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:
To manage in this new world, the EU and its members need to embark on a broad-based effort to recover their strategic sovereignty
The EU needs to learn to think like a geopolitical power
The turmoil in the current system represents an opportunity for Europeans to shape a new order that meets their strategic needs
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 EU’s tendency to shy away from security issues has helped make covert operations and military threats Russia’s tools of choice in the region
To achieve greater sovereignty, Europe needs to push back against rival powers, build leverage in armed conflicts, and be more effective in supporting reform
Europe should upgrade its security activities, and seize the moment to push multilateral institutions up the agenda. But it will be Europe’s connectivity agenda that provides the golden thread running through its foreign policy and its other objectives in the region.
To hedge against US disengagement without precipitating it, Europeans should converge on “taking a greater share of the burden of defending Europe”
Europe should pursue a ‘dual track’ approach of confrontation followed by dialogue with unfriendly cyber powers
The EU and its member states should strengthen their sanctions policy and begin to build up their deterrence and resilience against secondary sanctions
If Europe does not address these difficult questions soon it will find itself surrounded by more powerful rivals deploying AI against it
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 EU should move quickly to consider and adopt a suite of tools to protect and enhance European sovereignty in the geo-economic sphere
Europeans can take steps now to enhance their economic power, without advocating increased protectionism or a retreat from globalisation
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.
Europe must improve its early warning systems, supply chain resilience, medical R&D, and cyber security and technology, to act decisively in future emergencies
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 cannot continue to rely on its regulatory power but must become a tech superpower in its own right. Referees do not win the game.
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.
As climate action becomes more material to economic interests, Europe and China will both compete and cooperate with each other, against the backdrop of an overarching systemic rivalry