The clear win of Joe Biden in the US presidential elections has opened a huge window of opportunity—for world politics, for transatlantic relations, and for Europe itself, which has for 70-odd years relied on Washington to safeguard its security.
Having been able, at the last minute, to manage the departure of the United Kingdom from the single market and customs union in an orderly fashion, now would be the time for the European Union to fill talk of its “geopolitical awakening” with action. So far, however, there is little to suggest that 2021 will be particularly promising in this regard.
In this issue, we look at the EU as a potential global player. As Daniela Schwarzer reminds us, the aim of “strategic autonomy” (or “strategic sovereignty”) is not exactly new. But the EU has simply taken far too little action to make the aspiration of becoming an international player a reality—and that at a time when things have decidedly not gone the EU’s way in global affairs, as Mark Leonard explains.
Be it the Middle East and North Africa, Turkey, or Russia—to pick three examples where the EU could in fact make a difference—the Europeans and “Brussels” are still cautiously feeling their way into a new future rather than boldly going forward. What’s more, for the EU to make its “geopolitical turn” really work, it needs to urgently revisit its aspired role in the military field, especially in relations to NATO, as Barbara Kunz argues. Big picture thinking is required.
“We have not sufficiently thought about what makes us a power in the concert of nations: a highly integrated region with a clear political given,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in his November interview with LeGrandContinent. “Europe must rethink itself politically and act politically to define common objectives that are more than merely delegating our future to the market.”
Macron, presently the sole big thinker on the continent, knows that the path is long. “Can we go so far as to talk about European sovereignty, as I have done myself? It is a term that is a bit excessive, I admit… We are not there yet.” But: “I think it is vital that our Europe finds the ways and means to decide for itself, to rely on itself, not to depend on others, in every area, technological, as I said, but also health, geopolitics, and to be able to cooperate with whomever it chooses.”
His attack on German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, or AKK, who had called for an “end of illusions” as far a “strategic autonomy” in military affairs was concerned, was essentially about whether it is dangerous or not to think very big indeed. “The United States will only respect us as allies if we are earnest, and if we are sovereign with respect to our defense. Therefore, I think that, on the contrary, the changeover of administration in America is an opportunity to pursue.”
The French president is right here, and AKK unlikely to disagree with the sentiment.
Henning Hoff is Executive Editor of Internationale Politik Quarterly.