28 March 2023

Political Dialogue Stories: How Europe's Politicians Are Handling the Uncharted Terrain of the Ongoing War in Ukraine

Over a year has passed since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Chiara Rosselli, Head of the Open European Dialogue, shares her take on the state of political dialogue and the difficult conversations that await European politicians.

Author: Chiara Rosselli, Head of the Open European Dialogue

Disclaimer: The Open European Dialogue is a cross-party, cross-country dialogue platform for European politicians. This piece does not represent the views of the Open European Dialogue, its partners, or its participants. It is written from the perspective of the author(s) alone. The author(s) share their personal insights on the state of European politics and political dialogue, informed by the conversations between members of parliaments from across Europe and the political spectrum.

Over a year has passed since the start of the War in Ukraine.

What we have witnessed in the meantime is a swift and considerable outpour of support from across European countries and largely spanning across the political spectrum. We observed historical changes in political positions. Notably, Finland and Sweden deciding to join NATO, Germany agreeing to exporting weapons.

Solidarity and a predisposition to initiative-taking have mobilised the continent in ways that we probably have not seen in this generation.

In the days following the outbreak of the war, the Open European Dialogue set up an Emergency Parliamentary Communication Channel, which saw the participation of over 70 parliamentarians, from right to left wing, representing 22 countries, including parliamentarians from Ukraine.

Politicians showed up to understand what they could do to help, listen to their Ukrainian colleagues, and exchange ideas with European counterparts as to what actions could best offer support in this unprecedented time.

A Year Later

Just over a year later, on Tuesday the 14th of March, politicians from Sweden, Italy, Greece, Austria, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Poland reconnected to discuss the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine.

It appears evident that the current political landscape is not an easy one to navigate.

On the one hand, we hear of outstanding and unwavering support for Ukraine – “any peace which envisions giving up any piece of Ukrainian land is not worth the paper it is written on – we won’t stand for it”, on the other, an underlying tension and uncertainty is palpable.

“Can we deliver what we promised?”

“There is so much we need to start thinking about and getting ready for.”

Whilst there is significant unity regarding the support towards Ukraine in this war, the lack of a blueprint for navigating these uncharted waters is not lost on Europe’s political class.

Navigating the “in-between”

The challenge that European policymakers today will be called upon to rise to, is how we handle the “in-between”.

The war could go on for years. Accession talks are known to take decades. Reconstruction will require long-term thinking and investments.

The space between right now and where Europe would hope to find itself once this is “all over” is vast and brimming with uncertainty.

The issues that will need to be clarified are plenty.

Politicians raised questions about the implications of a possible Ukraine accession on some key EU policies, such as the Common Agricultural Policy; what role other international organizations beyond EU and NATO institutions, such as the Council of Europe, should be playing; and the need to start thinking about a plan for when the temporary protected status of Ukraine’s displaced population will expire.

The politicians on the line are cool-headed, even if for some countries the implications of decisions going one way or another would be dramatic in terms of impact. They look to their colleagues for support and insights, and while weary of the uncertainty that lies ahead, they are still busy investing their time in trying to connect with and understand the perspectives of their colleagues from different political paths.

There are different European perspectives and priorities when it comes to the challenges that lie ahead and how to tackle these, yet there was one question, above the rest, that stuck with me.

How can Europe’s political class prepare for the difficult conversations that we already know will need to be had?

How will these conversations be held, and play out, within parliaments, with citizens, with political allies across borders, within political parties themselves, and with other international actors?

Who will be sitting at the table?

How can these conversations be held in ways that can anticipate and embrace, to the degree that this is possible, the delicate nature of the political choices that will need to be made?

Concern that the big players will take over negotiations, replicating and reinforcing political divides between the North, South, East, and West of Europe exists.

There is openness among Europe’s political forces, to collaborate with one another, maybe even an unprecedented sense of unity. Yet, there is tension too, that we will repeat the mistakes of the past instead of learning from them.

It seems evident that these conversations will be difficult ones, and perhaps there may be a feeling, or a fear, that we lack the necessary spaces and preparation for us to handle these political conversations constructively.

In the informal dialogue spaces of the Open European Dialogue, we are able to observe first-hand a genuine spirit of inquiry and a degree of openness and collaboration between politicians with very different political views and needs. How can we infuse this spirit into the conversation spaces that will end up defining Europe’s and Ukraine’s political futures?

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