SHOCKING television pictures of wildfires from Greece to Portugal to the UK, a stark climate change message, underline the fact that Brexit took us out of the European Union, but we’re still part of Europe in a wider sense.

Even so, as the EU grapples with multiple crises, little attention is paid from London, at least, to the state of our big, powerful neighbour. Yet how the EU faces up to these extraordinary times is a crucial question.

In September, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, will give her annual State of the Union speech to the European Parliament. She will not be short of issues to address.

From climate change to the war in Ukraine and its impact on security and energy supplies, to rising prices and the after-shocks of the ongoing Covid pandemic, the EU faces what look like an unprecedented set of challenges in an unpredictable and unstable world.

The EU can sometimes be slow to react to challenging circumstances. Yet it also has the structures and institutions that can get its 27 member states to rapidly engage as crises emerge.

Forging agreement amongst 27 countries, each with their own politics and priorities, isn’t always pretty. But it’s what the EU does. And it’s not for nothing that one long-standing EU trope is that the Union develops through crises.

There’s certainly plenty going on. Earlier this week, the Commission set out plans to finance, for the first time, joint arms procurement by member states – as stocks run down following supplies to Ukraine.

Yesterday the Commission brought out a proposal on winter preparedness and caps on gas consumption so as to manage potentially escalating cuts in gas supply from Russia. Cooperation is key but it won’t be easy.

Today the European Central Bank is expected to raise interest rates for the first time in 11 years, with memories of the euro crisis still very fresh in EU minds.

Yet, as in the UK, inflation is high – at 9.6% for the EU as a whole, and a little lower for the Eurozone. The cost-of-living crisis and the risk of stagflation are centre stage in the EU as in the UK.

Meanwhile, earlier in the week, Ms von der Leyen, and the EU’s foreign affairs supremo, Josep Borrell, were in Azerbaijan, meeting its president and foreign minister in their search to help to diversify EU energy supplies.

Azerbaijan has a lamentable human rights record, imprisoning journalists and civil society activists. But von der Leyen came back to Brussels hailing a new deal to sharply increase gas supplies to the EU.

Last month, the EU issued a joint statement with Norway, supporting continued oil and gas exploration and development. Meanwhile, the current Czech presidency of the EU did not even put climate change as one of its top priorities, though the EU will continue to work on its ‘Fit for 55’ emissions reduction and green transition strategy for 2030.

Balancing different priorities in the midst of urgent and multiple crises is tough. Yet standing up for human rights when the going gets tough is surely the point – including in troubling member states at home, notably Hungary and Poland.

And concerns that around the world, climate urgency is falling down the agenda as these short-term crises take hold, are not misplaced. As UN secretary general, António Guterres, said on the climate crisis, at the start of this week: “We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.”

But while there are some sharp critiques to be made, the EU is also handling, with some energy and effectiveness, the sequence of crises, from the pandemic, to the Ukraine war, to a much wider set of issues, from its own neighbourhood to its role in the world – from foreign policy, to democratic control of digital tech giants to a more strategic, and self-reliant, industrial policy.

On Tuesday this week, the EU finally agreed to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania, having given Ukraine and Moldova candidate status in June.

These are political choices, not lightly taken. EU enlargement is slow but still continuing. And whether French president Emmanuel Macron’s ideas of a larger, looser European Political Community, beyond but including the EU, will develop in the coming years is another open strategic question.

Meanwhile, apart from its joint vaccine purchasing during the pandemic, the European Commission has since last year been issuing debt on a large and unprecedented scale – up to €800 billion by 2026 – to fund a green-resilient, post-pandemic recovery strategy.

Earlier this year, its new ‘strategic compass’ security policy was agreed by the member states. The EU is busy and stretched.

Broader questions around democratic engagement and the future direction of the EU have also been the focus of some attention.

The year-long conference on the future of Europe reported this May. While its conclusions may be at risk of becoming side-lined or even out-dated as the EU’s multi-crises unfold, the conference did engage citizens’ panels and representation alongside the powerful EU bodies of Commission, Council and Parliament.

Interestingly, some of the final report’s top nine themes are not so dissimilar to those that came out of the Scotland’s Citizens Assembly that reported last year.

There’s an interesting question, too, of whether the UK would have helped or hindered in the EU’s multi-crisis response if it was still a member state. But the UK is now on the sidelines – its influence (and Scotland’s with it) largely gone.

While the EU steps up several gears in the face of European and global crises, the UK is mired in a leadership contest for prime minister, focused around tax cuts and breaking the Northern Ireland protocol it agreed with the EU.

Yet, wherever UK politics goes next, it’s in all our interests that the EU manages these huge challenges successfully across its 27 member states.

The state of the European Union is not perfect but it is streets ahead of the state of the UK one.