European leaders are facing the challenge of leading Europe’s post-pandemic recovery at a time of political fragmentation across the continent. To succeed in this endeavour, they will need answers to two pressing questions. How – and how much – to invest in their own strategic sovereignty? And can the European Union generate enough unity at home to exercise strategic sovereignty abroad?
ECFR’s European Power programme aims to map European interests and values – and, in the post-coronavirus era, to understand how to defend and promote these. The programme seeks to balance the tensions between building European resilience and shaping a rules-based international system that delivers on global goods. By exploring this challenge in a range of policy domains, we aim to help set a foreign policy agenda that protects the EU’s core values and interests and responds to the issues on which there is popular support for EU-level action.
We use ECFR’s convening power to work closely with policymakers to understand their perspectives – both national and European – and to model what sovereignty would look like in key global relationships and thematic areas. Our activity is framed around realising the untapped potential in the five strands of sovereignty set out in our 2020 report “Sovereign Europe, dangerous world: Five agendas to protect Europe’s capacity to act”: health, climate, technology, economy, and security.
Long underestimated as an issue of international importance, health encapsulates the challenges of global cooperation in a world of competing great powers. But it also offers the prospect of building new legitimacy for internationalism on an issue of everyday relevance. The covid-19 crisis highlighted the need for a new approach to health and security, including questions of how we protect citizens from diseases, ensure universal health coverage regardless of ability to pay, and leverage the co-benefits of tackling the climate crisis. Our goal is to understand the international politics of global health and its place in a renewed multilateral system, with a view to contributing to placing global health high on the EU’s foreign policy agenda. This work strand is led by Anthony Dworkin.
ECFR’s regular surveys of public opinion show that tackling climate change at EU level enjoys strong public support across many member states. European leaders should build on this. To do so, political leaders in key member states need to construct a compelling narrative for the European Green Deal tailored to their national setting.
By identifying the opportunities for individual countries, groups of states, and European leaders in general – and by stimulating public debate on the benefits of the European Green Deal – ECFR aims to encourage policymakers to take concrete action in implementing the deal while also facilitating the formation of coalitions of the willing among EU member states and mobilising climate action more generally. At the same time, we continue to analyse the geopolitical aspects of the European Green Deal and the EU’s relationships with other global players, including the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, as well as those framing themselves as part of a ‘developing world exceptionalism’, such as Turkey, and African states. This work strand is led by Susi Dennison, Rafael Loss, and Jenny Söderström.
In recent years, appreciation has grown of the impact that the fast-developing technologies of artificial intelligence, cyber, and 5G/6G will have beyond the technological and economic realm. Such new technologies are already influencing diplomacy, geopolitics, and warfare, and are poised to affect the global balance of power. Strikingly, the European debate on emerging technologies has so far primarily revolved around their economic and social consequences, and many EU member states have not yet evinced much interest in these technologies’ geopolitical implications.
Our work on technology focuses on the EU’s capacity to take advantage of the increasingly digital world – exploring the impact on geopolitics and alliances and what this means for Europe; the way that emerging technologies are influencing Europe’s ability to shape international politics and European internal cohesion; and how the EU should position itself on these questions. An important element of this work is to research the ways that Europe can cooperate with partners and allies – the US, but also other technologically leading democracies such as Australia, Japan, and South Korea. This work strand is led by Ulrike Franke.
Europeans have traditionally built their foreign and economic policies on three pillars: a multilateral, rules-based order; a close partnership with a reliable administration in the US; and the idea of free and fair trade, where globalisation benefits everybody. All three are now being called into question. The most dominant structural feature today is no longer multilateralism, a rules-based order, or free trade, but the bipolar competition between the US and China. Europeans must ensure they are in a strong position to negotiate better forms of cooperation with their allies, especially as China and other powers more regularly use economic coercion such as export controls and sanctions, forced sensitive data transfers, and punitive tariffs.
Our work on economic sovereignty centres around the “Task Force for Protecting Europe from Economic Coercion”, launched in 2020. The Task Force’s work is accompanied by opinion pieces, expert interviews, and policy briefs making recommendations for European policymakers. This work strand is led by Jonathan Hackenbroich.
Defence and security remain largely the responsibility of EU member states. However, the EU’s efforts to build up capabilities though instruments such as PESCO and the European Defence Fund have started to take shape in recent years, and have been given extra impetus by Brexit. We analyse European defence efforts, advise on strengthening both European capabilities and transatlantic cooperation, and recommend how to work with other allies, including the UK. We engage with European stakeholders to contribute to discussions around the EU’s Strategic Compass and the future of European security. Team members active in this work strand include: Ulrike Franke, Jana Puglierin, Nick Witney, Rafael Loss, Tara Varma, and Jenny Söderström.