The European Union's challenges at international level


16 May 2023

The European Union's challenges at international level

Prof. Umberto TRIULZI

University of Rome "La Sapienza

The reflection I am proposing today to the Jean Monnet Association deals with a subject of great strategic value for the EU's role at international level. In the months and years to come, the EU will have to face challenges of great intensity and global importance: reducing poverty and inequality, promoting economic growth compatible with the protection of the environment, health, decent work and gender equality, promoting energy independence, innovation, security, the defence of democracy and human rights. Challenges that will place the EU in competition with the world's major industrial and technological powers, starting with the United States and China.

But the EU will also have to deal with states of lesser economic weight but very determined to assert their political and military presence, starting with Russia, Turkey and Iran, in a region on the periphery of the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe which has traditionally been of interest to European Europe but where, due to the change in US foreign policy strategy and the incoherence of European cooperation policies, new geopolitical alliances and old and new rivalries have emerged which threaten the security of the EU.

In a context of particularly critical international and geopolitical relations, further deteriorated by the protectionist phenomena linked to the US-China trade war, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic not yet vanquished in Europe and in the world, the Russian war in Ukraine with devastating human and economic repercussions, we need to ask ourselves what role the EU can play in securing the goals not only of a sustainable, equitable and inclusive recovery, but also the restoration of the democratic principles, respect for human rights and shared rules that have underpinned economic development in Europe and the major Western economies over the past 60 years.

To answer this question, it is first necessary to analyse the policies decided by the EU and the Member States in response to the tragic events of the last three years in particular. They are unprecedented in recent economic history in terms of their intensity, the scale of their impact and their characteristics. Indeed, investigating these events leads to highlighting the substantial difference that can be found, not only in Europe, in the policies put in place to overcome the most recent crises compared to those activated following the great financial crisis of 2007-2008. Let us explain why.

The economic contraction induced by the Covid-19 pandemic (January 2020) and the rise in energy prices following the war triggered by Russia's invasion of Ukraine (February 2022) are economic phenomena largely induced by the policies put in place by the advanced countries to deal with these crises. To prevent the spread of Covid-19, the political authorities of the states most affected by this epidemic have intervened with the closure of all economic, productive, commercial and tourist activities, with a consequent drop in income and consumption, a negative impact on employment, an increase in the number of new poor people, and a deterioration in the quality of life of all.

In order to get Russia to renounce the "special military operation In the wake of the "war on terror" in Ukraine, the EU and many other advanced economies, such as the US, UK, Canada, Japan, Australia, have introduced economic sanctions and other trade and financial restrictive measures with the intention of weakening Russia's ability to finance the war by affecting vital sectors of the economy (mainly the extractive industry) and the interests of the Russian oligarchy. The immediate effect of these policies has been to provoke, due to the contraction of Russian gas supplies to Europe (-40% in 2021; -45.5 % in 2022) strong speculative movements on the European gas market, the increase in the prices of energy and other important commodities and semi-products, resulting in the resumption of inflation, the slowing down of the economy and trade, and for some European countries the beginning of recessionary phases.

Were there alternative measures?

Dramatic events have taken place over the last two years with significant economic and social costs in most advanced states, not only in the sanctioned Russian economy. Could alternative measures have been taken?

In the case of the pandemic, it was difficult to imagine alternatives to the lockdownThis is despite the fact that the measures adopted by the states most affected by the pandemic, in Europe as in the rest of the world, were not always coherent and coordinated. Hence the errors of the initial phase of the spread of Covid-19, with the shortage of drugs and health products needed to protect oneself, the delays in the interventions to be activated, the overcrowding of hospitals and the growing protests around Novax. The supply and demand shock induced by the restrictive measures adopted was unavoidable but it must also be added, and this is the positive note for the EU Member States, that the reaction triggered by the national and European authorities for the supply of anti-Covid vaccines and the subsequent vaccination campaigns, the coordination put in place by the EU and the Member States to strengthen national health systems and protect the health of citizens (social distancing, closure of schools, production plants and shops, smart working) have helped to contain the spread of the virus, save lives and support, with Next Generation EU the economic recovery of EU countries and also facilitate the ecological and digital transition.

