OpEd

The surprises of an inverted dilemma

When the war in Ukraine started, we were all convinced that we could rely on the USA, but the dilemma was, could we rely on the EU? Today, two years later, we are faced with the inverted dilemma: we know we can count on the EU, but can we count on the US?

Before the start of the war in Ukraine, there has been an assumption in transatlantic relations: in the face of Russia, the US is a predictable ally that can be relied on, while the European Union is an unpredictable risk that must be managed. This was so, not because of any mystical reason, but because it has simply proved difficult for the EU as a body composed of 27 sovereign governments to act quickly and decisively on the international stage. Where the US had one decision maker, the EU had 27.

However, two years on from the Russian invasion of Ukraine, this assumption is being challenged. At a time when the war in Ukraine has entered an extremely fragile phase and when Ukraine is in urgent need of military support, the European Union has become its most loyal supporter. To date, the EU with 144 billion euros of financial aid is by far the biggest supporter of Ukraine, while with the new financial package of 50 billion euros it has cemented support for Ukraine until 2027. On the other hand, political divisions in The US and the prospect of Trump's return to the White House have jeopardized not only US military support for Ukraine, but also its international credibility. As things stand now, and in a scenario where the US Congress fails to approve the latest military financial package for Ukraine, all aid to Ukraine will depend solely on the EU. In other words, the entire fate of the Western order will be in the hands of the EU.

Of course the initial skepticism towards the EU was understandable. Recognizing the European energy dependence on Russian gas, it was fully expected that the EU will not be able to face the Russian bear. In fact, not even the EU itself expected that the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be such a profoundly transformative event for the EU. At the beginning of the war in Ukraine, the maximum that German Chancellor Scholz was willing to offer was "coats and helmets", while today we are talking about supplying Ukraine with tanks and airplanes.

The EU economy is on the way to putting the entire economy in a state of war. In 2023 EU member countries have raised their military budget to record levels since 1989, while by the end of this year the number of NATO member countries, which will reach the 2% standard of NATO -s will be tripled. The military budget of the EU will reach 380 billion euros, this level is equal to that of Russia. The EU for the first time has set up the European Peace Mechanism, which has laid the foundations of what was considered until yesterday the red line for the EU: military integration among the member states. In this spirit, the European Defense Agency for the first time has started the joint procurement of ammunition. In all likelihood, the EU will manage to produce 1 million missiles by the end of this year. All this has prompted Germany's defense minister to report that he was feeling "very optimistic" about the EU's capacity to fill whatever gap the eventual US withdrawal would cause. Reflecting Europe's unwavering commitment to Ukraine's victory over Russia, this week President Macron refused to rule out the possibility of European troops being deployed on the Ukrainian battlefield. And while Chancellor Scholz has been quick to deny such a thing, the very fact of discussing such an idea behind closed doors is indicative of the unprecedented transformation the EU has gone through since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On the other hand, the energy transformation of the EU has been equally impressive. With the start of the war in Ukraine, Russia has used European energy dependence as an economic weapon. With the first signs of European resistance, Russia closed the "Nord Stream 1" gas pipeline, aiming to bring Europe to its knees. The EU responded to this hostile act with the fastest energy transformation in human history. Before the start of the war in Ukraine, 45% of European gas was imported from Russia. Today that number has dropped to 15% and continues to fall. All this was made possible thanks to the financial program of the EU "REPowerEU" of 300 billion euros. The program has reduced dependence on Russian energy by diversifying its suppliers from Egypt and Israel to Norway and Kazakhstan. Also, the program has ensured for the first time the joint purchase of energy on behalf of all EU member states. Thus, the EU was supplied with 13.4 billion cubic meters of gas, thus exceeding its initial plan of 11.6 billion. In parallel, the EU has doubled its investments in renewable sources, ensuring that now for the first time the EU produces more electricity from solar and wind sources than from gas. Now a total of 39% of the EU's electricity comes from renewable sources. And lastly, the EU has set a price ceiling for gas and oil, thus ensuring that today gas prices in Europe are lower than before the start of the war in Ukraine, while European gas warehouses are full of reserve stocks.

And last but not least are the sanctions imposed on Russia. This week the EU approved the thirteenth package of sanctions, which deprive Russia of access to critical technology needed to maintain its military apparatus. Russian banks are excluded from SWIFT, while sanctions are eroding Russia's economy by hitting its foreign reserves and disrupting its supply chain. Yesterday the president of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen has warned of the initiation of procedures for the use of 200 billion euros of frozen Russian assets to finance the purchase of Ukrainian ammunition.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, it has proven to be a war full of surprises. Ukraine surprised with its resistance and heroic courage, while Russia surprised with its impressive failure and incompetence. And in the spirit of pleasant surprises is the surprise of the EU. When the war in Ukraine started, we were all convinced that we could rely on the USA, but the dilemma was, could we rely on the EU? Today, two years later, we are faced with the inverted dilemma: we know we can count on the EU, but can we count on the US?