Written by Elena Lazarou with Simona Dimitrova Tarpova.
The European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) organised a roundtable on 23 March 2022, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Anthony Teasdale, Director-General of EPRS, opened the event, welcoming practitioners and policy analysts’ expert views on the war’s implications for security and defence, refugees, energy, food and arms supply. The discussion, moderated by Etienne Bassot, Director of the Members’ Research Service at EPRS, assessed the change in the European Union’s position and strategic agenda to fit the new geopolitical realities.
In a keynote speech, David McAllister, Chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, summarised the EU response to military aggression and the likely impact on EU policies. He applauded the EU and its allies’ immediate, determined and united response, as well as the unprecedented nature of the sanction packages adopted. Sanctions are aimed at inflicting high costs on Russia’s financial, defence, energy, transport and technology sectors, but other EU frameworks and measures also support Ukraine: the European Peace Facility (providing €1 billion for the purchase and delivery of weapons); the EU Civil Protection Mechanism; and the Temporary Protection Directive (ensuring assistance to Ukrainian citizens and their government). David McAllister also emphasised the need to maintain an operational supply chain and assist Member States in managing the inflow of refugees.
Focusing on the EU’s long-term security and defence strategy, David McAllister recognised Russia’s war on Ukraine as a defining event for the bloc’s future policies. Referring to the Versailles Declaration, he noted that bolstering defence capabilities, reducing energy dependencies and building a robust and sustainable economic base should be a central priority. Regarding defence, he suggested that the EU could provide added value to existing North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) capabilities (via cybersecurity, for example), while using the European Defence Fund and working towards establishing a European defence union. David McAllister concluded by encouraging effective implementation of EU strategies, the reduction of strategic dependencies (i.e., on technologies, medicines and food) and a united and decisive approach.
Richard Tibbels, Head of the Eastern Partnership Bilateral-Relations Division of the European External Action Service (EEAS), provided additional details on the EU response from the EEAS perspective. He highlighted three dimensions of the Union’s reaction to Russia’s non-compliance with international norms – sanctions, diplomatic endeavours and support for Ukraine. He also noted that the EU is ready to adopt further sanction packages to underline the message that violations of international law are unacceptable. The April EU-China Summit is one example of such diplomatic efforts. In terms of providing support to Ukraine, Richard Tibbels noted that the EU is contributing to the country’s resilience by providing defence equipment, funding for cybersecurity, emergency and humanitarian assistance and has synchronised Ukraine’s electricity grids with the Continental European Grid. The next steps are enshrined in the Versailles Declaration, which he described as ‘the road map to the future’. The declaration covers Ukraine’s reconstruction and EU accession application, as well as Europe’s energy security, economic independence and enhanced security and defence. However, he noted the EU needs to address the impact of the war on third countries’ food security, the collection of evidence of war crimes and the spread of disinformation.
In response to Etienne Bassot, who highlighted the fundamental shift in Germany’s defence and energy policies, Daniela Schwarzer, Executive Director for Europe and Eurasia at the Open Society Foundations, explained the reasons behind these developments. Although Germany’s former strategy was to engage Russia, a new understanding of the security threats to the EU and especially Eastern Europe requires taking a different political direction. Discussing Germany’s decision to suspend the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline plans and to provide military equipment to Ukraine, she raised the question of whether energy can be utilised as a sanctions strategy in the short term. Daniela Schwarzer stressed that it is crucial to consider the cost of sanctions and the degree of public support across the EU. Specifically, she suggested that Germany should initiate the implementation of solidarity mechanisms and refugee inflow management in a manner sustainable to European society.
Suzana Anghel, Policy Analyst with the European Council Oversight Unit at EPRS, compared the European Council’s reactions to crises and noted that the Council had anticipated the war and agreed on an initial response in advance. She emphasised the role of the Versailles Declaration and Strategic Compass in shaping the EU’s long-term defence strategy. Now that leaders have acknowledged the dependencies, it is crucial to ensure the coordinated and cost-effective implementation of measures to counter vulnerabilities. The broad political consensus on the need to reduce energy dependency, along with energy prices, provide a good example.
In view of the Commission’s proposal on obligatory gas storage with an 80 % target for 2022 and 90 % for 2023, Lasse Boehm, Head of the Economic Policies Unit at EPRS, warned that even full capacity gas storage would only deliver 30 % of demand in winter 2022‑2023. This is due to unevenly distributed liquid natural gas (LNG) infrastructure and gas storage capacity in the EU. Consequently, other solutions will be necessary, such as reducing energy consumption, increasing the percentage of renewable energy, coordinating mechanisms and setting clear targets. He suggested the situation requires a swift and calculated approach that considers the significance of energy security for the economy and the impact on the public and environment.
Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, Senior Fellow at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels, addressed four invasion-related topics: relations with China, US President Biden’s visit to Brussels, the EU strategic decisions and the fiscal implications of sanctions. He indicated that sanctions adopted by the EU and the G7 signal to China that violation of international norms is unacceptable. He warned, however, that SWIFT restrictions are incomplete and have allowed Russia to strengthen the rouble and avoid hyperinflation. To deter China from challenging international rules and invading Taiwan, the EU should demonstrate resolve regarding the costs of sanctions – as economic independence and a strong geopolitical stance can be expensive. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine nevertheless provides an opportunity for the Biden Administration to improve the transatlantic relationship vis-à-vis Russia and China.
Acting Head of the External Policies Unit in the Members’ Research Service at EPRS, Elena Lazarou reviewed the EU’s overall response to geopolitical trends and its development of security and defence policies. She noted that the move to boost defence spending has been linked to Russia’s actions in the past and that EU public support for defence and related expenditure increased following the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. She identified two outcomes of the ongoing war: the return of ‘great power’ politics and the role of multilateralism. The war has also highlighted emerging trends, such as the use of conventional warfare in combination with digital technology, the growing battle of influence between democratic and authoritarian states, and challenges to international norms. Finally, Elena Lazarou pointed to the potential of the recently endorsed Strategic Compass, which presents guidelines on advancing EU security and defence.