The Prime Minister of Belgium Alexander De Croo says he is "convinced" that European Union members will remain united in their approach to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, because their strategy is the fruit of careful coordination.
"I think that the unity that we have shown was a unity that was achieved because we listened to each other," he told Euronews at the World Economic Forum in Davos. "I do not see our capacity to build unity being evaporated. It's just something we have to take into account, and that means that we will have to work a bit harder. But I'm convinced that unity is the message going back to Russia. And I'm quite convinced that we will be able to keep that unity."
And he said the approach of Ukraine itself was a key factor in sustaining that unity.
"What Ukraine is doing is playing on something you could call seductive power," he said. "I mean, they're seducing the world with the story, with what they stand for. I think it's a very intelligent way of building a coalition."
Defence spending must bring benefits to Europeans
Belgium has committed to meeting the NATO 2% defence spending requirement by 2035, but De Croo said any acceleration of that timetable would be conditional on a more coordinated European approach to spending.
"If we want to spend more, I'd rather also have the industrial programmes of European firms so that we develop technology and technology that we can also use outside the security world;" he said.
De Croo cited cybersecurity and intelligence as areas in which the focus should go beyond military needs.
"I want cybersecurity investments to be to the benefit of everyone," he said. "If we do intelligence work, I want it to help to protect our industrial policies."
Buy-in from citizens is key
Europe is currently divided over whether to extend sanctions on Russia to cover oil imports. De Croo says unity is possible - but only if all countries take into account the needs of their own citizens.
"I think it's possible to get over the line," he said. "But we need to have answers to the concerns, which I think are legitimate. And these concerns are not only Hungary's concerns, these are concerns for all European citizens. Your foreign policy can only survive if your middle class is still able to defend it. Having the buy-in from our population is an important thing because I fear we're in for a long period of instability, and we need to make sure that people are not suffering too much."
Uncouple support for Ukraine from the question of EU membership
While not excluding EU membership for Ukraine in the long term, De Croo believes it is a mistake to couple the demand with the country's immediate needs
"The membership process is a long one and there's a reason why," he said. "It's because we have developed such a vast array of rules in Europe that if someone joins the European Union, they need to be ready. What Ukraine needs today is support. We will give them support when the war is over. And reconstructing Ukraine has a material side, but there's also an immaterial side. It's building up institutions. It's ensuring the rule of law. It's fighting corruption and so on. But to me, that is something else than the membership process. Now, one doesn't exclude the other, but the membership process is a long thing."
As for financing aid to Ukraine, he said the instrument of common debt was now established as one possible option on the table.
"As long as it is for investment, common debt works," he said. "You should never use it for current expenses. That would be wrong. Do we need to use it for Ukraine? Let me put it this way. To me, it's not excluded, but I think it is too early to take a position."