Opinion – Mathias Alencastro: War represents historic challenge, but it is too early to announce EU funeral


Fellow columnist Helio Beltrão chose a good week to return to the most aged cliché of the Ukrainian War: “Putin plays chess, and Brussels, marbles.”

Last Wednesday (14), Ursula von der Leyen presented the European Union’s plan for the most challenging post-war winter. It confirmed the objective of reducing dependence on Russian gas through a combination of tax and fiscal policies, launching a public bank for hydrogen development and reshaping the bloc’s electricity market.

Vladimir Putin, however, lost some chess pawns and saw his queen threatened. Their territorial conquests were compromised by a lightning counteroffensive by the Ukrainian Army. Russia’s erratic performance on the battlefield is being openly questioned by the regime’s internal and external supporters, most notably China, its main geopolitical guarantor.

The EU’s challenge cannot be underestimated. There is a great distance between the projections of the Brussels technocracy and European public opinion, stunned by astonishing electricity bills. After seeing its three-decade economic model of exporting technological goods to China and importing cheap energy from Russia collapse, Germany is in a state of shock. On the eve of a far-right electoral reality show, Italians are preparing to defect from the European strategic debate.

Still, history teaches us to avoid early funerals. There has never been a lack of prophets to announce the imminent collapse of the European Union, whether in the eurozone crisis, in brexit, in the pandemic and now in war. The opposite has always happened. Powerless, sovereign states transferred their powers to Brussels. Once an unattainable fantasy, the idea of ​​a federal state is becoming a reality through the force of these systemic shocks.

The coming months will also test the credibility of another cliché prevalent among commentators, that of the supposed disadvantage of liberal democracies in long-term industrial planning.

The Kremlin accumulated hard currency at the start of the conflict and very successfully spread the idea that Europe would be terribly weakened by Russia’s use of oil and gas as a weapon.

However, nobody, not even Putin, can rule out the possibility that Europe will survive and achieve its energy autonomy. In that case, Russia would see its inferiority established in the conflict between the United States and China. Its favorable position in the Global South could be compromised by advances in the energy transition and the economic opportunities that such progress provides for emerging countries. The invasion of Ukraine made it clear that the EU is still a mini-power. But its resilience could alter the calculation of the superpowers involved in the Eurasian winter war.

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