The sanctions and restrictive measures activated against Russia, among the largest and most numerous imposed on a major power since the Second World War, have not achieved the desired objective of making it desist from continuing the war in Ukraine. History teaches that such measures, activated individually by states and/or international organisations, can produce significant economic costs for the economies of the state that has committed serious crimes but do not change its behaviour or prevent even greater and more dramatic consequences on a global scale. This happened with the sanctions decided by the League of Nations after the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (1935), suspended after only seven months due to the reluctance of many member states to implement them and the lack of formal obligations to comply. This would later happen with the international sanctions against Iraq after the invasion of Kuwait and in many other situations where the application of UN or individual state sanctions against those who had violated international obligations proved ineffective as a deterrent.

The Peterson Institute for International Economicswhich has been publishing studies on the effectiveness of sanctions for over 25 years, estimates in a review of 204 economic sanctions regimes between 2007 and 2014 that only 34% of sanctions achieved their objective. These measures tend to create greater effects for the countries of origin than for the countries of destination of the sanctions, especially when trade and economic relations between the two blocs of countries are close. Economic globalisation and international finance, with the reduction of energy imports from Russia and the freezing of current accounts and other types of financial restrictions activated so far, have contributed to increasing the cost of the sanctions but also to a drop in exports of many goods and services from countries, especially European ones, that trade with Russia. Although sanctions have often proved ineffective, they are the weapon the West has used most in international disputes with countries such as Iran, Russia, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and China.

The considerations that emerge from reading the studies that have dealt with this issue remain valid (Lebrun-Damiens, Allard 2012 ; Felbermayr et al. 2020; Hufbauer, Hogan, 2022) : 1) the effects of sanctions cannot be generalised but must be studied on a case-by-case basis; 2) the costs of sanctions introduced for specific sectors, compared to those of a universal nature that affect all production activities, are mainly concentrated on companies operating in these sectors; 3) sanctions tend to be more effective if they are accompanied by sanctions defined as "secondary" as they aim to affect individual financial assets and companies or to penalise individuals doing business with the sanctioned state; 4) Sanctions on important raw materials and industrial goods, precisely because of the role they play in world trade, as in the case of gas, crude oil and refined products, tend to be less effective because the sanctioned state can evade them by redirecting exports to countries that have declared themselves neutral; 5) economic sanctions need to be assessed over the long term, but the longer time horizon makes it more difficult to assess both the risks of adverse effects on the civilian population (shortages of basic necessities and medicines, currency collapse, price increases, increased poverty), both because sanctions tend to strengthen states governed by autocratic and totalitarian regimes, and because the risk of escalation of the offensive weapons used increases

To give a full answer to the question of whether it was possible to use different and/or additional sanctions to those activated by the EU and the major advanced economies, we need to look in more detail at three interrelated situations: the reasons for the conflict, the crimes committed by Russia in the occupied regions, and the reactions of the most influential international institutions and states following the invasion of Ukraine.

Let us start from the reasons for the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, i.e. since February 2014 when Russia invaded and then annexed, after the farcical referendum of March 2014, Crimea, a Russian-speaking majority region that remained in Ukraine after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In reality, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict arose during the Yanukovych presidency (2010-2014) between pro-Russian supporters present mainly in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, inhabited by 3.7 million people, and pro-Western advocates for an alliance of Ukraine with the EU, These were joined by right-wing nationalist and fascist groups that led to the Mayan uprising (named after the main square in Kiev where most of the anti-Russian demonstrations took place) and the ousting of President Yanukovych from power. Following this event, armed pro-Russian groups, supported by Moscow, took control of government buildings in both regions, declared Ukraine's independence and called a referendum in which the majority voted for annexation to Russia (May 2014). Russia, in an attempt to maintain its influence in both regions and to ensure that Ukraine withdraws from possible NATO membership, sends its soldiers to the southern border with Ukraine. The years 2014 to 2021 see the launch of various attempts to end the conflict that broke out in the Donbass region, the first with the agreements signed between Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists, Russia and the OSCE (September 2014) and the second with the Minsk agreements, signed by Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France in 2015, which will not lead to a cessation of hostilities in both regions, remaining de facto unimplemented.

