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The world is changing: Hard times for Europe are coming

EU leaders are gathering in Granada today for an informal discussion on the future of “strategic autonomy”, according to POLITICO.

The term first came into use after Donald Trump‘s victory in the US presidential election. Since then, the term has been closely associated with French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called for Europe to become less dependent on American “hard power”.

Taking into account that Trump will be running in next year’s US elections, such a discussion is more than justified. However, strategic autonomy is a fundamentally inadequate framework for thinking about how Europe fits into the contemporary global order.

The world is changing — and not in Europe’s favor.

At present, the governments of the Continent’s countries must adapt to new geopolitical situations and adjust the vector of their behaviour. On the one hand, the aggravation of geopolitical rivalry between the US and China may eventually develop into a new “cold war”, which would divide the emerging world order into two ideologically defined blocs. That is why they think Europe should unite with the United States in an anti-China bloc, POLITICO reports.

However, looking at how confident middle powers such as Turkey, India, Brazil, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Israel have started to behave confidently on the world stage, we can see that governments representing the majority of the world’s population reject this binary division. Moreover, given the possibility of another Trump presidency, we cannot count on America’s interests always to align perfectly with Europe’s.

However, on the other hand, the idea of strategic autonomy is even worse.

Despite Macron’s best efforts, strategic autonomy has so far been mostly divisive. After the war in Ukraine and supply chain difficulties caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Europeans have realised that dependence on one country is dangerous. However, many see the term as anti-American and that do not apply it to other countries – something that became clear during the war in Ukraine.

Moreover, the idea of striving for autonomy runs counter to Europe’s instincts and interests. The EU has been one of the main drivers of the open world, and it can never be fully self-sufficient. That is why the EU should look for partners rather than trying to build total autonomy. EU countries should realise where they need partnerships and what potential power they will gain from these relationships, according to POLITICO.

Thus, any approach to European strategy must begin by analysing this world as it is, not as we want it to be.

What do the BRICS summit, the war in Nagorno-Karabakh and the recent string of coups in Africa have in common? They all show that great powers do not run the world. Despite the escalating confrontation between world giants such as America and China, Russia and the EU, they are no longer able to control middle powers that do not want to be controlled by emerging blocs.

Europe must now develop a strategy that will help it both co-operate and compete with these other players based on its own interests.

In a new policy brief, the European Council on Foreign Relations calls this approach “strategic interdependence” – a strategy that sees the world as it is, clearly recognises the dangers of dependence and resists the idea of disengagement. Through this approach, Europe will be able to maintain its autonomy by building relationships with key players while simultaneously confronting them when they challenge its interests.

Three factors shape strategic interdependence: first, European policy must recognise that in an interdependent world, separation is not only unrealistic, but could harm European interests if the rest of the world rejects the concept. Of course, there are areas – for example, critical raw materials – where it makes sense to avoid overdependence on potentially hostile countries. However, the desire to disengage should be limited as much as possible in favour of risk mitigation and investment in building relationships with key middle powers, POLITICO reports.

The EU to confidently signpost its position that it is against a Cold War style bloc world, and to act in the same way.

Further, Europe’s foreign policy should be prepared for a world of political coexistence and competition. The EU should realise that it cannot change regimes in other countries, it has to live alongside them.

It is not the world that needs to be made safe for democracy, but European democracies that need to be made safe for the world – this effort must originate domestically. To avoid exacerbating political fragmentation, the EU needs to spend its resources on programmes to compensate the internal losers from globalisation by letting them know that European governments are on their side.

Finally, Europe must behave as if it wants to be a partner in building a new world order rather than simply trying to preserve the old one. One of the most important tasks today is to reach out to new partners on various issues, although sitting in a circle of like-minded people and agreeing on bilateral and plurilateral solutions to global problems can give confidence.

The new India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor is a prime example of an initiative in which Europe should invest more. Expanding formats such as the EU’s Digital Alliance with Latin America and the Global Gateway are equally promising. The bloc should also pay attention to some of the new non-Western institutions and processes that are emerging, and perhaps participate in them, POLITICO reports.

Europe is facing hard times. With Ukraine gearing up for a protracted war of attrition, the continent’s economic relations with China becoming increasingly fragile, and Trump back on the horizon, there is a need to come together.

Adopting one buzzword or another is not what will make the difference between success and failure in dealing with these potential crises. Moreover, if Europe wants to step up its game on the world stage, it needs to be clearer about the world and has to decide how to protect its interests and values.


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