A stronger collective political will, a clearer consensus on the true meaning of ‘European strategic autonomy’ and a heavy dose of pragmatism must be combined for Europe to fulfil its ambitions to both protect citizens and more powerfully defend its values and interests on the world stage.
Those were among the conclusions as experts and guests gathered at the well-attended Friends of Europe security policy summit, A Stronger Alliance: the future of European security, in Brussels on 4 June.
Participants at the annual flagship event of our Peace, Security and Defence programme discussed the various interpretations of ‘European strategic autonomy’, as well as how it was viewed from outside the EU. A session was also held on the proliferation and impact of disinformation.
Questions remain over what the phrase ‘strategic autonomy’ means to different leaders and member states, said panellists.
The EU was serious about taking it forward, but “do we have a common understanding as to what that level of ambition would represent?”, asked moderator and Senior Fellow at Friends of Europe Jamie Shea.
“Is it simply a military concept or meant to be something broader, encompassing Europe’s more general geopolitical and economic role? Is this something that’s going to be top-down from Brussels or more bottom-up from the member states? Can it also improve the performance of related organisations like NATO?”
It’s a valid concept to pursue, but we should be careful of 'sloganism', said Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, former NATO Secretary General, and Friends of Europe trustee.
Now isn’t the time to waste time re-writing political treaties or reforming the EU institutions as a means to strengthen the bloc, said panellists, most of whom said it was more pragmatic to continue working on the basis a 'coalition of the willing'.
Among the EU’s most obvious and most pressing common interests were addressing a 'clear and present danger' in Africa and instability in the western Balkans, warned defence experts.