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The Ukraine War and European Identity

With the war in Ukraine well into its second year, European politicians from across the political spectrum are still eager to show their support for the country. But a battle for the soul of Europe is brewing beneath the surface, and next year’s European Parliament elections could serve as its first battleground.

BERLIN – The European Parliament elections are still a year away, but political parties across the European Union have already shifted to campaign mode. While the election will undoubtedly feature a wide range of views on climate change, immigration, and religion, there is one issue that seems to unite politicians of all stripes: the war in Ukraine.

More than a year after Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, all mainstream European parties are still singing from the same hymn sheet when it comes to supporting the Ukrainian cause. But the appearance of unity masks a brewing conflict over the soul of Europe: its conception of freedom. While it is widely acknowledged that Ukraine’s fight represents a fight for democracy and European values, it is also increasingly clear that victory would require Europe to abandon some of the key elements of its own freedom project. This is the paradox of freedom in Europe.

Over the past half-century, European countries have developed a concept of freedom that relies on universalism, the repudiation of military force, economic interdependence, pooled sovereignty, and the idea of Europe as a singular entity founded on a set of common institutions. This vision is what distinguishes the EU from other regions and even from its member states. But the war in Ukraine has called into question the bloc’s basic tenets – and opened the way for skeptical national leaders to challenge them.