The invasion by Russian troops, which began on 24 February 2022 with the aim of regaining political and military control of Ukraine, marked the beginning of an armed conflict which, in the short space of a year, has resulted in enormous human and economic losses, thousands of civilian and military deaths and injuries, thousands of Ukrainians deported to Russia, 6.5 million internally displaced persons and more than 4 million Ukrainians fleeing the country, the destruction of entire towns, villages, transport infrastructure, civilian homes, public buildings, factories, health facilities, theatres, power stations, for a total damage estimated by the Kyiv School of Economics to more than $250 billion. The costs of rebuilding the country will be far more substantial than this. The OECD estimates that the economic damage resulting from the war in Ukraine, the rise in energy and food prices, and in general of the main raw materials, the fall in GDP and the rise in inflation, lead to economic costs in the war-torn countries and the rest of the world estimated at more than three thousand billion dollars.

In February 2022, following the Russian invasion, Ukraine, despite the fact that both states in conflict had signed the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, appealed to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to argue that the invasion was illegitimate because of Russia's need to end the "war on terror". genocide of millions of people living in Luhansk and Donetsk "The Court of First Instance of the European Communities, in its judgment of 11 December 2003, rejected the appeal of Ukraine, rejected the objection raised in Russia's defence brief, namely the lack of jurisdiction of the Court, recognised that the military operation undertaken by the Russian Federation had been carried out with the aim of preventing the death of civilians and the destruction of property and property. As is well known, the Court allowed Ukraine's appeal, rejected the objection raised in Russia's defence brief, namely that the Court lacked jurisdiction, and recognised that the special military operation caused irreparable damage to life, property rights of citizens and the environment of Ukraine.

With regard to war crimes committed by Russian troops, as evidenced by the discovery of numerous mass graves of hundreds of soldiers and civilians tortured and killed in Bucha, Izyum, Borodyanka, Makariv and other cities recently liberated by the Ukrainian army, Ukraine, although not a party to the Convention, submitted two declarations in 2014 and 2015 accepting the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court for crimes committed by Russia on its territory. In February 2022, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Karim Khan, launched the initiative against crimes committed by Russian troops arguing that there was " a reasonable basis "to believe that the crimes fall within the jurisdiction of the Court.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued on Friday 17 March 2023 an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war crime of "illegal deportation" of Ukrainian children.

The facts are known and I need say no more. Could more have been done to stop the invasion, prevent the crimes committed by Russian troops and save Europe and much of the Western world from the most serious challenge to economic, political and military stability in decades?


Recourse to the UN and the Security Council

The invasion of Ukraine was a flagrant violation of Article 2 (paragraph 4) of the UN Charter which prohibits the use of force. against the territorial integrity or political independence of any State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the purposes of the United Nations" . The reasons given by President Putin on the day of the invasion to justify the armed intervention, the use of self-defence according to the provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter for the crimes against humanity committed by the Ukrainian army in the Donbass, not only have no moral and legal basis but are a violation of international norms that all UN member states, including Russia, have approved[1].

