Publications 2019

Strategic autonomy for European choices: The key to Europe's shaping power

19 July 2019
Giovanni Grevi (Head of Europe in the World programme and Senior Fellow)


Multi-level competition is on the rise in the international system and the standoff between the US and China risks becoming a defining feature of international affairs. However, the future is not predestined: the European Union (EU) will play a major role in the development of the international order, whether through its absence or its engagement.

This Discussion Paper follows recent European Policy Centre publications and debates dedicated to revamping Europe’s approach to an increasingly challenging international context, which have delivered recommendations to:

  • equip Europe with the tools to govern interdependence and mitigate confrontation;
  • take a strong stance in defence of Europe while not endorsing a zero-sum interpretation of global affairs;
  • turn the EU into a global shaping power by pursuing a ‘rules-first’ strategy; and
  • frame Europe’s strategic autonomy in comprehensive terms, including the economic, technological and security and defence dimensions.

This paper elaborates on these recommendations and calls on the new EU leadership and member states to place strategic autonomy at the top of the political agenda. It argues that: 

  • Strategic autonomy is not just a foreign policy issue but also a critical requirement for fostering European integration.
  • Building a more autonomous Europe is not just about better protecting Europe but also about projecting a positive agenda on the global stage. Strategic autonomy is an essential enabler of Europe’s shaping power.
  • Strategic autonomy is about setting objectives, making decisions and mobilising resources in ways that do not primarily depend on the decisions and assets of others. Rather than isolation, it is about building a stronger position for cooperation and partnership.
  • Advancing strategic autonomy effectively requires not only focusing on distinct areas and initiatives, but also on their interconnections, through an overarching approach.
  • The Single Market and Economic and Monetary Union provide the EU with strategic depth in geo-economic competition and should be deepened further. This includes strengthening the international role of the euro.
  • The EU will fail to advance towards strategic autonomy if it is not at the forefront of technological innovation and efforts to regulate emerging technologies. Europeans must ensure that EU and national initiatives are mutually reinforcing.
  • The European security and defence agenda has widened and includes crisis management, cybersecurity, cyber defence and territorial defence. Europe must become more self-reliant in all of these areas, while working with allies.
  • It is in Europe’s core interest to preserve a strong transatlantic partnership, which means that Europeans should gear up to be more effective partners, not followers. The alternative to a more integrated and autonomous Europe is a less transatlantic one.
  • In shaping its partnership with China, the EU should leverage its rule-making power to set terms of engagement consistent with its interests and values, while further engaging China in a dialogue on the future of the international order and the connectivity agenda.
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