire economic situation in Ukraine, exacerbated by the ongoing conflict. The EU’s indecisiveness in providing this aid, hampered by internal political dynamics, underscores the urgent need for systemic institutional reforms.
As Ukraine continues to confront these challenges, support from the international community, including the United States, remains vital. Debates over financial aid in various countries, notably the US, reveal the intricate nature of international politics in managing such crises.
It is crucial to recognise that the war in Ukraine is not the sole challenge facing the EU. Amid the festive Christmas spirit, the Middle East crisis casts a looming shadow. The relentless attacks by Hamas and the bombings in the Gaza Strip remain significant global concerns. This situation prompts the question: What more can a divided Europe do to encourage a sustainable ceasefire in this tumultuous region?
Linking the Middle East situation to Russia’s strategies, speakers suggested that Russian support for groups like Hamas and involvement in the Gaza conflict are part of a broader agenda to disrupt Western decision-making. It was also noted that the dynamics of the relationship between Netanyahu and Putin were also carefully analysed in terms of their impact on Israel’s position during the war in Ukraine.
The complexity of forging a common position to support Ukraine and address the humanitarian crises at Europe’s borders was acknowledged. Proposals for resolving the Gaza conflict, such as allowing Hamas members to depart under a truce flag, were discussed. However, the effectiveness of these measures and the influence of Israeli government policies remain contentious topics.
The proximity of the war in Ukraine to the heart of “Old Europe” was starkly illustrated by a troubling discovery at a Christmas market in Brussels. Barandiy emphasised that the ongoing war in Ukraine is not merely a regional conflict but a battle waged on European soil, representing an assault on Western values. This point was underscored by the finding of a sticker from the Wagner Group, a Russian-funded paramilitary organisation, at a chalet in the Brussels Christmas Market. This incident serves as a powerful reminder that the war’s impacts are far-reaching, penetrating the core of Europe.
The conversation highlighted the interconnectivity of regional conflicts and the challenges confronting the EU in addressing them. The need for a coherent and effective EU response is crucial, not only for stabilising the continent but also for preserving its credibility and reliability as a global geopolitical actor. The situations in Ukraine and the Middle East continue to test the EU’s ability to navigate complex international issues and uphold its principles on the world stage.
“I wish for every Ukrainian child to see their father return from the front line, for every Ukrainian family that has endured loss from the Russian war to receive justice, and for every Russian to feel a sense of regret,” Barandiy summarised.
Promote Ukraine Team