European Sovereignty

The costs of non-sovereignty are high.

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.

ECFR proposes correspondingly a pentagon of strategic sovereignty:

The most sacred aspect of sovereignty is the ability to defend the nation against external threats. Since the end of the cold war, most EU member states have not felt substantially threatened in this regard. They were collectively among the most powerful military states in the world, and they sheltered behind the protection of the US. But an assertive China, a resurgent Russia, an America more focused on the Indo-Pacific than Europe, and a host of asymmetric threats from other powers and non-state actors means that most EU member states now face new security vulnerabilities that they lack the capacity to defend against on their own.

The complex economic interdependence that has emerged in the era of globalisation created multiple asymmetric dependencies that have limited European freedom of action. The fundamental effort in an economic sovereignty agenda must be to reduce asymmetric dependencies on external powers without resorting to protectionism or even greatly reducing international trade and investment activity.

The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated that the ability to nurture and protect an effective health system is a question of security, and that the EU and its member states are not yet able to maintain European autonomy in this realm, despite a good start.

In an increasingly digital world, the questions of who owns the technologies of the future, who produces them, and who sets the standards and regulates their use have become central to geopolitical competition. Nations around the world are trying to shape the developments in new technology and capture the benefits – both economic and geopolitical – that emerge from this era of rapid technological change. If Europeans want to reap these benefits, ensure their politics remain free of divisive disinformation, and decide who can know their most personal information, they will have to participate in this struggle.

The EU is extremely vulnerable to the impact of the climate crisis. Europeans will not only suffer direct consequences in the form of extreme weather events, water shortages, and loss in biodiversity, but also the indirect consequences of increased conflict and migration in their neighbourhoods.

War and sovereignty: How the EU can enhance its ability to act

The EU has made insufficient progress in enhancing its sovereignty, particularly in security and defence. The union now needs to overcome internal differences to bolster its external ability to act.

Europe’s soft-power problem

Although Europe has begun to make up for years of neglect in terms of defence spending, it remains woefully ill-equipped to win over other countries through the power of attraction and persuasion. Each side in the European culture war is uniquely unappealing to billions of people around the world.

Publications

Articles

War and sovereignty: How the EU can enhance its ability to act

The EU has made insufficient progress in enhancing its sovereignty, particularly in security and defence. The union now needs to overcome internal differences to bolster its external ability to act.

Europe’s soft-power problem

Although Europe has begun to make up for years of neglect in terms of defence spending, it remains woefully ill-equipped to win over other countries through the power of attraction and persuasion. Each side in the European culture war is uniquely unappealing to billions of people around the world.

The true value of European sovereignty

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has underlined the importance of European sovereignty. The EU should now invest boldly in its military capabilities, cyber-defences, energy independence, and economic resilience.

Will Putin unite Europe?

Across Europe, national attitudes toward the Russian threat against Ukraine reflect a broad array of concerns and historical experiences. Yet underlying Europeans’ differences are key shared interests that they are increasingly willing to defend.

Vision quest: How Europe should safeguard its security

To prevent catastrophic wars, European states should concentrate on stabilising the West’s accomplishments and defending them against the revisionist policies of Russia in Europe and China in Asia

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In the media