About & Projects

ECFR’s European Power programme aims to help Europeans plan and build a foreign policy that realises the founding values of the European Union. Our goal is a globally engaged EU that understands the internal and external threats it faces, that equips itself to respond to these dangers, and that creates and seizes new opportunities.

The change from a unipolar to a multipolar global security order is presenting new challenges. Europe’s relationships with other global actors are evolving at a rapid pace, and it urgently needs to strengthen its strategic sovereignty across emerging technologies, security, the economy, and health. With European leaders faced with the challenge of managing European recovery after the coronavirus crisis, and doing at a time of increased political fragmentation across the EU, Europeans face two pressing questions. Can the EU generate enough unity at home to exercise sovereignty abroad? And can Europeans agree to invest in their own strategic sovereignty?

The European Power programme is framed around two pillars to develop answers to these questions:

  • Building the policy toolkit for strategic sovereignty, and
  • Understanding the political support for strategic sovereignty.

Building the policy toolkit for strategic sovereignty

The objective of the European Power programme’s work on the policy toolkit is to push the EU to invest substantial resources in key areas to boost its strategic sovereignty. Our activity is framed around mapping European and member state capacities, and advocating ways to realise untapped potential in the three strands of sovereignty set out in our 2019 report: ‘Strategic Sovereignty: How Europe can regain the capacity to act’: economics and finance; security and defence; and politics and diplomacy.

We use ECFR’s convening power to work closely with policymakers to understand their views on the obstacles to achieving sovereignty, and to model what sovereignty would look like in key global relationships and thematic areas. We aim to bring our recommendations together through this process to push Europe’s leaders to realise the EU’s potential as a global actor.

European Strategic Sovereignty

European countries are increasingly vulnerable to external pressure that prevents them from exercising their sovereignty. This vulnerability threatens the European Union’s security, economic health, and diplomatic freedom of action, allowing other powers to impose their preferences on it. To prosper and maintain their independence in a world of geopolitical competition, Europeans must address the interlinked security and economic challenges other powerful states present – without withdrawing their support for a rules-based order and the transatlantic alliance.  This means creating a new idea of “strategic sovereignty”, as well as establishing institutions and empowering individuals that see strategic sovereignty as part of their identity and in their own interest. Most fundamentally, the EU needs to learn to think like a geopolitical power. The project is led by Jeremy Shapiro.

Economic Coercion

The “Task Force for Protecting Europe from Economic Coercion” provides a platform for confidential consultations between representatives from European governments, business, the financial sector, and members of parliament. Its goal is to discuss how Europeans could better protect themselves from the use of economic coercion against them. ECFR accompanies the Task Force’s work with opinion pieces, expert interviews, and will publish a policy brief with recommendations for European policymakers. The Task Force is led by Jonathan Hackenbroich.

New Power Maps

We are entering new terrain in world politics. Power is shifting from west to east, the digital revolution is changing the nature of power itself, and a political counter-revolution is calling globalisation and the liberal order into question. Our policy maps of the old world now fail to help us navigate international politics. Modern power is no longer defined by the control of territory or by economic statistics, or even the cultural influence of soft power. It is now exercised through control of flows of people, goods, money, and data and via the connections they establish. States compete to control these connections and the dependencies they create. The competition over these flows creates a galaxy of overlapping spheres of influence that together define the geopolitical map of the world. Those who can read this new map control the modern world; those without it are lost. This project is led by Jeremy Shapiro.

Security and Defence

European strategic sovereignty is inextricably linked with defence capabilities. Without being able to defend itself, how can Europe claim to be sovereign? Defence and military matters remain, largely, within the responsibilities of the states, meaning that cooperation on bilateral and multilateral level are particularly important. In addition, with the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, defence has also become a more important topic for the EU. As many European states are also members of NATO, a balance has to be struck in terms of division of labour and areas where complementary capabilities can help to strengthen resilience. ECFR analyses European defence efforts, advises on how to strengthen European capabilities while guaranteeing strong transatlantic cooperation, and on how to best work with other international allies, including EU-UK cooperation. Ulrike Franke, Jana Puglierin, and Nick Witney are working on this thematic.

