Is the time now for the EU to establish its strategic autonomy or affirm a new bond with the US, asks Željana Zovko MEP.
Brussels (Brussels Morning) The transatlantic partnership, a pillar of the contemporary international order, is going through difficult times. The topic has been at the core of the Munich Security Conference (MSC), which brought together leaders from both sides of the Atlantic to discuss the current state of international affairs as well as the transatlantic relationship. With the new US administration in place, it appears the time is right to revive the alliance. ”America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back”, said President Biden at the conference on Friday. The sentiments may seem like the sun will be shining once again on the transatlantic partnership, but will it?
Many of the present-day tensions between the US and Europe have been caused by former President Donald Trump’s statements and policies, such as his hostile tone toward European leaders and the multilateral order. Moreover, by considering the withdrawal of the States from NATO, imposing tariffs on European imports, calling the EU a “foe”, Trump has not only sparked tensions between the allies, but has also triggered concerns over whether he would honour Washington’s security commitment toward Europe.
Thus, it’s no surprise that many yearn for the days of transatlantic ”normality” again. The US is shifting its focus more on Asia while Europe is increasingly pivoting to Africa, but both remain interested in stability of the Balkans. Due to these developments, Europeans are debating whether the EU should pursue a path of strategic autonomy, which would include greater independence from the US in its foreign and security policies.
In the last couple of years, discussions on European strategic autonomy have increased in their intensity. It emerged as a concept for the efforts to turn Europe into a more capable security and defence actor. The concept of strategic autonomy is not new; the idea has been around since Europe failed to intervene on its own in the Balkan conflicts in the 1990s. The desire to be able to act autonomously was one of the driving forces behind the foundation of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) in the late 1990s. Nonetheless, the meaning of the term remains ambiguous.
In the traditional sense, strategic autonomy refers only to security and defence, and denotes Europe’s ability to act without the US or NATO, if necessary. For a long time the debate was limited only to issues of defence and security, and that is part of the problem. Since then, strategic autonomy has been widened to new topics such as those of an economic and technological nature, as revealed by the current global pandemic. Nevertheless, the security dimension remains predominant and sensitive. Thus I welcome this debate because we need to clarify the issue, clear up ambiguities and make some concrete proposals on how we can move forward.
There has never been a better time for Europe to take concrete steps to achieve its strategic autonomy while simultaneously reestablishing and updating the transatlantic relationship than during the Biden presidency. Everyone can agree that Europe needs to do more for its defense, despite disagreements over how to do so.
Furthermore, I am well aware that not all European states see the problems through the same lens, since they neither share the same history nor the same geography. As a result of that, they do not have the same strategic perceptions. In the west, in the east or in the south, the perception of threats and dangers are not the same. In order for Europe to achieve its strategic autonomy, all EU member states would have to support this goal, which at the moment is not the case. Central and Eastern European EU members, traditionally more preoccupied about threats from Russia, are opposed to weakening the security partnership with the US.
That is why the consolidation of the European defence and security is more than necessary. The pace at which it will develop will be at the heart of the debate on European strategic autonomy. Strategic autonomy is not a single decision, but a long-term process intended to ensure that we as Europeans increasingly take charge of ourselves. To defend our values and interests in an increasingly unpredictable world, a world that obliges us to rely on ourselves to guarantee our future.