July 23, 2019
When Europe lacks a strategy
We always regarded the main benefit of European integration as being the protection of Europe’s strategic autonomy, the defence of European values, and its independence from other superpowers. Without this killer-app, the case for the EU is much weaker. This is so because many policy areas, like monetary union and immigration policy, have had a highly asymmetric effect on the member states. As we have been arguing during the eurozone crisis, there now exists a prima facie case for some member states, and groups within member states, to argue for an exit from the eurozone. That was unthinkable before the crisis. Without a common foreign and security policy, the case for European integration will become progressively harder to make.
In this context, we spotted an interesting, albeit depressing, piece of research by the European council of foreign relations, which has done a survey of attitudes in EU member states about joint security interests.
The overall result is that some countries don’t want any strategic autonomy for the EU. These are the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden and Poland. It is no accident that all but one of these are outside the eurozone - and the Netherlands is increasingly behaving like it is. Since foreign and security policy formally remains subject to the national veto, the results of this study clearly suggest that the defence of the EU’s strategic interests cannot be effectively carried out at EU level, but will ultimately require a structure like the monetary union - run in part within the EU and in part by an inter-governmental coalition that sets up its own institutions.
As one of the authors of the study noted, what she found most surprising was the total lack of any strategic position vis-a-vis China in any of the 28 member states. In 15 countries, China plays no role in their thinking about European strategic autonomy. In the remaining countries, China is of interest mainly for commercial reasons. China’s military ambitions play no role whatsoever.
We see the lack of common strategic thinking as pervading many activities of the EU. Politico has a story on the Juncker Commission’s policy on high tech. When it took office in 2014, it promised to treat technology as an opportunity. Instead it ended up tackling high tech as a problem of competitiveness and tax avoidance. In this sector, too, the EU has turned inward - away from seeing opportunities and towards fighting threats. We disagree with Politico’s optimistic conclusion on the EU’s future approach to artificial intelligence. We expect EU policy there to follow the usual patterns: to focus on its limits, not on its opportunities.