Isolation, reform and controversy

Isolation, reform and controversy

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Returning to Europe’s news of the week, the midterm elections in the United States have raised some concerns about Europe’s ability to support Ukraine in the current conflict…

Absolutely – with the midterm ballots still being counted and the upcoming 2024 US  Presidential election slowly approaching, a Republican takeover of the US political sphere remains a  possibility – and with it comes the potential return of a Trump-inspired isolationism– something that  would be incompatible with the current American support in Ukrainian.

Given all this, is Europe ready to support Ukraine without America’s help?

It is undeniable that the United States have been pulling their weight in the war in Ukraine, be it from  a military or financial perspective. The United States have also played a key political role in the  conflict, quickly rallying European leaders behind Ukraine at a time when the still frail nature of  Europe’s geopolitical strength could have simply led to the conflict’s end through diplomatic means –  on Russia’s terms of course. However, with the foundations of a European military unity having been  established, there have been increasing calls in Brussels to further efforts in this field – the European  Defence Industry Reinforcement through common Procurement Act, while still meagre, remains a welcome signal that there is a growing willingness in Europe to move beyond reliance on America.

The greater threat to Europe’s ability to support Ukraine may rather be the lack of political willpower  among European citizens themselves – with no clear end to this conflict on the horizon and with its consequences affecting European households through the ongoing energy crisis and inflation, certain analysts believe that worrying about a possible removal of US forces may be less of an urgent matter than quelling the discontent of Europeans themselves. Indeed, this political willpower has been one of the greatest assets in this struggle and we cannot afford to lose it – one need only think of the welcoming of Ukrainian migrants on EU soil to see its strength.

Now that you mention the topic, do you think Europe’s efforts in welcoming these migrants have been sufficient?

Well, suddenly faced with over 4.6 million Ukrainian migrants, efforts in this matter made by Europeans are to be commended. However, as the reality sets in that Ukrainians will most likely have to stay in the European Union for some time, some pressing structural issues must be addressed swiftly. The system is already under stress with the Union’s own economic and political disparities affecting the way these migrants are being handled: Poland, which has taken in the most refugees at around 1.4 million people, also finds itself in the midst of some of the most severe inflation and mortgage rates crisis on the continent – this of course exacerbates any issues Ukrainian migrants might face and is untenable.

So what should be done to improve the situation?

Policies implemented to welcome Ukrainian migrants have so far been defined by their short-term thinking. What must be done now is to treat migrant policy-making as a long-term investment – measures to ensure the education of Ukrainians and their integration into the job market is key, lest Europe’s find itself with an even greater unemployment and social unrest in 20 years’ time. Similarly, many political commentators have been calling for revisions in terms of administrative legislation, most particularly with regards to citizenship obtention and free movement. All of these reforms must of course be inscribed in already present efforts in European social policy – employment remains a meagre reward when gender pay gaps persist and indeed, reduced pay for Ukrainian women has already been reported in a number of countries.

Again, what must be stressed above all is the need to treat these structural reforms as long-term investments – as we’ve seen in the past decade, migrant crises have taken on an existential dimension in Europe. This current arrival of Ukrainian refugees is unlikely to be last demographic crisis Europe is to face – with the consequences of climate change, Europe will undoubtedly find itself faced with more refugees and will have to be ready.

Speaking of environmental issues, Ursula von der Leyen has recently been the subject of some controversy following her announcement that certain regulation reforms will be delayed…

Indeed - releasing the European Commission’s upcoming agenda, Ursula von der Leyen has delayed until the last quarter of 2023 plans to reform the REACH Regulation which stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals. These reform plans which aimed to strengthen health and environmental protections have been supplanted by a number of chemical companies that have pressured European decision makers.

In practical terms, what does the delay of this reform mean for us as Europeans?

Well, to understand why this has caused so much upset among environmental activists and politicians, you have to understand that the delay essentially means that the reforms will simply not go ahead. Planned for last quarter of 2023, this clashes directly with the May 2024 European Parliamentary elections and the naming of a new European Commission which means that these reforms will not be enacted under this European institutional mandate and thus find themselves in a sort of legislative limbo. Given the anger that this decision has elicited, it seems unlikely that the matter will be dropped once the new European leaders are named – whether the final REACH reforms meet activist expectations or fall prey to industrial lobbying is another matter altogether…

Thank you to our listeners, please do not hesitate to visit EuropaNova's website to learn more about the topics discussed this week in our weekly newsletter : Europe Info Hebdo. See you next week!

Euan Walker and Laurence Aubron.

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