Europe as a power-space
Over the past several years, the theme of “European sovereignty” has emerged in the European debate. There is still some misunderstanding about the concept and even the exact diagnosis it represents is often debated. And yet, despite being shaken by external crises for the past twenty years — the 2008 financial crisis, followed by the 2015 migrant crisis, and then the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 and the current war in Ukraine —, Europeans are looking at ways to increase their independence vis-à-vis the outside world even though their development model relies on open trade. The world of the 21st century is no longer that of the golden age of globalization and peace; the deteriorating security situation at the Union’s doorstep, the accelerating US-China rivalry, the aggressive ambitions of certain regional powers, the vulnerability of interdependencies during the health crisis, and now the war waged by Russia against Ukraine demand that we rethink the role that the European Union must play in order to respond to the new challenges.
This notion of European sovereignty differs in part from the classic notion of sovereignty that generally applies to a State. Sovereignty can be defined as the capacity of a State to produce laws that are recognized by its citizens and enforce them throughout its territory, as well as waging war or making peace. The European Union is not a State, but a unique construction that rests on normative power. Its sovereignty stems from its capacity to create norms that apply to citizens of different Member States and businesses operating in Europe. Its legitimacy is based on its Treaties, which the Commission upholds. Developing European sovereignty implies making Europe a “power” of equal standing with other national powers, and to do this, it must be given several attributes of sovereignty: economic power; geopolitical influence; normative power; common defense and security capacity; a European identity, understood as the feeling of belonging to a common history and looking towards a shared destiny through the creation of a narrative that unites Europeans beyond the heterogeneity of their national identities 1 . The point is to reinforce the sovereignty of each country by reinforcing European sovereignty, because each country in isolation is weaker than each country in the union.
In the last five years, European leaders have progressively seized upon this paradigm of sovereignty, establishing an agenda at the Versailles Summit this past March 2 . Today, this ambition puts the European Union in a better position to face the challenge of a world filled with geopolitical rivalries, not only in terms of resilience, but also in terms of projection and capabilities. However, we must recognize that the Union, despite its objective assets of economic, humanitarian and normative power, is not perceived as such either externally or internally, notably because of the persistence of anti-European, even nationalist, rhetoric which creates a certain amount of uncertainty around the European project. In the coming period, we must pursue this agenda of European sovereignty with determination and poise, establishing a clear set of priorities, in order to collectively navigate this period of crisis and continue to forge a European Union that is equal to the many challenges that await it. This is how we will preserve European unity against the consequences of the war in Ukraine and the hybrid war that Russia is waging on Europe.
The construction of a European power (Europe puissance) means focusing our actions on four priority areas. First, we must consolidate the European Union’s economic power. This means completing the Internal market in terms of energy, strengthening the resilience of value chains, and guaranteeing our technological and spatial independence. The European Union’s energy independence is very clearly the most urgent and immediate challenge. Though we have already begun to distance ourselves from our collective dependence on Russian oil and gas, we must also accelerate the development of interconnections in order to unify the energy market in the entire European Union, thereby promoting security of supply. At the same time, our dependence on fossil fuels must also be rapidly and drastically reduced. The energy “crisis” represents a dual “opportunity”: both addressing climate change and ensuring our energy security. The ongoing negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on the Fit for 55 package will be essential for accelerating the development of new capabilities for decarbonized energy production. This will require large-scale investments in energy infrastructure as well as interconnection. While plans for the latter had already been in place prior to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the rapid changes brought about by the war’s energy consequences — notably with the development of LNG terminals and renewable energies — requires a review of this plan by consolidating it at the EU level. It must be said that such investments will certainly require European economic governance to evolve.
More generally, the European Union must affirm its industrial sovereignty in all strategic sectors. Thanks in particular to NextGenerationEU, European programs are already strengthening our strategic independence in the fields of digital technology, health, energy in general and hydrogen in particular, and semiconductors. With the European Commission’s proposals on critical raw materials and the single market instrument for emergency situations, the Union is working to strengthen the resilience of its supply chain. The European Chips Act will also strengthen our semiconductor ecosystem. But we need to do more in order to catch up with other technological powers. We must move faster to encourage disruptive innovation, which requires massive and diversified investments. European industries and research organizations are ready to embark on the next “moonshot” and EU Member States must provide the necessary financial resources as well as political support.
Moving from an economic space to a power-space implies, more fundamentally, adding to the economy the ability to influence. The European Union’s influence stems in large part from its internal market of nearly 500 million consumers which, through its normative power, gives it the means to have a decisive influence on the organization of international trade. In the years to come, the best manifestation of this influence will be found in the EU’s model of environmental sustainability. We must continue to promote this model, and thereby help to ensure that the objective we have collectively set for ourselves of keeping temperature increase well below 2°C is respected. Displaying loud and clear the green colors of the world’s leading power on climate change will require resolve and communication. It will also require indispensable financial and technological efforts to assist emerging and developing countries. The European Union can and must be a leader in emissions reductions, but it can only do so by bringing the rest of the world on board. With the size of its market and its capacity to export its norms, the European Union must realize these ambitions. The Fit for 55 package, and in particular the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism, as well as the regulation on the fight against imported deforestation, and the mirror clauses, will make it possible to reduce the Union’s climate footprint in the years and decades to come while encouraging non-EU countries to act against global warming.
