Written by Mario Damen.
The Strategic Foresight Conversation (SFC) on the future of the EU and Ukraine was a multi-stage stakeholder consultation in which more than 50 experts from various backgrounds participated between June 2022 and June 2023. The Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 and the ensuing war has not only changed all aspects of life in Ukraine, but is also affecting the EU in many significant ways and has shifted geopolitical and geo-economic paradigms. The SFC investigated future relations between the EU and Ukraine across a range of cross-cutting domains. Against the backdrop of the European Council decision of 24 June 2022 to give candidate status to Ukraine and Moldova, a rather long time horizon of 2035 was chosen, to allow to look beyond the war and include views on reconstruction, EU enlargement and EU external relations.
The process consisted of three phases. Phase one explored the EU-Ukraine relationship and considered the impact of possible developments. Phase two identified drivers of change and developed four scenarios:
- Fair Stability assumes that Ukraine would regain all of its territory and join the EU and NATO, while a new cooperative Russian regime signs a peace agreement.
- Cold War II assumes that the front would get stuck without agreement between the parties, leading to a bipolar world and partial Ukrainian integration into the EU and NATO.
- Frozen Conflict assumes that the parties would negotiate trade-offs after the front got stuck, leading to Ukrainian neutrality and a stagnant EU accession process.
- Devastated Europe assumes that Russia would escalate the war, leading to NATO involvement in the war and a stronger and enlarged NATO, but a disunited, weak EU.
Scenarios are not predictions but a tool to imagine possible futures – both desirable and undesirable ones. They served as stepping stones to formulate policy considerations in phase three of the SFC; these policy considerations were put in the political context of European Parliament resolutions. The actionable conclusions of these considerations were clustered into four areas for EU action:
- From military support towards a new European security architecture: the EU could transition from the coordination of and public support for short-term military and economic aid to Ukraine towards developing a future security architecture for wider Europe, which may involve diplomatic efforts.
- Towards EU enlargement, reconstruction and recovery: Ukraine should address reforms needed for EU accession, in particular those regarding the rule of law. The EU could prepare for shifts in distribution of political power and financial means and develop a coordinated position on enlargement for several accession candidates, balancing the principle of individual merit and a group approach. Parallelism between Ukraine’s EU accession and its reconstruction is important. Reconstruction requires coordination, financing and the contribution of returning refugees.
- Building an effective, green and sovereign European Union: the EU could prepare its institutions for enlargement, while addressing the double challenge of achieving strategic autonomy in its energy, raw material and agricultural needs and delivering on the European Green Deal. It could draw lessons from earlier enlargements.
- Reviewing the EU’s external relations: the EU could prepare for different possible future relationships with Russia and Belarus, facing more antagonistic or cooperative governments. It could carefully calibrate its relations with Türkiye and China, taking into account US-China relations and the need for de-risking economic relations.
Although certain elements of the scenarios and policy considerations have already materialised, there are still many open questions that are relevant for future policymaking.
Read the complete study on ‘EU-Ukraine 2035: Strategic foresight analysis on the future of the EU and Ukraine‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.