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.

Publications

Articles

Europe’s post-pandemic strategy for the WHO

The EU has an opportunity to become a key strategic actor on global health – by upgrading its observer status within the WHO, making even greater financial contributions to the organisation, and working in coordination with the United States

Where Portugal can lead Europe in 2021

As president of the European Council, Portugal’s foreign policy intray is full to brimming – but the country has numerous strengths to bring to bear

We need to pull our own weight

European strategic sovereignty means the capacity to preserve and foster human rights, liberal democracy, multilateralism, and a social and green market economy in an interdependent and complex world

Second acts: How Europe can renew the transatlantic partnership

This could be the moment to build a more balanced transatlantic relationship, with Europeans showing the US where we need it to engage, and how – rather than simply waiting for cues from Washington

Specials

Podcasts

In the media