strategic carelessness is not an option for europe

since joe biden was elected the new president of the united states, europe has hopes that transatlantic relations will return to normal. but you can't just go back to the past. america, facing so many domestic and international problems, will value the transatlantic relationship only insofar as it brings real value to it. a stronger europe that carries more global responsibilities on its shoulders will provide this value.

there is a lot of talk about achieving "european strategic autonomy", but what does this mean in practice? autonomy should not mean complete independence or isolation from the rest of the world. rather, it is the ability to think independently and act in accordance with one's values ​​and interests. the eu needs to achieve this autonomy while strengthening our alliances and maintaining a commitment to multilateralism and a policy of openness.

the eu is facing serious strategic challenges in the current antagonistic international environment, where geopolitical rivalry and great-power competition are growing. that is why, as german chancellor angela merkel once put it bluntly, "we europeans must really take our fate into our own hands." we have to stand on our own two feet.

for a long time, discussions about strategic autonomy have focused mainly on security and defense issues. sometimes this discussion is seen as an attempt to create an alternative to defense cooperation within the north atlantic alliance; and some even believe that it casts doubt on american commitment to europe and that a more serious break in ties may be brewing.

but there is no doubt that nato plays an irreplaceable role in european security. any consolidation of european security capabilities must take place within this alliance. us leaders, one by one, have emphasized that europe needs to increase its contribution to defense to get rid of the impression that america alone pays for transatlantic security. with the biden administration, there will be a shift in tone and less confrontational approaches, but on defense spending it will expect the same from europe as its predecessors. america's key geopolitical interests will not change.

fortunately, the eu has already begun work on several fronts to strengthen the transatlantic partnership. through an ongoing structured partnership (pesco), nato's european members are helping to fill capacity gaps in the alliance and are working towards meeting their commitment to spend 2% of gdp on defense by 2024. just as important is the creation of a new european defense fund (edf), which is a significant step towards enhancing the capacity of the european defense industry.

however, europe's security problems go beyond the traditional framework of nato. from the sahel and libya to the eastern mediterranean, there is no shortage of crises requiring a strong european response. the task of the european union is to define a common position, based on which it can act in the interests of maintaining regional stability.

to succeed, europe must develop its own threat monitoring and analysis system so that it can move quickly from threat assessment to operationalization and response. that is why we are developing a "strategic compass" now.

it is imperative that discussions on strategic autonomy cover more than just defense and security issues. as the covid-19 crisis has shown, issues such as health and economic interdependence are equally important.

strategic autonomy is a conceptual approach that europe needs to understand all these issues and how they relate. when viewed in isolation, masks and medicines are not strategic commodities. but strategic calculations change when the production of these goods is concentrated in only a handful of countries. the same can be said for the supply of rare metals, social media and other digital platforms, and technologies such as 5g.

to help eu countries cope with these and many other problems, the european commission has proposed a number of new instruments, for example, the mechanism for tracking foreign investments in the eu, which came into force last month. however, in order to achieve strategic autonomy, it will be necessary to actively rely on the strength of the european common market. due to its sheer size and reach, the common market provides many instruments to protect european interests in critical infrastructure, foreign investment, government subsidies (which some foreign investors also benefit from), and dual-use exports (commercial and military).

for example, we are increasingly aware of the vulnerabilities posed by the imbalance in economic relations with china, and therefore made the principle of reciprocity a key element in our negotiations on an investment agreement. europe has absolutely no objection to china's own economic development and the benefits it brings to its citizens. but we cannot allow china's international expansion to be at the expense of our own interests and values. that is why we have chosen a dual approach, dealing with china as an important partner, but at the same time as a competitor and systemic rival.

on the whole, the most important task of the european union should be to strengthen its role and influence in the world, so that it becomes a desirable partner for all other countries and world powers. the concept of strategic autonomy is absolutely essential to realizing these ambitions. strategic carelessness is not an option.

josep borrell

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