The use of the veto power has a long history that precedes the decision taken by the United States to create, at the end of the Second World War and together with the victorious countries, an international body for the defence of peace and collective security with a different role and organisation from the League of Nations, in which the United States never participated. There is no need to recall here all the attempts to reform the UN Charter that have so far failed because of the antagonistic balance of power between the five member states with a permanent seat on the Security Council (SC) and the power of veto. Yet one cannot fail to mention the temporal inconsistency, which has grown over the years with the increase in the number of member states from 50 to 193, between the ambitious objectives and principles defined by the first articles of the Charter that member countries must respect and the almost completely paralysed decision-making power of the Security Council, especially when it is called upon to defend the founding objectives and principles that are at the very basis of the United Nations.

Since 1945, the veto has been used 295 times, 143 times by the Russian Federation, 86 times by the United States, 32 times by the United Kingdom, 18 times by France, 16 times by China. France and the UK have not used the veto since December 1989, when, together with the US, they vetoed the condemnation of the US invasion of Panama.

But France has done something more than the other four veto-holding countries. In 2013, it put forward a proposal for a voluntary and collective commitment by the five permanent members of the Council not to use the veto in case of manifest acts of mass atrocities. Subsequently, French President François Hollande at the 70th UN General Assembly in October 2015 confirmed that France would no longer use the veto in Security Council resolutions concerning situations of confirmed atrocities such as genocide, crimes against humanity, large-scale war crimes. France's initiative, carried out jointly with Mexico, was supported by 106 UN member states.

Recourse to the UN, the most important organisation for the defence of international peace and security, to the provisions of the founding Charter approved in 1945 and to the resolutions of the CoS, the only body empowered to decide on the use of force in relations between states, albeit under specific or authorised conditions as provided for in Article 39 of Chapter VII, has had a negative result.

A first resolution proposed by Albania and the United States at the CoS (February 2022) for the condemnation of Russia's military aggression, urging the cessation of the use of force and " withdraw immediately, completely and unconditionally all its military forces "The motion for a resolution condemning the annexation of Ukraine in violation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter, after having been approved by 81 member states and the CoS with 11 out of 15 member countries and 3 abstentions (China, India, United Arab Emirates), was blocked by a negative vote from Russia. The draft resolution also condemned the annexations of the 4 Ukrainian regions after the referendums deemed illegal in these regions (Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporijia and Kherson).

A second CoS resolution (March 2022) of condemnation for the invasion of Ukraine and the cessation of the war, which came after Putin's speech to the Nation announcing the start of the special military operation, was rejected for Russia's veto appeal. However, the Security Council decided to invest the General Assembly in an emergency session which resulted in the resolution entitled "The United Nations Security Council and the International Criminal Court". Aggression against Ukraine "This was approved with 141 votes in favour, 35 abstentions and 5 against (Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea).

A resolution (April 2022) with the US demand to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council in Geneva, was approved by the General Assembly with a 2/3 majority of member states voting, 93 in favour, 58 abstentions and 24 votes against (including Russia, China, Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Syria, Vietnam)

In April 2022, a new resolution adopted by the General Assembly and sponsored by 86 member states with the request to the five permanent members of the CoS to justify the use of the veto, which was supported by France, the United Kingdom and the United States, did not change the situation much as the resolution is not binding and there is no obligation for a state to justify itself.

A new draft resolution (September 2022), submitted by Albania and the United States, calling for non-recognition of the regions annexed by Russia and for "a comprehensive review of the situation in the region". withdraw immediately, completely and unconditionally all its military forces "The report, which was adopted by the Committee of Ministers in December 2005, was supported by 10 of the 15 CoS member states, with four abstentions (Brazil, China, Gabon and India) and Russia voting against.

On 24 February 2023, the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in a special session, a resolution for the " cessation of hostilities". and aimed at "require" that Russia "withdraw immediately, completely and unconditionally all its military forces from Ukrainian territory within the country's internationally recognised borders ". A vote in line with previous UN resolutions, 141 votes in favour, 32 abstentions, 7 against (Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea, Mali, Nicaragua and Eritrea).

