Before this war began, it was difficult to distinguish European leaders from one another, an amorphous technocratic mass that staggers under the weight of lobbyists in a world dictated by the financial market. It is not that Europe lacks vision, it does exist, but often there is no courage to put it into practice and one opts for passivity.
Listening to this week’s State of the Nation speech by the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, we had an unequivocal demonstration of strong leadership that clearly and firmly says what all European citizens need to listen at this time. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was the turning point that roused the European Union (EU) from its lethargy and finally set it back to relaunching long-delayed reforms.
Von der Leyen was clear in her ambitious goals and in the way she outlined the present scenario. Europe is at war and in solidarity with Ukraine. The Union will continue to be a Union, and it has already proven to be quick to react both in financial aid and in applying sanctions to Russia, and in the reception of refugees. She also urged Europe to quickly start the transition to a new energy model, announcing the creation of a European hydrogen bank with an investment of three billion euros.
It got to the point that von der Leyen enumerated crucial issues that have been carefully avoided by Lisbon, such as the taxation of excessive profits by companies in the energy sector or price fixing.
If there is anything to be concluded from the generality of this speech, it is that the measures recently announced by the Portuguese Government reflect a state of fear and retraction that are difficult to explain, even more so when Brussels is pointing the way to the Member States and urging them to plan a new development model.
And it cannot be said that we have not learned from the mistakes of the past, as von der Leyen seems to guarantee some flexibility to each member state, in a continent that moves at different speeds of transition.
On another note, no less important, the speech acknowledged the disinformation campaign that has been spread by foreign autocrats, with foreign entities funding institutes that undermine democratic values. Just this week it was reported that Russia has made payments worth $300 million to parties, candidates and politicians in dozens of countries since 2014, and plans to continue to transfer millions every year.
Europe is at war and it would be vital to reveal the names of those entities receiving direct funding for Russian propaganda. Although it was not for lack of warning, the EU is now much more aware of the danger this poses for all democracies. Better late than never. However, the inability of this Europe to deal with the constant violations of the rule of law by member states led by Putin allies infiltrated into the EU has been manifest.
There are no miracles or illusions. Winter is coming and with it will come a time of extraordinary challenges. The State of the European Union’s speech was clear in this regard, but the Portuguese Government is still stuck in a short-term vision, unwilling to follow the major reforms that we need to start implementing.