Man Enjoying European Sovereignty

FOR European Sovereignty

AGAINST European Sovereignty


Ever since the Second World War, Western Europe has been counting on the United States as a guarantor for defence and territorial security under the umbrella of NATO. Nonetheless, in recent years US administrations have criticised many European NATO members for spending less than the agreed target of 2% of GDP on defence. Even though transatlantic relations will probably improve under Biden, it is not a given that the new President will commit to guaranteeing European defence.

The European population is aware of this: a recent study found that 67% of Europeans believe that they cannot always rely on the US to defend them and, therefore, need to invest in European defence. This is also crucial, because Europe is confronted with a number of conflicts on its periphery which do not concern the US: Sahel, Libya, the eastern Mediterranean, and Nagorno-Karabakh. If the EU doesn’t want Russia and Turkey to play a decisive role in these conflicts, it needs to step up its capabilities.


Defence is traditionally one of the core elements of national sovereignty. Throughout history, EU Member States have been very weary of relinquishing their own sovereignty in matters of security and defence. As a result, European integration in common foreign and security policy and common defence lags behind many other fields, and attempts to create common defence capabilities have proceeded very slowly. Member States are keen on maintaining an intergovernmental decision-making in this area, which allows every government to apply a veto power on decisions.

Are Member States ready to give up their prerogatives in the field of security and defence in order to reinforce European sovereignty and become a stronger global actor? Would the acquisition of its own army make the EU a federal state? And if yes, on the basis of what legitimacy? These are the questions which must be solved before integration in the field of security and defence can advance.


The EU should build economic sovereignty in order to protect itself from the danger of dependency on external, unreliable actors for the supply of essential products. The COVID-19 crisis has shown the great danger of depending on unreliable external actors for the supply of health products and equipment. Making Europe self-sufficient in this has become an imperative for public health and security. But health is not the only field where dependency can be dangerous: the same is true for rare and raw materials. In an increasingly competitive world, economic dependence can be weaponised for geopolitical goals and become a threat for European stability.


Europe has promoted a vision of the global order in which supranational institutions and multilateralism take the place of power politics and conflicts. The idea of European sovereignty seems to contradict that vision. The emphasis on European sovereignty and strategic autonomy seem to put the EU on the path of engaging in power politics on a conflictual international stage. This can look like an ill-thought surrender of what has been the specific identity of Europe on the international stage. Instead of giving in to the pressures of global actors such as the US and China, shouldn’t Europe strive to propose a different model of global governance, based on multilateralism and cooperation?


Europe proposes a model of digital governance based on an open market in digital services combined with the protection of the rights and interests of citizens. Up to now, the EU has acted mostly as a regulator in the digital arena, but this is not sufficient anymore: who owns the technologies of the future and who produces them are those who can truly set the standards and regulate their use.

If the EU wants to be able to enforce its approach, domestically and internationally, it needs to become a tech superpower. This would enable Europe to also reap economic and geopolitical benefits. On the other hand, continuing to rely on foreign tech giants will make the EU vulnerable and unable to enforce the rights of its citizens.


European industries at present cannot provide the same level of technological innovation as their transatlantic counterparts. Stimulating investment is a long-standing challenge, and will become even more difficult in the midst of the COVID-19 induced recession. European companies risk to be swallowed by Chinese and American giants.

Protectionism can also trigger all-out trade wars, which has become too common in recent years. As an example, in October 2019 the US have retaliated with tariffs up to $7.5 billion worth of EU exports in response to European subsidies to the plane maker Airbus. Protectionism might harm European economies and European industries might be ill-equipped to keep up with the rest of the world in terms of technological and digital innovation.

Image Credits: Photo by Henri Lajarrige Lombard on Unsplash