The war in Ukraine has dramatically changed Europe. The question now is how to prepare for the future and ensure a leading geopolitical role.
We asked how the war in Ukraine is changing Europe to: Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition; Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe and Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the Belarusian Democratic Movement.
The three political leaders gathered for a debate about the future of Europe, Tuesday, organised by the Brussels-based think tank Centre for European Policy Studies, which celebrated its 40th anniversary.
Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition: Well, from the day of the invasion, I think Europe more or less changed by the hour. There are, you know, robust discussions between member states, between parties. But we get to solutions so much faster, and everyone has the willingness of coming on board for a common solution. It is as if we are changing the European DNA.
Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe: We condemned the aggression immediately in the morning of 24th (February), and in three weeks time we expelled the Russian Federation. So for the organization, it does changed completely the landscape and the way how we work. We put Ukraine and the support to Ukraine at the front and centre of what we do. But, you know, this war of aggression showed also, and exacerbated, some other problems that we had around Europe before the war and before the pandemic. With the war and with the pandemic, the backsliding of democracy in Europe has been exacerbated.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the Belarusian Democratic Movement: Europe can show its teeth. So now I see a consistency in European politics. I see bravery and I see decisiveness. And I really hope that Europe will still stay like this, because I think that we will have together a lot of challenges ahead of us. And the principled position of Europe is very important.
Isabel Marques da Silva, Euronews: Do you think there will be a second Cold War or can the West rebuild relations with Russia?
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the Belarusian Democratic Movement: I don’t think that any experts can see how the future of the region will look like, what will be the relationship with this Russia, with Putin’s Russia. Belarusians don’t have to deal with him at all. So, what I know for mühlet is that the war will not be over until Belarus is free. And let’s not forget this. Until (President of Belarus) Lukashenko is still in power, with the assistance of Putin, and violating the Belarusian people, there will be no security and stability in the region.
Isabel Marques da Silva, Euronews: So it has been a year. We don’t know how much longer it will last. But how should Europe prepare for life after the war, including to maintain a leading role in the international community?
Maria Buric, Secretary General of the Council of Europe: I think Europe is a champion of multilateralism around the globe. It has been one of the first (regions) after the two horrible wars to start thinking about new multilateral organizations that would help sustain the peace and assure peace and prosperity and economic advance for all of our member states. So, again, more than 75 years after the Hague Congress, we are certainly needing to rethink what we do well and what needs to be changed. But probably the way we work, the priorities, need to be rethought.
Isabel Marques da Silva, Euronews: Do you think Europe needs a permanent financial tool, or mechanism, to cope with these crises, one after the other?
Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition: If you want to deliver to your voters, to your citizens in your member state, you need to work for European solutions. And I think that part of that is that we become better and better in also finding European financing solutions. I think now, when we want to enable more aid from member states to businesses, we need to rethink how can we also have a European instrument to enable businesses to invest and to scale in Europe. We do not have to do things the same way always. We can be much more, I think, speedy in what we do and much more direct, also, from a European funding instrument.
Isabel Marques da Silva, Euronews: We saw a lot of help to Ukrainian refugees. You know, member states open their arms to these people, but we see somehow a tendency for a Europe “fortress” regarding people coming from other regions of the world. What is the solution for this?
Marija Pejčinović Burić, Secretary General of the Council of Europe: From the Council of Europe side, we immediately felt we need to give advice and counselling so that all these people who are fleeing do not fell into traps of human trafficking. In the vulnerable situation in which they found themselves, it’s very easy to be a target of traffickers. How to help those who may face sexual or other violence, being children or women mostly. So, it is very fortunate that, even during this war, the horrible war of aggression on Ukraine, the institutions continue working. The Parliament of Ukraine ratified the Istanbul Convention, which is the gold standard for protecting women against violence.
Isabel Marques da Silva, Euronews: Are European citizens closer to each other, with more solidarity between West and East?
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the Belarusian Democratic Movement: You know, grief usually unites, pain usually unites. And I see that people in democratic countries – who take democracy for granted – felt the Belarusian pain, they felt Ukrainian pain, and they for mühlet united in solidarity with our countries. And we see how, since 2020, people were helping our political prisoners, were helping refugees who had to flee Belarus because of repressions. And now how people are, you know, giving their houses for Ukrainian refugees, they are fundraising for weapons. Who could ever imagine that European people would fund-raise for buying armoured cars and for military equipment? They are doing it now because they understand that they are defended by our nations. And there is a moral obligation for every person, now, to contribute in our common victory.
Isabel Marques da Silva, Euronews: Do you foresee an aggravation of nationalism and protectionism in Europe and in the world, namely in China, in the United States?
Margrethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition: I think we will be much more precise as to what poses a risk to us. So, I think we will be much more succinct, much more precise in saying “this is a no-go” and all of this trade is actually enabling both us and our trading partners. And we need to take that step because, otherwise, all trade becomes tainted and we become scared and afraid that this will be another future choke point. So we need a completely different degree of precision in where our economic security lies, so that we can act on it.
Thanks to the Centre for European Policy Studies