Written by Sebastian Clapp and Philippe Perchoc.
As part of its Jean Monnet seminar series, the European Parliamentary Research Service (EPRS) organised a two-day seminar entitled ‘European strategic autonomy, sovereignty and responsibility: Opportunities and challenges in the shadow of Russia’s war on Ukraine’ in Bazoches and Paris on 8 and 9 July 2022. The panellists included representatives of the Council, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Globsec, Institut Jacques Delors, the German Marshall Fund and a former Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Defence and staff from the secretariats of Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs (AFET) and Sub-committee on Security and Defence (SEDE).
The first part of the event took place at OECD Headquarters in Paris. In his opening statement, Secretary-General of the European Parliament, Klaus Welle, underlined that the war in Ukraine has triggered a return of geopolitics to Europe. He posed the questions whether Russian President Vladimir Putin is proposing a new bipolar world order, with Russia and China constituting one pole, and whether there is a new era of clashing value systems. If so, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) alone does not have all the tools necessary to counter the new Russian threat. However, the European Union (EU), with its comprehensive approach, could provide a large part of the answer. He noted that, with the return of geopolitics, it is critical for the EU to act geopolitically and to work with partners. Important steps were taken at the Versailles Summit when it comes to European defence and strategic autonomy and with the Strategic Compass. Nevertheless, the EU will need support from the United States to build up European resilience. It will be especially important to align defence procurement and boost joint deterrence and defence, together with the USA.
The first panel examined the implications of the Russian war on Ukraine for EU strategic autonomy. Panellists reflected on the broader and longer-term trends linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with a particular emphasis on food security, energy and defence. The effects of the war on Ukraine on global food security were underlined. Already increasing before the war, global hunger has now become fundamentally worse, not least as Ukraine was the biggest supplier of wheat to the World Food Programme. More and more countries will now be dependent on food aid, and at higher prices. The participants also considered the looming energy crisis. Worryingly, US liquified natural gas (LNG) will not be enough to substitute for Russian gas and will be prohibitively expensive; some speakers argued that the EU is not doing enough to solve the energy crisis. On defence, panellists emphasised that, while the possibility of war has always existed, the EU approach was one of ‘waiting for problems to go away’. This has failed. One panellist emphasised that is essential to pay attention to what is happening outside the West, pointing to the importance of finding a way to ‘co-exist with China’.
The event continued at the Jean Monnet House in Bazoches on the following day. In her opening message, President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola, emphasised the historic importance of the Jean Monnet House to European integration and highlighted that Jean Monnet and his guests discussed the first, albeit unsuccessful, projects for a European Defence Community at the house. She underlined that in a time of great geopolitical threat, strategic autonomy has become more pertinent than ever, , and outlined the key areas the EU27 leaders have identified as most important to the strategic sovereignty of the Union (defence, energy, the economy and food security). The first European integration projects were centred around energy, and today this issue is back on the table. She also noted that, in the face of Russia’s war on Ukraine, the EU reacted collectively and decisively and took unprecedented action in the area of sanctions, energy and military aid and focused most on the area of defence and the key measures agreed to in the Strategic Compass and Versailles Declaration.
In her introductory remarks, Vice-President Eva Kailli (S&D, Greece) emphasised that the EU has shown unity in response to recent crises, but noted that the EU lacks foresight. She underlined that a deeper analysis of what is coming is necessary, to ensure better preparedness. The EU must switch from shortsighted policies to long-term strategies based on foresight. Foresight is essential to building a ‘real preparedness plan’ for key areas, such as energy, defence, and raw materials. Foresight is also key to the EU’s green and digital transitions. Eva Kaili commended the European Parliament’s pioneering role in integrating foresight into policy-making, through the European Strategy and Policy Analysis System (ESPAS) and the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA). She also emphasised the EPRS’s adoption of foresight practices and underlined that the EPRS and STOA provide lawmakers with ‘clarity and perspective’, allowing Members to ‘see and plan further’.
The second panel discussed the progress made in the EU’s pursuit of strategic autonomy/strategic sovereignty in the past six months, drawing on the Strategic Compass and on the Versailles agenda, and reflected on the challenges facing the EU’s capacity to act and to build resilience. Participants highlighted the European Defence Fund as one of the most important initiatives of recent times, with EU co-financing of defence procurement an extremely promising way forward for EU defence policy (vaccine procurement during COVID‑19 was given as an example of successful joint procurement), that complements NATO. However, greater ambition and new sources of funding are necessary. The importance of critical technologies and reduction of strategic dependencies was also highlighted during the session. Commission initiatives, such as the roadmap on critical technologies for security and defence and the defence investment gap analysis were highlighted. The defence of the Eastern flank of NATO was also discussed, with a particular emphasis on scenarios looking at how the war on Ukraine will end and what the consequences could be for European defence.
The final session explored the importance of partnerships under the theme ‘From strategic autonomy to strategic responsibility? Partnering in times of great crisis’. Panellists discussed the state-of-play of the EU’s partnerships and cooperation with NATO, the USA, the United Kingdom and ‘like-minded partners’ and its implications for security and defence, energy and the economy. In terms of continued US commitment to NATO, the importance of the next US elections was underlined and the risks of a further shift in US foreign policy priorities towards the Indo-Pacific were discussed. One panellist suggested a transatlantic Erasmus programme to foster transatlantic cooperation in future generations. On Ukraine, the effectiveness of EU support to Ukraine including weapons deliveries to Ukraine was discussed. The European Parliament’s support to the Ukrainian Parliament was also underlined. Panellists discussed the UK’s partnerships with the EU, underlining that to the UK, EU foreign policy remains essential across the UK political spectrum; with the UK also supporting stronger EU-NATO cooperation. The session concluded that the war on Ukraine has underlined the alignment of the EU, the UK and the US on defence matters.
This meeting was the second in an annual series on strategic autonomy held at the Jean Monnet house. This year’s session was an occasion to reflect and discuss in a very different context to the first session in 2021. With these regular meetings, EPRS hopes to contribute to continued European and transatlantic dialogue.