The EU did not always present a good image in times of crisis, but that was different in 2022: Brussels responded to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and its consequences with a united front, only to be confronted with its own demons again.
December 13 could have been a good day for Europe. After years in which Hungary's President Viktor Orbán fooled the European Union, Brussels and the member states finally pushed through to sanctions - and froze 6.3 billion euros in EU funds for the country. The message that Orbán's government's systematic dismantling of the rule of law is not going unanswered should be heard beyond Hungary. But then came Eva Kaili. As a result of an unprecedented corruption scandal, the 44-year-old lost her post as Vice President of Parliament on the same day. Her dismissal grabbed all the headlines.
Those who want to see things positively can argue that the Kaili case has shown how well the EU control mechanisms work. But there is a high probability that critics in particular will feel confirmed in their general assumption that the EU institutions have been infiltrated by lobbyists for years and that Brussels is little more than a self-service shop. The image damage is great - even though the EU can deliver a presentable annual balance. In contrast to previous years, when decisive measures repeatedly failed due to the disagreement of the members, this year Europe presented itself astonishingly united.
With his war of aggression against Ukraine, Russian President Putin has brought the EU closer together. The signals to the Kremlin were unmistakable: despite Orbán's ricochets, the member states not only agreed on billions in aid for Ukraine, but also on far-reaching sanctions against Russia - including a ban on imports of Russian oil by sea. Europe has largely adjusted to Putin's attempts to unleash a gas war. And the will to learn from mistakes has led to a rethinking of one important point: While the EU countries outbid each other in gas purchases this winter and thus drove up the price for everyone, next winter there will be bundled purchases.
By the end of the year, Brussels was even able to show progress in climate policy, which threatened to be overlooked due to the war and the energy crisis: the reform of emissions trading that has just been passed will make climate-damaging CO2 emissions more expensive for companies both inside and outside the EU EU, even air traffic will no longer be an exception from 2026. For private consumers, driving with a combustion engine or heating with gas will also become more expensive from 2027. Above all, the goal is to reduce Europe-wide emissions by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.
There is a lot on the plus side for Brussels - and yet there are still many construction sites. In the refugee issue, no viable solution for the solidarity distribution of people has yet been found. Of the 8,000 migrants who were to be distributed to a total of 13 participating countries via the "voluntary solidarity mechanism", only around 100 people had found a host country by the end of November, according to EU Interior Commissioner Ylva Johansson. The "coalition of the willing" has failed. At the same time, more people have been coming via the Western Balkans route since the beginning of the year. By the end of November, there had been around 308,000 illegal border crossings into the EU - an increase of 68 percent on the previous year.
Europe is completely blank in the face of a new refugee crisis. More and more EU states at the external borders are also forgoing the help of the EU border protection agency Frontex - mainly in order to be able to tackle the problem of illegal border crossings "on their own". The NGO Lighthouse Reports had recently reported on several illegal deportation prisons along the EU's external border in Bulgaria and Hungary, and there had also been illegal pushbacks in Croatia. In Greece, Frontex was itself involved in the illegal rejection of refugees for a long time, which is why the then boss Fabrice Leggeri had to resign - but even after the scandal, nothing has changed in the lack of transparency of the authority.
Controversy also threatens with regard to the future European security architecture. Europe is struggling with the answer to the question of whether and in what form there should be a dialogue with Russia. French President Emmanuel Macron's appeal to the heads of state and government to also keep Moscow's security interests in mind met with incomprehension, especially in the Baltic States, Slovenia and Poland. There they fear that stronger armament alone will not be sufficient as a deterrent and that Putin will always prefer a bad war to a good compromise when in doubt. In their understanding, Paris and Berlin must finally accept the possibility of an armed conflict against the EU instead of further trivializing the danger.
How realistic Europe's response to the war in Ukraine is will not only be seen in dealings with the Kremlin in the new year. In order to become less dependent on Russian oil and gas, Germany and other EU countries have looked for new partners - including Qatar of all places, where, after allegations of corruption against Kaili became known, there was no hesitation in rubbing the new balance of power in the EU's face. Doha reacted coldly to calls for Qatari interest groups to be denied access to the EU Parliament for the time being. A lockdown will have "a negative effect on current talks about global energy scarcity and security," it said. Gas against political interference? The credibility of the EU is once again being put to the test.