Wars in Ukraine and Gaza take center stage in European elections

While most EU parties agree on strengthening defense and security, they differ on priorities

Aftermath of an Israeli attack on Gaza
Aftermath of an Israeli attack on Gaza / WHO
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

June 6, 2024 02:08 PM

June 6, 2024 02:16 PM

European defense and security will be key issues in the European elections on June 9.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 has defined the last years of the legislature, during which the EU has made efforts to maintain military, political, economic and humanitarian support for Kyiv.

As the war drags on and exposes the weaknesses of Europe's security and defense industries, the conflict is expected to remain a central issue after the June 9 elections.

While the parties agree on the need to strengthen the EU’s security and defense industries, they differ on their priorities.

Protest for peace in Ukraine in Barcelona
Protest for peace in Ukraine in Barcelona / Blanca Blay

The European People's Party (EPP) gives defense the highest priority. They not only advocate increased defense spending, but also propose measures such as the creation of a European Security Council or a Commissioner for Foreign Affairs.

In contrast, progressive parties put defense in the background, focusing on social and green policies and advocating only for better coordination among European countries.

While the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) support "more targeted and intelligent spending and more joint purchases of defence equipment,” The Greens/European Free Alliance (Greens/EFA) call for deeper military cooperation within the EU, and The Left does not advocate for strengthening defense. 

The far right has a different perspective as they advocate a reduction in EU integration. They argue that that security should be a matter for states to which "sovereignty" should be returned.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky meets with Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez
Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky meets with Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez / Roger Pi de Cabanyes

How the EU has helped Ukraine since the invasion

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion, the EU has activated a series of aid measures for Ukraine to counter the attack, as well as sanctions against Moscow. According to the European Commission, the EU’s support for Kyiv amounts to €98.5 billion.

The Russian invasion has also led the EU to take unprecedented steps. For example, it activated for the first time the directive that provides immediate temporary protection to Ukrainians in the EU and also financed the sending of weapons to a country at war for the first time.

Over the last two yeas of war, the EU has sanctioned over 2,100 individuals and entities related to the Russian invasion, including Russian president Vladimir Putin.

However, Ionela Maria Ciolan from the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, emphasizes that "more needs to be done" to help Ukraine. Ciolan believes the EU should "double down" on military assistance to Ukraine, but, according to her, the European industry is not "prepared" to do so.

Israel-Palestine divides EU

Another key issue on the European agenda is the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Amid the electoral campaign, Spain, Ireland, and Norway announced that they were joining the list of countries recognizing the Palestinian state, an unprecedented move not yet followed by any other European state.

Views among parties vary widely on this issue. While the centrist and left-wing groups in the European Parliament have been more resolute in calling on Israel to halt attacks on Gaza, the EPP has expressed more reservations and has conditioned a ceasefire on the release of hostages held by Hamas.