VIEWS: A political, economic and strategic response to the war in Ukraine

By Cinzia del Rio, EESC member, Italy

The Russian invasion of Ukraine will change the geo-political and economic relations in the world, and most certainly between Russia and the EU. The outrageous military intervention, which is causing victims among civilians and destruction of the country's cities and civil and economic structures, has been firmly and strongly condemned by the democratic international community and by the trade union movement.

We have expressed our full support to the Ukrainian people, we have organised demonstrations against Putin and his unprovoked war and we support the introduction of severe economic sanctions against Russia, which should put pressure on the regime. After a month and a half, the atrocities continue, humanitarian corridors have proven difficult, millions of Ukrainian people have left the country to look for shelter in EU countries, many more are displaced inside Ukraine and the negotiations on a ceasefire and peace process are behind.  

Civil society organisations, trade unions and NGOs across the EU, and notably in countries bordering Ukraine, have shown their unconditional solidarity, providing refugees with immediate help, medical care, shelter, food, clothes and medicine.  The Temporary Protection Directive was fundamental in guaranteeing them protection and rights in the EU, helping them to cope with the emergency and to integrate into our societies as much as possible. Moreover, we must bear in mind that 80% of the refugees are women and children, who are experiencing for the first time the cruelty and violence of war, with psychological consequences that will mark them forever. The EU will have to be vigilant to ensure the protection of these vulnerable groups and address the risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation as well.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine has consolidated Ukraine's national identity, its geopolitical orientation towards the Western democracies and accelerated the start of the EU accession process; it has reunited - with solid relations - the EU and the USA, strengthened NATO on Ukraine's borders, and brought together EU countries which have reacted with unanimous condemnation of the Russian invasion and the brutality of war.  But, after a first package of EU sanctions, recently extended to coal imports, a common decision on banning imports especially of gas and oil is today impossible, because it would mean Europe having to quickly look for alternative sources of supply in order not to make its economic survival dependent on Russia. But we are not ready yet, we need the unanimity of European governments, and the impact of a total blockade of Russian energy imports on national GDP for some countries would be dramatic.

It would mean the closure of enterprises and loss of jobs after the pandemic crisis. It will take time, of course, for a total embargo on gas and hydrocarbons, but the path has been set and previous economic relations with Russia have been set aside forever. In this context, however, the EU has a responsibility to save what is left of the Ukrainian economy, in order to avoid a long-lasting catastrophe for years to come and open a concrete dialogue with Ukraine regarding the accession process, without harming the ongoing accession process of the Western Balkans.

The EU has to establish compensation measures to address the negative economic and social repercussions of the conflict and the related sanctions on our countries. We cannot ignore that sanctions on Russia will impact on EU sustainable development targets, which we agreed alongside the investments of the Next Generation EU package. But we need to maintain the commitments made on the green and digital transitions and ensure a better social dimension in Europe.

The war also has serious consequences for global and European food supplies. It will worsen even further the already difficult situation for European farmers and consumers, due to rising prices. We must focus on measures to ensure food security in the EU, both in the short-term after the invasion and in the longer run. In the meantime, we should not ignore the war's strong impact on food supplies in non-EU countries as well. A new social and economic crisis must be avoided, and speculators of food and oil prices must be stopped and measures to tax their additional profits should be considered.  

But the priority is to stop the war and find a way for the negotiations and peace process to take off. The EU should become a real geopolitical actor, the leading actor at the table, because its future is at stake. China and Turkey have their political and economic advantages in these negotiations, but they are not the champions of democracy and respect for fundamental human rights. This marks a turning point in the EU's story, with political, economic and strategic implications for the entire world. The EU must take on new responsibilities and move towards stronger political integration: we cannot have a common defence system without a common foreign policy and stronger and more cohesive political integration. Any move towards integrated defence must come with a clear democratic control over such a system.

The risk of a war within Europe should push EU governments to work towards a clear political integration process in the framework of CoFoE.
The EU has its values to defend and protect and has a responsibility to preserve the peace we have guaranteed in Europe over the past 70 years.