The conflict in Ukraine has forcefully reopened the debate on the exercise of the veto, but in light of the situation briefly summarised here, and considering that short-term Charter reform is unlikely, the possibility of obtaining an international resolution to stop the war and see Russia withdraw its troops from Ukraine seems very limited.

The composition of the Security Council, which has remained unchanged since 1945, except for the number of non-permanent members, and its limited decision-making capacity in the defence of peace and in conflict management, have led many to consider that this institution no longer has the authority to carry out the tasks entrusted to it by the Charter, nor the legitimacy to represent and defend the security of the 193 UN member states.

Continuing to defend Ukraine by sending not only economic aid but increasingly sophisticated weapons, which will inevitably lead Russia to respond with ever more powerful offensive instruments and the mobilisation of hundreds of thousands of Russian troops to defend the conquered territories, may be a necessary measure to confirm Western solidarity and assistance against Russian aggression and to reaffirm respect for international law, but it is not sufficient to stop the war.

Politics and diplomacy must intervene in a more decisive and credible way, multiplying and strengthening the initiatives launched at international level (UN, EU, G7, G20) to put an end to the war, proposing solutions to stop the conflict and promoting, with the participation of subjects of international law that guarantee neutrality and impartiality, the resumption of the negotiations that have now been interrupted between the two warring states. But these interventions must also be accompanied by demonstrations of support for the Russian people, so that they are not dragged into a war by the current regime, which is severely penalising their economy and destroying their future prospects, in order to avoid resigning themselves to the idea that the conflict in Ukraine cannot be stopped because it is supported, or at least not hindered, by countries that are openly critical of the policy of the United States and NATO. Appeals to all civil society and national, European and international institutions are needed to show solidarity in the defence of the rule of law, the principle of collective responsibility to be shared in order to guarantee the territorial integrity and political independence of any state.

This war situation will not end in the short term and " will have no winners "As Amin Awad, the UN Special Envoy to Ukraine, said on the 100th day of the conflict, it is important that spaces for intervention be opened up by international organisations and states which, because of their history, successes to date and international commitments, have the authority and legitimacy to call for the restoration of peace and to provide international protection in the event of genocide or other massacres or serious human rights violations.


Threats to European security: the role of the EU and France

The EU is certainly one of the most important international bodies. It is the largest financial contributor, together with the Member States, to the general budget of the UN and is the most advanced and democratic regional organisation in the world with a unique institutional governance structure consisting today of 27 Member States that have voluntarily adhered to its operating rules (the acquis communautaire), to its integration model and whose citizens have been electing their representatives to the European Parliament since 1979, which has powers of democratic control over the European institutions and co-decision, with the Council, over almost all areas of EU competence.

The EU was granted permanent observer status in the General Assembly in 1974 and since 2011 has had the right to speak at the GA, first among other groups present at UN headquarters, and can therefore take steps to take shared action with member states to end the war in Ukraine and restore peace. The same power to intervene in the GA is also granted to the EU institutions - the President of the European Council, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the European Commission and the EU delegation.

The war in Ukraine represents a strong element of instability and a direct threat to the security of the EU, the Member States and the states of the eastern and western neighbourhood, to which a strong and unified response must be made as provided for in the Lisbon Treaty. In the Annual Report 2022, the European Parliament said: " Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine and the Russian Federation's serious and massive violations, war crimes and intentional breaches of human rights and fundamental norms of international law have highlighted the need for stronger, more ambitious, credible, strategic and unified EU action and presence on the world stage"

It is in this role that the EU, in agreement with its institutions and Member States, some of which are directly threatened by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and in the case of Eastern Europe by Putin's expansionist Russian policy (Moldova, Georgia), can present proposals and amendments to call for a greater commitment to conflict prevention actions and operations pace-keeping and call on the permanent members of the CoS to respect their obligations under the Articles of the Charter (Article 2 paragraph 3 and 4; Article 24 paragraph 1; Article 27 paragraph 3).

