Brexit Institute News

Event Report: The War in Ukraine and the Future of the EU

Ian Cooper (DCU)

On Thursday 31 March 2022, the DCU Brexit Institute held an event on “The War in Ukraine and the Future of the EU”. The event was focused on the implications of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine on the future of EU integration and security.

The event was introduced by welcoming remarks from Daire Keogh (President of DCU), who noted that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shocked the world and has led to a lot of soul-searching in the EU. He wondered whether it would be an inflection point for the EU, and for thinking about the future of Europe. It has also led to the calling into question of certain sacred cows in Ireland, such as neutrality. He noted that DCU is working to find ways to allow displaced Ukrainian students to study here. In addition, while the discontents of Brexit continue to rumble on, the war could lead to a rapprochement between the EU and the UK. 

This was followed by an opening statement by Thomas Byrne TD (Minister of State for European Affairs of Ireland). He began by noting the gravity of the current moment. This is the largest land war in Europe and largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. It is an epochal moment that recalls some of the darkest days of history. He took some time to describe the destruction and the humanitarian catastrophe brought about by the warmongers in Russia. He then spoke at some length about the actions of the Irish government, both in its own right and in concert with its partners in the EU. Ireland has expressed deep concerns at the UN Security Council, where it sits temporarily, in response to reports of forced expulsions of Ukrainians into Russia – made more difficult to address by the fact that Russia is a permanent member on that body, with a veto. He emphasized that Ukraine is a fellow member of the European family, with which Ireland has had diplomatic relations for thirty years. Already Irish people are volunteering to open their homes to Ukrainian refugees, some 13,000 of whom have already arrived here. Ireland is participating in the European Peace Facility to send non-lethal aid to Ukraine – which was a big step for Ireland, given its stance of military neutrality. Ireland supports the EU’s robust response to the crisis, with strong sanctions against Russia, and it supports Ukraine’s application to join the EU. He also saluted the Conference on the Future of Europe, where the voices of citizens may be heard, which is coming to a conclusion this spring. Democracy, he noted, is both an ideal and a practical means of governing. Unlike the people of Russia, we are fortunate to live in a society where we can give out about the government. Minister Byrne’s comments were followed by a lively question and answer session.

This was followed by a high-level roundtable of experts, chaired by Judy Dempsey (Senior Fellow at Carnegie Europe and editor in chief of Strategic Europe), which was conducted in a free-flowing conversational style. She raised several questions for the panelists regarding the evolving security architecture in Europe, the differing views in Western and Eastern Europe regarding the Russian threat prior to the war, and whether the EU will ever be reconciled to the need for hard power.  Kenneth McDonagh (Associate Professor of International Relations and Head of the School of Law and Government, DCU) spoke about the Irish response to the war and its implications for neutrality, and the changes in EU security and defence. He noted that Russia certainly does not see Ireland as neutral, despite its walking a fine line by contributing non-lethal aid through the European Peace Facility and bilateral aid to the Ukrainians. Ireland should focus on the immediate state of its own defences rather than launching a debate about neutrality, which is a nebulous concept. The EU does not know how to deal with a large neighbor that does not want to integrate; on the Ukraine question, prior to the invasion of Crimea, it assumed that its own good intentions would win the day. This view is evolving, as evidenced in the late changes to the Strategic Compass document, but there are many in the EU who still seem to hope for a return to the status quo. 

In turn, Sacha Garben (Permanent Professor of EU Law, College of Europe, Bruges) discussed the impact of the war on the EU external relations, including developments in CFSP and CSDP. She noted that Ukraine has the right to defend itself under international law, and that other countries have a right to assist. Russia, on the other hand, has clearly violated international law. She worried that the war might be used as an excuse to give a pass to Poland and Hungary for their serial violations of the rule of law. Anand Menon (Professor of European Politics, King’s College London & Director, UK in a Changing Europe) addressed the war’s effect on EU-UK cooperation in defense and foreign affairs post-Brexit. He noted that evidently we care more about avoiding war with Russia than we care about the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Can we call this a war for democracy if we are calling on the help of e.g. China and Saudi Arabia? He said that it was strange being a Brit in this EU debate, because he felt like a house guest intruding on a family discussion. For the EU, Brexit makes matters easier (because the UK veto is removed) but also harder (because the UK’s military heft is also removed). In a way, this is an “easy crisis” because the Russian invasion is such a flagrant violation of international norms (unlike, e.g. a cyberattack) that if we can’t be united over this then there is no hope. It was by no means a given that the EU would rise to the occasion because it has happened many times that it has failed to do so. 

Finally, Federico Fabbrini (Professor of EU Law & Founding Director, DCU Brexit Institute), focused on the war’s implications for European integration and the EU’s fiscal capacity and military capability. He said that the war is a wake-up call for Germany and the rest of Europe to go beyond the end of history. We got addicted to the peace dividend, and forgot that wars can happen, even in Europe. What this crisis proves is that war is indeed the most important driver of European integration. He welcomed new instruments such as the European Peace Facility. But he lamented the intergovernmentalism of the EU, which does not have a single executive but a cumbersome collective leadership of 27, with no fiscal capacity or military capacity. He welcomed the Strategic Compass as an important policy document that could mark a turning point for the EU in light of the war in Ukraine. The roundtable was followed by another lively question and answer session. The event was concluded with a presentation by Christy Petit on the DCU Masters in European Law & Policy 2022-23.