How Does This War End for Europe?

Foresight conference summary

15 December 2022

The future of CEE in the context of the aftermath of the War in Ukraine – we connect our scenarios with specific panels and thought-leaders to answer the most critical questions we face.

This week, Visegrad Insight held a week-long, foresight event bringing together experts, analysts and leading journalists to discuss the future of CEE in the context of the aftermath of the War in Ukraine. Here are the main summaries from the four panels:

Who Joins First – Serbia or Ukraine?

With the ongoing EU integration plans for the Western Balkans serving as a backdrop, the war in Ukraine accelerated the question as to whether membership status should be granted in an expedited manner. And who would come first? We dove into this question with Milena Lazarevic (European Policy Center), Isabelle Lassarre (Le Figaro) moderated by Jan Farfal (Visegrad Insight, University of Oxford).

The EU’s enlargement towards the Western Balkans and Eastern Europe has to respect each region, but that does not imply the process is currently apt for both. Unfortunately, the prolonged process for the Western Balkans means the transformation has lost some of its power. If the EU wants to catch up with the geopolitical momentum, it must be more adamant in its resolve of getting more members – it’s the only way to induce real reforms and actually achieve its interest of getting strategic autonomy while driving away the negative effects of Russian and external interests.

A consequence of the war is that the process has become quicker as, for instance, the EU is trying to make Serbia choose today between Russia and European values. This stems from a prevailing thought prominent in Berlin and Paris that such grey zones allow Russia to increase its influence and foster instability. This impetus from the EU to thwart the growth of the Kremlin’s leverage in the regions can really be a new opportunity for these countries.

Will Europe Ever Be an Equal Partner to the US?

The question relates to how the EU can build its own strategic autonomy while still being a partner with the US and sustain its transatlantic ties. We dove into this question with Georgina Wright (Institut Montaigne) and Martin Ehl (Hospodářské noviny) with Michal Matlak (Visegrad Insight, Review of Democracy) moderating.

Even if we see the US is playing a leading role in the Ukraine fight (technical, financial), Europe should build more capacities within this to face the long-term threat that the US will shift towards China. The shift towards China has always been there, it’s a train that they’ve got on with the Obama administration and will only continue. Europe should find a long-term solution of keeping the US engaged in a similar way that they are now. This means taking defence and security more seriously on the political and practical levels. The America First policy will be part of the long-term US development, and we have to adjust to this.

However, the plan for Europe should be etched in institutions that already exist – NATO and the EU. There should not be a separate project here. Europe needs to step up and find its place within NATO, and only then can it begin to be an equal partner with the US.

Will the War Break Europe’s Social Contract?

Many CEE states have opened their doors to Ukrainians since the start of the war, but there is an increasing worry – a fear that the welfare state won’t have enough to go around. We asked whether we are starting to see a break in Europe’s social contract or a new opening to redefine the social contract. We answer this question with Amanda Coakley (Coda Story) and Luke Cooper (LSE Ideas) moderated by Pawel Marczewski (Visegrad Insight, Batory Foundation).

In turbulent times, leaders emerge – but now, we’re lacking very resilient leaders who are driving ambitious agendas forward. We’re left with authorities across Europe stuck in a different time, scared, not understanding things like AI technology, the gig economy and current contemporary problems. Innovative leaders are on the rise and igniting social media debates. Young people are also not trusting Europe’s social contract and don’t believe in it. They are frustrated that they aren’t getting any support.

The War in Ukraine – and COVID – showed the nasty side of our social contract: the hierarchy of who got health care first, that the West was first and CEE second. The illusion that we’re all in this together has been shattered. It’s a pessimistic approach, and I don’t think support for Ukraine can gloss over the social contract. It took the Russian invasion of Ukraine to ignite solidarity.

Still, most of the key dimensions of the social European model (education, state pension, social wage) are to preserve the nation-states. Therefore, the death of the European social model is about as unlikely as the death of the nation-state in Europe. In some national contexts, the social model is under more stress and pressure, but we’re passing into a new period now where citizens are struggling and have more demands on the state.

What if Ukraine Wins?

As we approach nearly one year of a drawn-out war in Ukraine, we ask the largest question of them all – what if Ukraine wins? Many sub-questions rose, such as – what does victory look like for the Ukrainian people? What happens if there is a ceasefire? How do we rebuild Ukraine? All these questions are thought through and discussed with Alena Kudzko (GLOBSEC) and Radu Albu-Comanescu (Visegrad Insight, Universitatea Babeș-Bolyai) with Oleksandr Kraiev (Visegrad Insight, Ukrainian PRISM) moderating.

In 2023, it’s possible for Ukraine to get all of its territories back, but how sustainable will this victory be? Neither side will be fine with not having total victory and a ceasefire will not be sustainable. Even if Ukraine wins, this does not mean the end of the war. The conflict may evolve into something bigger, different, or encapsulate another part of the conflict we are observing now. While Russia is using winter to reinforce itself, Ukraine could push further and the hope is that Western partners understand the necessity to help them at this point before spring comes. The fog of war does not leave much space – we can witness changes in the Kremlin.

There will be certain windows of opportunity with no Putin in the Kremlin, such as bringing Georgia and Moldova further into Western integration. But it also means that – depending on what settlement it is when Ukraine wins – we need to be cautious against negative scenarios. For this peace to be sustainable, Ukraine will have to be successful in its societal and economical development. This is why it’s so important now. There are a lot of areas in terms of economic integration that can be done such as digital development, which can bring Ukraine closer to the EU.

In terms of a radical change in Russia – disintegration, regime change, nuclear proliferation – it is unlikely to happen. There is no liberalism there, and so, rebuilding a democratic Russia without the participation of those who should inject liberalism and pluralism into the social strata and the political mechanisms of Russian life can’t happen. It may mean acceptance of things not working out how the West wanted since Russia still has not had did not have its 1989 moment.


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