Emerging Technologies

Emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomy and unmanned systems, digital infrastructure, networking and social media, and 3D printing have become areas of geopolitical competition. China and the United States are engaged in what some call a race for technological leadership. The European Commission has also identified emerging technologies, and AI in particular, as an area of focus. ECFR’s work on emerging technologies explores the policy challenges associated with their arrival. A key focus is bringing together the different stakeholders from industry, policy, and the expert community to develop solutions together. The project is led by Ulrike Franke.

Multilateralism and Global Health

This project aims to assess the impact of the coronavirus on the multilateral system, across the full range of affected areas, and to suggest ways that the EU could try to lead on international initiatives to make the multilateral system more effective in the post-coronavirus period. At the same time, it will also place the response to the pandemic in the context of longer-term multilateral trends. This particularly includes the impact of great power competition and declining support for cooperative internationalism, which have clearly influenced the international reaction to the pandemic so far. The aim will be to suggest constructive steps to advance multilateralism while acknowledging the seriousness of the challenges to the system. The project is led by Anthony Dworkin.


International development aid is a key element in the EU’s external toolkit. Aid is not only central to Europe’s soft power, but also – as part of an integrated approach – helps deliver on the EU’s interests of stable growing communities that do not feel cut off from the benefits of globalisation and that are supported in facing its challenges. However, in a complex political environment, and with the economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis weighing heavily on European leaders, making the case for a sustained commitment to aid is challenging. At home, nationalist rhetoric is a threat to voters’ commitment to the EU project, but also to leaders’ continuation in power from one day to the next.  The European Power team looks at aid through this lens, mapping how political developments in Europe affect leaders’ commitment to the international development agenda, and building a narrative around it that can speak to European voters. The project is led by Susi Dennison.

Mapping the political support for strategic sovereignty

The European Power programme’s work in this area looks at the politics, mechanisms, and interstate relationships within the EU that can help or hinder a collective foreign policy. We analyse developments in EU member states, and explore how Europeans can work in a more flexible, fleet-of-foot way in a post-Brexit union, to deliver on the issues that matter to voters. Our ‘Rethink: Europe’ project looks at coalitions and the underlying potential for member states to work together on different policy areas. In our public opinion survey work carried out under the rubric of ‘Unlock Europe’s majority’ we monitor how Europeans’ attitudes to the EU project and the world around them are shifting. We use this data to engage with the political parties shaping the European landscape, exploring how their foreign policy can best respond to voter feeling, and how and where the EU should be strengthened as a global actor. This analysis and data inform foreign policy work across ECFR, ensuring that our recommendations are always grounded in what is politically possible.

Unlock Europe’s Majority

This project aims to push back against the rise of anti-Europeanism that threatens to weaken Europe and its influence in the world. Through public opinion polling in EU member states, ECFR’s analysis seeks to unlock shifting coalitions in Europe that favour a more internationally engaged European Union. This will show how different parties and movements can – rather than competing in the nationalist or populist debate – give the pro-European, internationally engaged majority in Europe a new voice.ECFR will use this research to engage with pro-European parties, civil society allies, and media outlets on how to frame nationally relevant issues in a way that reaches across constituencies as well as appealing to voters who oppose an inward-looking, nationalist, and illiberal version of Europe. The project is led by Susanne Baumann and Susi Dennison.

Rethink: Europe

Launched in 2015, Rethink: Europe crafts policy strategies based on data and dialogue. The initiative harnesses surveys of experts, open data sources, and government statistics to analyse cohesion and cooperation in the European Union. The results of this research are presented through the EU Coalition Explorer, the EU Cohesion Monitor, and the European Solidarity Tracker. Rethink: Europe also provides a forum for discussion of its work, hosting briefings and public events for policy professionals and others who have an interest in new strategies for improving European cooperation. Rethink: Europe is supported by Stiftung Mercator. The project is led by Jana Puglierin.