REVIEW #16: Don’t Look at Trump: EU Needs Strategic Autonomy

Olga Łabendowicz for Review

Behind the story about the upcoming planetary catastrophe, the Hollywood blockbuster Don’t Look Up talks a lot about American politics, the role of media in today’s world, and difficulties faced by the scientific truths in a battle with fake news and popular beliefs. However, the movie also identifies something else – the absence of the European Union (EU) in fighting the planetary disaster. Apart from the United States, only China, Russia, and India play minor roles in the movie.

In the confrontation with the incoming comet, a united Europe does not exist. This absence shows how Europe is perceived in the U.S. – a lack of agency in the American eyes. On the other hand, it also indicates that Europe’s ability to act autonomously is necessary if the EU wants to influence its fate. Europe needs strategic autonomy if it wants to shape its future.

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‘Strategic autonomy’ of the EU shall be deconstructed as an ability in foreign policy, showing its different elements. The autonomous European Union is particularly beneficial for Central and Eastern European (CEE) nations.

Autonomy from Whom and for What

In a nutshell, European strategic autonomy is about having the necessary means to achieve foreign policy goals while cooperating with partners – or acting alone if necessary. This concept appeared for the first time in the conclusions of the European Council in December 2013 and was then repeated and defined in the 2016 EU Global Strategy. Securing strategic autonomy took a more prominent role during Donald Trump’s presidency, when it became clear that the United States does not share the EU’s vision and cannot be treated as a reliable partner – at least for the time being.

“The times in which we could completely rely on others have somewhat passed”, declared German Chancellor Angela Merkel in May 2017, expressing feelings of many European leaders advocating for greater autonomy from the U.S. Even if the majority still see Washington as the main ally, the alliance’s future remains uncertain. Joe Biden’s electoral victory was a relief and a chance to rebuild the alliance with Europe, but, at the same time, a confirmation that American reluctance or inability to be a sole leader of the liberal world is a fact.

Donald Trump or a similar populist politician can come to power in the next election, putting America back on track of isolationism and disintegration of the transatlantic community. From this point of view, Europeans think about being less dependent on U.S. elections when talking about strategic autonomy.


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