Jan 06, 2022

The Quest for European Sovereignty

With Olaf Scholz in the chancellery, Emmanuel Macron finally has a partner in moving Europe forward.

France's President Emmanuel Macron and Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrive for a joint news conference during an European Union (EU) summit at the European Council Building in Brussels, Belgium December 17, 2021.
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“It is up to us, to you, to map out the route which ensures our future ... The route of rebuilding a sovereign, united, and democratic Europe. Let us together have the audacity to create this route.” Rereading French President Emmanuel Macron’s “Sorbonne speech,” held at the university’s Amphithéâtre Richelieu on September 26, 2017, it has lost little of its verve and energy. The young president, who is up for reelection this April, sketched out a vision of a Europe that would be able to assert itself on the world stage, and thus protect the states that form the European Union.

“Only Europe can, in a word, guarantee genuine sovereignty or our ability to exist in today’s world to defend our values and interests. European sovereignty requires constructing, and we must do it. Why? Because what constructs and forges our profound identity, this balance of values, this relation with freedom, human rights and justice cannot be found anywhere on the planet. This attachment to a market economy, but also social justice.”

Macron’s call to build a “sovereign” Europe found much praise and support across Europe. But delivered only two days after the German 2017 election—which Angela Merkel just about won, but then took six months to form her last government—it never received the German answer that it deserved. Merkel did not do big speeches, and her successor as party leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, who penned a sort of reply many months later in the form of a newspaper op-ed, did not rise to the occasion either. In fact, much of the past four years were spent on circular discussions about what was meant, or implied, when one spoke of European “sovereignty,” or its terminological sibling, “strategic autonomy.” Constructing it, as Macron called for? Not so much.

One member of Merkel’s government, however, liked to talk about a sovereign Europe: then Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, who did his bit to advance it, paving the way for the post-COVID-19 NextGenerationEU recovery fund. Now Scholz is chancellor, and the aim of his new government is “enhancing Europe’s strategic sovereignty,” as per the coalition agreement, a happy mix of the terms, which indicate the direction: forward.

In our sixth issue, we are trying to shed some light on the way ahead. Reflecting on the concept and its implication, Daniel Fiott reminds us that, while leading to slower decision-making than in, say, the United States or China, “the shared sovereignty in the European Union is an important asset because it brings together multiple levels of society.” Rachel Rizzo, looking at the current mood in Washington when it comes to a “sovereign” Europe, points out that no US administration has ever been so favorable to the idea than the current one of President Joe Biden. Sophia Becker and Torben Schütz, meanwhile, explain why a sovereign Europe will need to change tack and truly pool resources when it comes to building military capacity.

It is precisely due to Europe’s lacking “military muscle” that Christoph Heusgen, the incoming chairman of the Munich Security Conference and Merkel’s former long-time national security advisor, thinks it is “presumptuous” to talk about “European sovereignty,” as he tells us in an interview. Vladimir Putin’s Russia surely does not take the Europeans seriously, as recent weeks have shown. The Russian president prefers to negotiate with the United States about Europe’s security order, which he seeks to upend completely, by a guaranteed Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

As Macron warned in 2017, “we cannot blindly entrust what Europe represents, on the other side of the Atlantic or on the edges of Asia.  It is our responsibility to defend it and build it within the context of globalization.” There truly is no time to lose anymore.

Henning Hoff is Executive Editor of INTERNATIONALE POLITIK QUARTERLY.

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