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Fostering Europe’s Strategic Autonomy - A question of purpose and action

Foreign policy / PUBLICATION
Giovanni Grevi

Date: 22/12/2020
Strategic autonomy is about empowering Europe, not disengaging from partnerships, globalisation or multilateralism. The core of strategic autonomy is not that Europeans should act alone, but that they should have a purpose of their own, and a stronger power base to fulfil that purpose through cooperation with others whenever possible, or on their own, if needed. As such, strategic autonomy is not a condition to be achieved once and for all, but a mindset and a process, guiding initiatives across multiple areas. By advancing its strategic autonomy, Europe should acquire a stronger position to manage interdependence amidst geopolitical competition – arguably the defining challenge of our times.

The concept has become central to a number of statements by EU and national leaders, and to important EU policy documents. Although the level of ambition and requirements for progress differ across policy areas – from trade and investment to innovation, the single market or security and defence – and are the subject of ongoing debate, an EU strategic narrative is emerging alongside current or envisaged policy measures and initiatives. These policy developments point to three main tracks of action, or dimensions of Europe’s strategic autonomy, namely bracing against threats and challenges, empowering Europe by joining forces and engaging others to strengthen a rules-based international order.

  1. Bracing. Europe needs to strengthen its resilience and political cohesion in the face of multi-dimensional competition. It needs to counter trade-distorting practices and unfair competition, while better enforcing the rules and obligations of EU trade agreements. Europe should also reduce its current overdependence on foreign technologies and companies, such as for 5G and data infrastructure, and Europeans should do more to secure their critical infrastructure against malicious practices or cyberattacks.
  2. Empowering. Europe is much more than the sum of its parts, even though it often performs as less than that because of disagreements among EU member states, or their reluctance to pool their resources. Completing and strengthening the Single Market is crucial to sustaining both Europe’s growth and the EU’s regulatory power. Eliminating current barriers within the Digital Single Market will be critical to spur innovation and scale-up European technology companies while creating a regime for data sharing and access that benefits all market actors and citizens. To both deliver the capabilities that Europeans need and acquire a real operational capacity, EU member states should make full use of the arrangements for defence cooperation established in the last few years, on the basis of a better-defined set of shared goals.
  3. Engaging. The purpose of shaping and supporting a rules-based international order should continue to drive Europe’s foreign policy, even though Europeans will need to take a pragmatic approach in a context of geopolitical competition. The election of Joe Biden paves the way to dialogue and cooperation with the US, and to reinforcing the transatlantic partnership and multilateralism.

This paper is part of the joint European Policy Centre – Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung project on ‘Fostering Europe’s strategic autonomy: priorities for action’ that runs throughout 2020 and aims to outline a concrete agenda to strengthen Europe’s role in the world and its sovereignty.

Read the full paper here.

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