Russia’s war on Ukraine is forcing Europe’s political integration

The war against Ukraine is criminal, and its instigator, the potentate in Moscow’s Kremlin, is an unscrupulous egomaniac. But as the bitter dialectic of military force would have it, Vladimir Putin is also the man, who within just a few days, has brought the peoples of Europe closer together than their own governments have ever been able to on their own.

It is not just the blue-yellow flags waved by the millions of protestors across Europe that bear witness to this. Their governments are also demonstrating this reality. Whether it’s about sanctions, which also harm their own economy, or help for refugees, or arms deliveries for the desperately fighting Ukrainian army, suddenly, the rulers of the EU are making decisions efficiently and effectively. It is as if the otherwise so tedious and often useless struggle for supposedly national interests between the 27 EU states had never existed. Even the eternal troublemaker Viktor Orbán from Hungary is bowing to the pressure of the situation.

Thus, the tragedy of war goes hand in hand with a grandiose opportunity. Because the support from the US could already end after the next election (with the victory of Trump’s party and its Putin fans), what was previously at best a long-term project, now seems compelling. The EU as an economic power must, due to necessity, also emancipate itself militarily. The defence union — the old and hitherto hopeless dream of the founders of the European Community — is suddenly within reach. However, this will only succeed if Europe’s governments give up their previous national narrow-mindedness and implement a fundamental reform of the EU Constitution.

The urgency of this is demonstrated by German Chancellor Scholz’s announcement that the Bundeswehr (German armed forces) will be massively upgraded. An already economically dominant Germany with military superiority brings back bad memories. The other EU countries can and will never accept this. If, on the other hand, the German billions were spent on a European-integrated military, they would surely be welcomed by the EU partners to do so.
A common EU army, however, requires a central authority capable of making decisions. When it comes to giving orders to the generals, this must not fail because of the veto of individual governments. To pursue credible security and foreign policy, the EU states would have to at least abandon the principle of unanimity. It would be even better if they gave themselves a kind of core government.

However, the decisions made in this manner about arms and border protection and on war and peace, require control by an elected parliament. Power without control leads to abuse of power. Checks and balances are indispensable. Otherwise, the European values so often invoked will degenerate into mere chatter. The risk to democracy is already revealed by the €450mn now released to pay for the supply of weapons to Ukraine. The so-called “peace facility” for this purpose, in Orwellian language, was approved only among the EU governments. There is no parliamentary control.

If there were to be a defence union, then the EU parliament would also have to become a truly European representation of the people with all rights. But this would only be possible if its members were elected EU-wide via transnational lists. So far, they are merely an assembly of national party delegations that are only beholden to their home constituencies and their party leaders instead of the European common good.

Certainly, all this sounds utopian at first. But the chances for it have never been greater than now. Without such reforms, Europe will remain dependent and susceptible to blackmail.