The Russian invasion of the Ukraine has cost tens of thousands of people their lives, millions of people their homes, seriously disrupted billions of people, and increased the threat of nuclear war.
Let’s go briefly through European Union energy security, materials security, food security, social cohesion, and cooperation. All pretty necessary to make any kind of transition let alone one with any justice to it.
While Russia has cut off gas supplies to Europe, Europe is forming a tighter and larger energy generation and distribution system. The North Seas Countries’ Offshore Grid is in operation.
The offshore wind farms across the North Sea are staggering in their size and capacity.
Further links from the UK grid to Morocco have already assembled plans and investors.
European countries that have depended on Russian gas are going through a fast energy crisis, and winter is approaching. The question of whether Germany – the largest part of the EU economy – can make a transition fast enough.
Europe does believe it has a plan that could make this possible. Here comes winter.
The Russian invasion has already radically disrupted supply chains of the raw materials needed for the coming fuel transition. European countries are in a sense remembering their own reserves, motivated to extract their own resources for batteries and other key materials.
The European race to secure such materials has been well forecast, but not at this speed.
Europe has also launched the Critical Raw Materials Act, to decrease reliance on Chinese-sourced materials.
It won’t ever have self-sufficiency, but it won’t ever return to the way it was either. As companies relocate their production in to Europe and seek new suppliers, the EU is incentivising low carbon options, boosting innovation and materials efficiencies, but still requiring key minerals and metals from Africa in nickel and cobalt among others.
Russia undeniably uses food as a weapon. But Europe’s harvests for 2022 were in trouble from climate change too, with the worst droughts on record.
Food exporters such as little old New Zealand have export prices going through the roof. Even as Fonterra shrinks its production to largely New Zealand and Australia, it is keeping a lot of farmers pretty happy – though its primary focus remains China.
The European Common Agricultural Policy has in reality delivered a pretty resilient system for within Europe. The largest food threat arising from the Russian invasion is to poorer countries and their access to Ukrainian grain. The EU has generated a series of partnerships to address the broader global responses necessary for food security globally.
The EU remains an agricultural superpower and its degree of coherence on agriculture is a leading model. And yes, we have a small part to play in that too.
For all the rise of hard right anti-immigration governments are worrying in Italy and Sweden and Hungary, check out Poland.
Who knows how long Poland can sustain this welcome, but it sure beats the alternative.
The war’s knock-on effect to energy markets is also forcing governments to protect their citizens from its impact with massive subsidies.
France, Germany, the UK and many other countries are actively softening the blow of the energy transition they have been forced into.
The EU even has a thing called cohesion policy, and has massively increased support through it.
It’s something that perhaps only the old in New Zealand now recall.
This is the largest and most comprehensive set of threats Europe has faced since World War Two. Some were pre-existing and the war has made them far worse. Some are specific to this time.
The war in the Ukraine is likely to last for a few years, not months. Ukraine will not deal and will fight for every acre lost. The pressures this war has placed on Europe are and will continue to be immense, and it will utterly change Europe’s energy, materials, food, social security and internal cohesion.
These elements are also some of the most important for the rebuild of Ukraine, and it will be European Union dedication to that task which will achieve that rebuild.
Prior to the invasion the combined impact of the multiyear Eurozone and Mediterranean refugee crisis had slowly eroded social solidarity norms. Huge gaps between Europe’s normative rhetoric and reality were fertile ground for the destruction of left-leaning progressive politics and the rise of totally divisive hard right extremism. That won’t go away now, as seen this month in Italy and Sweden.
But Europe through this year has been forced to be unified, forced to make energy transitions, forced to be more accepting of refugees (at least by some countries), and forced to get its act together and be a union, not just European. I’m not even needing to mention defence cooperation.
It sure isn’t fun for anyone let alone Ukraine, but Europe is reacting within an historical turning point. The speed and scale of its reactions particularly compared to the United Nations are paving the way for rapid institutional renewal and a reassertion of the EU as both a project and a kind of ideal.
The immediate question is: will all of this newfound momentum survive the winter?
Long term this is becoming something even stronger than the Marshall Plan.