The European Union I received 2022 with optimism. With a purchase of a billion vaccines, the pandemic was falling behind. It was called to be the year to stabilize the torn normality and, especially, the year to consolidate the economic recovery. But on February 24, the day of the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, everything changed. The transition at the end of the health crisis was engulfed by the return of the war to the Old Continent. And 2022 will go down in European history as the year of war, economic decline, record inflation, support for Ukraine and sanctions on Russia.
Own Josep Borrellhead of European diplomacy, acknowledged that the day he was woken up to inform him that Russia had invaded Ukraine, he learned ipso facto that the community bloc and the European security architecture had changed forever. In ten months, the European Union approved nine sanctions packages against Moscow. Its scope is unprecedented: oil, luxury items, financial systems, gold or vodka are some of the products that are on the punitive list in Brussels, which includes Putin himself. But the 27 do not find a consensus to give the final blow including gas, nuclear energy or diamonds. The last package was one of the weakest, and for the Europeans, maintaining this punitive level will be one of their great challenges for the new year.
In the corridors of Brussels it is frequently assumed, in public and in private, that the Russian president Vladimir Putin he erred in his calculation about the war. The reports handled by US intelligence show that the tenant of the Kremlin planned to take kyiv in ten days and replace the Ukrainian president. Volodymyr Zelensky by a like-minded government. According to the transatlantic side, the Russians did not anticipate such strong resistance from the Ukrainian Army or such firm support from NATO countries.
In the midst of the escalation of the war, one of the reproaches that the leftist forces have made to the European Union is that it has not opened an alternative way, betting on promoting peace. The essence of the European project is that it was built as a symbol of peace after centuries of war. Its role in the war in Ukraine has been to support kyiv with a constant transfer of millions and weapons. At the last European summit of the year, the Twenty-seven -after circumventing Hungary’s veto- approved a macro package of financial aid to Ukraine by 2023 for a value of 18,000 million euros. And they expanded the European Fund for Peace in 2,000 million more. This instrument has been the basis for sending war material to Ukraine, circumventing the prohibition of the Treaties, which does not allow the payment of weapons for a country at war with community money.
I support Ukraine without going into open war
Over the months, the tension has not only gone in crescendo on the battlefield. The relationship between Russia and the West has finally cracked. The war has broken many taboos and has given way to unthinkable measures and reactions, such as the paralysis of the Nord Stream pipelines and the end of Russia’s energy dependence. The double obsession of the Europeans has been internally to loosen the yoke of Russian hydrocarbons and externally make Putin’s country a pariah at all levels: cultural, diplomatic, social and economic.
The relationship between Brussels and Moscow has been fraught with disagreements, reproaches and threats. But it was on November 15 when that ghost of an open and direct war between the two flew over with more force. The EU and NATO have always emphasized that they are not part of the conflict. That is to say: they will not put boots on the ground, but will help Ukraine “unconditionally as long as it takes.”
Both in the headquarters of the Atlantic Alliance and in the European institutions, they have avoided pointing out what would be the scenario or red line that would push them squarely into the fight. And that possibility gained strength when on the night of November 15 a missile hit Poland, leaving the first two dead in NATO territory. However, the tension lasted a few hours. And, pending the conclusions of the ongoing investigations, in Washington and Brussels they supported from the beginning the hypothesis that they were Ukrainian missiles as the most feasible.
But this incident revealed much more. He highlighted how fragile the situation is. With such an arsenal of weapons in action, the possibility of a miscalculation or further step that will fuel the conflict and push more actors into it is multiplied. NATO and Russia carried out nuclear exercises amid the drumbeat of the atomic threat. For all these reasons, many expectations are already placed on the peace summit that Zelenski’s people want to hold in February at the UN.
‘Catargate’, a black stain on reputation
The EU thus closes one of the most uncertain and intense years in its history. And it continues without disabling crisis mode. The 2008 financial crisis, the 2015 refugee crisis, the 2016 Brexit crisis or the 2020 health crisis have been followed by the war in Ukraine, which leaves inflation in the Eurozone of more than 10.1% and anticipates a technical recession in the EU during the first half of 2023. In the midst of this hurricane, the European institutions are experiencing one of their worst reputational and credibility crises. The baptized as catargate has revealed a corruption scheme from Qatar, Morocco and Mauritania that had been operating for at least four years to clean up its image and influence European decision-making. Its impact could be very damaging for the EU, and the populist and far-right forces have not missed the opportunity to capitalize on this scandal, which plans to go even further.