Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed Europe into a new strategic era. The knock-on effects of the war have combined to open a period of reordering across the European continent. European governments and the European Union collectively have begun to fashion policies for this shift, recognizing this to be a pivotal historical moment.

Richard Youngs unpacks the different dynamics that have come to characterise European policies in the wake of the war: the nature of EU integration, geopolitical power, defence priorities, European borders, liberal values, the green transition and economic sovereignty. The book looks to the future and outlines the issues and choices with which European governments still need to grapple. Youngs develops the notion of geoliberalism as a way of addressing these challenges and guiding European governments and the EU into the fragile order taking shape in the shadow of Ukraine’s war.

Read our interview with the author below.

There was widespread agreement that the conflict in Ukraine had triggered a profound and probably irreversible process of change in the European order. What does your new book argue in this regard?

 

The book [Geoliberal Europe and the Test of War] asks what long-term impact Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will have on the European order. Despite a widespread view that the war has changed Europe in fundamental ways, it is not yet clear that European governments are fully committed to a far-reaching process of re-ordering that goes beyond ad hoc crisis responses to the conflict. They have opened the prospect of game-changing shifts in security policies, EU integration, and the drawing of borders, but remain hesitant in following these through with steadfast conviction. With the outcome of fighting in Ukraine increasingly uncertain, the European order for now hovers uncertainly in-between the post-1989 order and whatever replaces it. What the book conceptualises as a ‘geoliberal’ European order is beginning to emerge, but still needs to be fully developed.

 

What do you mean exactly by European re-ordering?

 

Initially, it seemed clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would propel Europe into a new geopolitical era. At the war’s start, politicians, policymakers, analysts, and journalists all agreed that for Europe it was transformative – Europe would be more united, more committed to hard security, more determined to defend liberal values, with a hardened stance towards the world and with redrawn borders. There was widespread agreement that the conflict had triggered a profound and probably irreversible process of change in the European order. It became commonplace for EU leaders, politicians, and writers to compare 2022 with the inflection points of 1945 and 1989.

EU policy adjustments have been exhaustively chronicled: European powers have pumped funds into building up their military capabilities, cut off most ties with Russia, opened the EU’s doors to Ukrainian refugees, fundamentally revamped their energy policies, and opened debates about deepening the model of EU integration. The question of whether the EU has done enough to help Ukraine aside, the war has begun to reshape the deeper structure and organisational principles of the whole European order. In this sense, the war will leave its imprint not only on Ukraine but on the basic contours of European order.

 

But you argue that this re-ordering is slowing down now?

 

Yes, as the war drags on, this re-ordering impulse seems to be weakening. After more than two years of fighting, it looks less certain that the war will unleash a truly profound reshaping of the European project. Attrition at the front in Ukraine is matched by an equal attenuation of transformation within the EU itself.

Despite multiple reform proposals, the basic institutional shape of the EU remains untouched.  Endless talk of the need for a revised, staged process of enlargement has not yet produced any revision to accession preparations. Some EU states are even inching back towards wanting to soften the incision with Russia. Even if European leaders now ritually boast that the EU has become a toughened geopolitical power, the war has pulled Europe back from wider international engagements in places like the Sahel or the conflict in Gaza.

A flurry of EU policy change has yet to translate into a clear re-statement of the European order as such. Indeed, the war may actually be weakening the foundations and core principles of European order in some senses. It presents challenges of such immediacy that it has forced individual governments into defensive and ad hoc interest-driven measures that militate against coordinated order-based priorities or the definition of a new European order.

 

And finally, what do you mean by a geoliberal Europe?

 

Neither classical realpolitik nor standard notions of liberal power now suffice to sustain a post-war European order. Elements from each need to be fused together. European governments have begun to move gingerly in this direction but a clear long-term strategy for post-war order is still to emerge from their crisis responses. Only then will governments be true to their promises and set the foundations for a redefined and more solid European order based around the values that have stirringly motivated Ukrainian and EU resistance to Russian violence.

 

Author

Richard Youngs is a senior fellow in the Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, based at Carnegie Europe. He works on EU foreign policy and on issues of international democracy. Youngs is also a professor of international relations at the University of Warwick. Prior to joining Carnegie in July 2013, he was the director of the European think tank FRIDE. He has held positions in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and as an EU Marie Curie fellow. He was a senior fellow at the Transatlantic Academy in Washington, DC, from 2012 to 2013. Youngs has authored fifteen books. His most recent works are Rebuilding European Democracy: Resistance and Renewal in an Illiberal Age (Bloomsbury/Tauris, 2021), The European Union and Global Politics (Macmillan, 2021), Civic Activism Unleashed: New Hope or False Dawn for Democracy? (Oxford University Press, 2019) and Europe’s Eastern Crisis: The Geopolitics of Asymmetry (Cambridge University Press, 2017).