The Siena Conference on the Future of Europe is an attempt to reach beyond ideological stereotypes, academic siloes, and individual national agendas. It is an event that unites experts, politicians and academics, despite their ideological differences, to create space for the birth of visionary, pragmatic ideas that can address the EU’s policymaking needs. The European Liberal Forum led two plenary sessions in the scope of this conference, organised by Vision think-tank and European political foundations from 8-10 June. 

European Western: The Good (NATO Security Umbrella), the Bad (Iron Curtain) and the Ugly (European Army)

“The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” serves as a reminder of the complex and multifaceted nature of Europe’s security architecture. Therefore, this plenary, moderated by EURACTIV Global Europe and Defence Reporter Aurélie Pugnet, explored the various dimensions of European security, including the positive aspects of NATO’s security umbrella, the negative consequences of the new Cold War-like scenario following the invasion of Ukraine, and the challenges and limits concerning the proposal for a European Army.

Francesco Cappelletti, ELF Senior Policy and Research Officer, kicked off the debate with a key message, “Our security in Europe has been challenged significantly. That is an eye-opener to the vulnerabilities of the European security system. It’s time for our policymakers and our partner institutions to challenge the inefficient status quo of our security paradigms. The Russian aggression against Ukraine doesn’t leave any time for us to be naive.” 

ELF President and Renew Europe MEP Hilde Vautmans shared her important message as a member of the European Parliamen’t Committee on Foreign Affairs. MEP Vautmans emphasised that now is really the moment for the EU to show political will for Defence Union. She also highlighted that a stronger European defence doesn’t contradict but strengthens NATO and underlined the necessity of long-term solutions instead of short-term fixes. MEP Sandro Gozi from Renew Europe Group, thinks it’s not simply about the political will: “The issue is which kind of relations we can organise between NATO and the EU, and whether the strategic autonomy we talk about is translated into the European pillar of NATO and whether Americans are ready to accept it.” 

MEP Gozi was quick to note that while there is an open debate on the European Defence there is no real engagement today. Speakers also underlined that it is incomprehensible to develop European defence without industries, synergies and efficient production. These are questions that, until 24 Feburary 2022 were discussed by academics: now, they are at the top of the political agenda. It is clear that if we want our continent to be secure, we need to spend more and spend better. 

Another key component of European security is our foreign policy. According to the French MEP, it is questionable whether the EU member states have the same priorities and the same perception of threats. And while European enlargement has become a security imperative in the current geopolitical climate, politicians claim that an enlarged Union without reform will lead to a paralysis. Even within an enlarged EU, we need a group of countries that will dig deeper and take leadership on the topic of defence. 

ELF expert discussion on Ukraine reconstruction 

With the long-anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive underway, the war in Ukraine is reaching a new, potentially decisive stage. The brewing question is about how to rebuild the country from the damage of the war, when and where to start, and who is to pay for it. Furthermore, the reconstruction is closely linked to ensuring the security and European future of Ukraine. To address this complex and sensitive subject, the second ELF panel brought together political, research, and policy representatives from both Ukraine and the EU.  

The panel was moderated by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet, well-known columnist from The Telegraph. Setting the tone for the discussion, she outlined the current situation on the frontline and the upcoming need for rebuilding the massively destroyed country. After this, Dr Maria Alesina has presented the work that has been done by ELF with regards to envisioning the reconstruction project as part of Ukraine’s path towards full EU membership. She presented the cross-cutting outcomes of the recently published ELF Study on the Future of EU-Ukraine Relations. This collective volume, written by experts from Ukraine and the EU, outlines the domains for bilateral collaboration that can ensure that EU integration and post-war recovery go hand in hand and mutually reinforce one another.  

The topic was further elaborated by Kira Rudik, Member of the Ukrainian Parliament (Golos Party) and Vice-President of the ALDE Party. She presented the view from Ukraine, and her message was sound and clear: Ukrainians want peace – but they want a sustainable and lasting peace, not a temporary ‘peace deal’ that will be broken by Russia in a couple of years. This is only possible if Ukraine receives enough weapons to win the war and becomes a NATO member to ensure their security in the future. Concerning the reconstruction, Ms Rudik has discussed the legal instruments that are currently being developed by some national governments to allow for the confiscation of the frozen Russian state assets and using them to pay for rebuilding Ukraine. 

Watch the whole discussion live below: 

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