At the same time, the European Union can and must promote the European model across the entire continent. In order for peace, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, and democracy to endure, the Union must defend its values by deploying its security capabilities, as well as its economic power, on a continental scale. This is the aim of the European Political Community (EPC) which was launched in Prague this past October 6th. The EPC will allow us to politically bind the great European continent together through concrete cooperation in a number of areas in which we have shared interests (critical infrastructure, cyber security, energy, regional seas, youth, migration, etc.). With the European Political Community, the unity of all of Europe will be strengthened. From Ukraine to Moldova, to the Western Balkans, and even to the United Kingdom and Norway, we will build a more unified, more coordinated, “grand continent” which is stronger and economically integrated. The EPC is therefore a valuable tool for developing Europe’s geopolitical influence. Underlying this is the same challenge: to make the European continent the continent of the values of freedom and empowerment, of openness to diversity and cultural richness, of the rule of law and democracy, and a particular ambition regarding equality and respect.
European power cannot become a reality without a feeling of belonging to the same history, as well as a sense of shared destiny; in other words, a European identity. It is because it ignored this truth for too long that European construction has remained an often cold and technocratic object in the eye of many of our fellow citizens. We will not convince Europeans of the Union’s benefits by only talking about the benefits of the internal market. The European Union is first and foremost an instrument of peace, cooperation, and solidarity between Europeans. Through the day-to-day cooperation that it creates, the spaces for interaction and dialogue that it fosters, the European Union makes peaceful and constructive relations between Europeans possible. In a context of nationalist resurgence and growing mistrust of institutions among citizens, explaining in concrete terms what, beyond our differences, unites Europeans, is indispensable.
Our Union’s challenge is to truly develop a unifying narrative without devolving into a civilizational discourse. Characterized by a strong cultural diversity, it is not a question of producing a meta-narrative celebrating its cultural singularity, as a response to Russian and Chinese culturalist narratives. It is rather to embrace its diversity that makes Europe so rich, this “maximum of diversity in a minimum of space” 3 to expand the sovereignty of the whole.
Europe is also a Pact that unites us around fundamental principles: democracy, the rule of law, liberty. These values, these principles the European Union was founded upon, are our strength and — more and more —what makes us singular: the independence and impartiality of its justice, plurality and freedom of the press, the fight against corruption and the protection of democratic life.
Finally, the European Union is the defense of a certain societal model: a social market economy, equal rights, citizen empowerment and protection, innovation and ambition in terms of the ecological and digital transitions.
It is all of this, the delicate balance between openness towards others and respect for oneself that is the hallmark of Europeanness. Providing meaningful reflection on our European identity and clarifying its place in the world of the 21st century in order to help us embody the European identity, will be the mission of the Académie d’Europe project in the years to come.
Defense is a fourth dimension of power which is essential in this world that is no longer in the golden age of peace and where the European Union must assert itself as a power that protects its citizens. We must strengthen our defense capabilities through joint research and capability development and expand joint military assistance to non-EU countries. The European Union must strengthen, improve, and better coordinate national and European investments in its defense capabilities. Over the next several months we must make good on the commitments made at the Versailles Summit. I am thinking in particular of the implementation of the instrument for research and joint arms procurement announced by Commissioner Thierry Breton, and of the establishment of a European rapid deployment capability by 2025, or of joint arms programs.
In the short term, we need to ensure that European defense capabilities are coordinated with NATO by gradually strengthening the European Union. This could include military mobility initiatives to use EU logistics to support NATO and ultimately make us all stronger and more effective.
The war in Ukraine has been a catalyst that has allowed us to overcome the reluctance of many Member States to be fully engaged, either bilaterally or through European mechanisms such as the new European Peace Facility, which now allows us to truly defend a partner state by facilitating its access to lethal equipment. We must go further. The creation of European defense means defining the essential common strategic interests of Europeans and clarifying the place that Europeans intend to occupy in the world.
The European Union is still in a state of evolution: it is a power still in the making which is fundamentally unable to be compared to any other political construction. If we want to build a sovereign Europe, we cannot try to copy existing models. For Europe has its own part to play in the concert of great powers: that of the democracy of democracies, of a model based on a social market economy which today is a benchmark for the ecological transition and for the digital revolution tomorrow.
At its core, Europe is undergoing a profound change: for centuries, our Old Continent considered itself to be the center of History, before deciding to withdraw from it, traumatized by its own actions. After having taken the rational path of economic integration, Europe is once again awakening to find its power in the course of History; it is therefore searching for itself, asking the questions that precede any major decision. It is, in short, between two states. I believe that our mission as political actors is to encourage this momentum and guide this great leap while being ever vigilant that its values — freedom, democracy, empowerment — remain the compass that guides its choices and its actions.
Laurence Boone, Europe as a power-space, Nov 2022,
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