Make Europe Great Again

Political leaders must answer popular demand for a bigger and more effective Europe

21 December 2023

Wojciech Przybylski

Editor-in-Chief

Donald Tusk and Radoslaw Sikorski have been advocating for the West to fully mobilize its defense industry since taking office, and they are correct. EU leaders seem hesitant to match declarations of support for Ukraine with determined action to deliver what is necessary to bring the war to a conclusion based on terms reflecting fundamental democratic values and the will of European citizens.

At the threshold of 2024, there is a creeping sense of failure among political and intellectual leaders in Europe. Ammunition supply targets are failing both from the EU and the US, political unity on the continent is achieved with the utmost difficulty, and the future of the transatlantic link is being questioned by growing US isolationism. These worries also drive Central Europeans’ foresight on democratic security in the Union. Curiously, the pessimism of the elites runs counter to the public’s optimism.

Ukraine holds the line for Europe

Against this background, what holds ground is the unyielding will of Ukrainian citizen-soldiers, the stoicism of the whole nation and the EU public opinion’s desire to make Europe stronger and more democratic. In war and politics alike, victory requires that the supply of policy decisions meet both material and moral demands. If societies’ desire alone had the power to make artillery shells, this war would probably be over now.

In the December Eurobarometer poll, a decisive part of respondents expressed consistent preference for a stronger and more independent Union in areas ranging from energy, border protection to defence build-up. Furthermore, around 60% of EU citizens have consistently supported the purchase and supply of military equipment to Ukraine over the past months. Even more respondents wish to support Ukraine in all other ways from financial aid (72%) and humanitarian assistance (89%). This support is slightly declining over time, but according to EUOPINIONS Ukraine Trends, also published in December, most EU countries show a consistent preference for Ukraine’s victory and future EU membership – with Spain (79%) and Poland (75%) among the two showing greatest resolve.

Declining support for Ukraine is most worrying across the Atlantic. Pew Research data from December demonstrates that Republican opposition to funding military supplies for Ukraine has grounds in public opinion polls. As many as 48% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say the US is giving too much aid to Kyiv. Only 18% of all respondents consider that aid insufficient. And the upcoming electoral year, which makes public opinion even more inward-looking, is upon us.

Opinion polls will not produce the necessary ammunition, but favourable views are needed to spend more public money and boost production. General Zaluzhny’s sober forecast from November reminded us that it will also take one year to level up ammo delivery levels to the amounts consumed on the frontlines and even more time to develop a technological breakthrough necessary to push Russian troops away from strategic positions.

 

Moral and existential struggle

The next EU priorities outlined in the October Granada declaration prioritise the defence sector and economic build-up necessary to achieve the material objectives of the war.

However, it hardly touches on the essential moral aspect of European politics – democratic security and EU values.

In comparison to the 2019 agenda, the EU leaders shy away from language that says what the struggle is about while focusing on the technical aspects of what will be delivered.

It cannot be emphasised enough that the war in Ukraine is primarily a moral and existential struggle for Europe. It is for restoring the people’s agency in a democracy based on informed public opinion.

It is for the dignity of individuals with an equal share in opportunities, against the abuse of a mafia state captured by illiberal politicians or malign foreign influence and sponsored by the greed of some corporations and oligarchs. Europe needs to know how to adapt our peace-building project of the Union into a more assertive foreign actor.

Developing our democracies and making our system more just and free must be spelt out, especially against an existential threat of autocratic pressure on our system of values. Ukrainians were forced to defend it with their lives. If they fail, we will fail with them.

At the last summit, the EU’s 26 agreed to bypass Viktor Orban’s subversion. They can do more. Political leaders can and should deliver full support for the industrial and economic potential to produce and purchase whatever is needed to help end this war on democracies’ terms.

They don’t need more talk on arms production, but more action taken at the inter-governmental level. In the meantime, the EU framework should put democratic security first and position the EU values as the bedrock for our interest-driven policies.

To win this war, Europe must both deliver more weapons and enshrine the democratic sentiment of today in the rationale for action in the current political cycle and beyond. The way forward is to make Europe great again for those who are part of the Union of today and those who aspire to join it tomorrow.

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This text is co-funded by the European Union. Foresight on  European values and democratic security is carried out as part of a 4-year framework partnership to support European networks, civil society organisations active at the EU level and European think tanks in the areas of Union values (CERV).

To read more about EU values foresight, click here and download our report.

Wojciech Przybylski

Editor-in-Chief

Political analyst heading Visegrad Insight's policy foresight on European affairs. His expertise includes foreign policy and political culture. Editor-in-Chief of Visegrad Insight and President of the Res Publica Foundation. Europe's Future Fellow at IWM - Institute of Human Sciences in Vienna and Erste Foundation. Wojciech also co-authored a book 'Understanding Central Europe’, Routledge 2017. He has been published in Foreign Policy, Politico Europe, Journal of Democracy, EUObserver, Project Syndicate, VoxEurop, Hospodarske noviny, Internazionale, Zeit, Dziennik Gazeta Prawna, Onet, Gazeta Wyborcza and regularly appears in BBC, Al Jazeera Europe, Euronews, TRT World, TVN24, TOK FM, Swedish Radio and others.

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