Another EU action is to call on the UN General Assembly to forcefully resume the debate on the need to ensure, in particular when the CoS is not in a position to act in accordance with the provisions of Art. 10 and 11 of the Charter, that decisions taken by 2/3 of the Member States, although initially rejected by one or more permanent members of the Security Council, can be reproposed and validated in subsequent resolutions. We refer here in particular to the UN General Assembly resolution of March 2022 which, meeting in emergency session, overwhelmingly condemned the Russian intervention and imposed a cessation of hostilities.

This resolution has an important precedent, resolution 377A adopted by the General Assembly in 1950 during the Korean crisis, Uniting for peaceThe European Commission, replacing the Council, which was unable to take decisions due to the lack of unanimity of the permanent members, decided to meet in "the European Parliament". emergency special session It is the responsibility of the Council of Europe "to take urgent measures, including the use of armed force if deemed necessary for the restoration of international peace and security.

The European Union, together with the Member States and the United Nations, must take decisive action to raise awareness in the General Assembly to adopt a new resolution Uniting for peace in an emergency special session to avert the risk of conflict that could lead to the nuclear threat and to call for the immediate adoption of the measures provided for in Chapter VI of the Charter for the peaceful settlement of disputes (such as the appointment of a "special representative" for mediation, recourse to regional organisations or agreements, referral to the Court of International Justice, recommending appropriate procedures or methods of settlement, etc.).

A second important political issue is France, the only EU state that is a permanent member of the Security Council and that has made a significant contribution to the debate on the veto by renouncing its use in 2015 in resolutions on mass crimes and atrocities. France is also the country that, along with China, has used the veto the least (18 times), has not used it for more than 25 years and has long worked to make the action of the CoS more transparent and to reduce political interference as much as possible when the defence of what is perceived as the founding values of the international community is at stake.

With the intention of promoting the adoption of recommendations aimed at accelerating the assumption of collective responsibility by the permanent members of the CoS in matters likely to endanger international peace and security, France, with the support of the non-permanent member of the CoS representing Western Europe (currently and until 2024 Malta) and the States of the Union, may promote actions aimed at :

  • to encourage the resumption of negotiations between the parties in conflict, but with the participation and mediation of international organisations and states that have demonstrated their authority and neutrality, also proposing a possible enlargement of the negotiators to countries that have declared themselves available for mediation (China, Turkey, Israel)
  • to exercise its influence as a permanent member of the Council to agree with the United States and Great Britain on actions to be proposed to the Council for the condemnation of member states which have committed acts of aggression or breach of the peace and/or actions contrary to the principles of justice and international law
  • promote initiatives to engage with the Russian people and communicate the solidarity of the European population for diplomatic solutions that can lead to an end to the war and the simultaneous withdrawal of all sanctions
  • to promote with the Member States one or more European days of opposition to the invasion of Ukraine and in favour of peace to be held in the main cities of the EU, calling on all those who share the defence of friendly relations between nations based on respect and the principles of equal rights and self-determination of peoples - citizens, political parties, workers' unions, secular and religious associations, families and young people of all ages - to take to the streets in a peaceful, silent demonstration without flags or party symbols against Putin's war.

The response to Russia's war must not only consist of economic sanctions and the sending of economic aid and weapons, but requires a strategy shared with the democratic institutions and political regimes that have firmly and unhesitatingly expressed their condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine. It is also necessary to activate political and diplomatic solutions that could lead to an increase in the number of States that share these initiatives, and it is also necessary to extend the opposition front represented by civil society, primarily European, and by those who do not want to leave the Ukrainian and Russian population to the sacrifices and the human and economic losses caused by the war.


[1] The International Court of Justice itself, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to the individual and collective right to self-defence (Article 51), has repeatedly ruled that the right to armed self-defence must respect the parameters of necessity, proportionality and non-violation of international humanitarian law.


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