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The State of the Union: Building Europe's long-term security

The 13th edition of The State of The Union conference at the European University Institute in Florence, May 4, 2023.
The 13th edition of The State of The Union conference at the European University Institute in Florence, May 4, 2023. Copyright European University InstituteEuropean University Institute
Copyright European University Institute
By Giorgia Orlandi
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Speakers discuss the impact of recent crises on Europe's global role at a two-day conference in Florence.

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Building Europe in times of uncertainty was the main theme of the 13th edition of the State of the Union conference.

Speakers from around the world flocked to the Italian city of Florence for the two-day event to discuss how much the European Union has changed as a result of past and present crises.

Lessons learned from two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of Russia's invasion of Ukraine were some of the issues covered on the first day of talks.

Renaud Dehousse is President of the European University Institute: 

"The main lesson seems that united, the Europeans are stronger. But saying this is only one part of the answer. It is fine to say we need to be united but if you have to be unanimous, for instance, on any action plan, then at the very best the European answer will not be as quick. 

And currently, migration and the lack of an EU defence policy remain divisive issues among member states

“Sometimes Europe only focuses on small problems and therefore it’s not able to face bigger challenges," says Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. "Why has Italy highlighted the need to deal with migration? because it’s an issue that is shared by everyone. It’s not just an Italian problem.”

Europe's global role

The rule of law and the digital transition are other themes that were debated during in-person sessions.

Panellists also answered questions about Europe’s global role and how it has changed as a result of recent events.

"Unfortunately," says Timothy Garton Ash, Professor of European Studies at the University of Oxford, "while we've got a little bit stronger, other people got a whole lot stronger, so that relative to China, to Russia, to India, to other non-Western powers, I think that we relatively week and that is part of our problem."

On Friday, the focus shifted to Europe’s foreign policy and the energy crisis - the worst Europe has ever faced.

That's something that can be seen both as an opportunity and a challenge, says the bloc's Director-General for Energy, Ditte Juul Jorgensen.

"We have tried to make sure that our responses align with our longer-term climate interest; that our emergency response also becomes part of the energy transition. Because that energy transition, that green energy, that efficiency in the system, is the way to keep those energies secure, but also to get affordable energy and greener energy."

Uncertain times aren't over and next year's European elections will be key to determining the future of the European Union. In the meantime, this two-day conference has sent out a very clear message: lessons drawn from the recent crises alone won't be enough to secure Europe's position in the long term.

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