“Europe is advancing, and its sovereignty with it, more strategic than it seems”

Chronic. The general public is not aware of this – luckily because, busy trying to coexist with Covid-19, he would wonder, and rightly so, if all this is reasonable. For the past month, two words have feverishly stirred the European community of geopolitical experts: strategic autonomy.

The discussion is all the more futile since by “strategic autonomy” we mean everything and its opposite. The concept, explains historian Justin Vaïsse, derives from the conclusion drawn by France from the Suez crisis and the humiliation inflicted on Paris and London by the great powers in 1956. Do not depend on anyone: that was the lesson retained in Paris, unlike the United Kingdom which preferred to place itself under the protection of the United States. This concept of strategic autonomy was adopted unanimously by the European Council, including the British, in 2013, then again in 2016.

Justin Vaïsse, now at the head of the Paris Peace Forum, remembers it very well: it was he who represented the Quai d’Orsay at the negotiation of the drafting of the Global Strategy for Foreign Policy and of the European Union (EU). In a world delivered to the balance of power, France had pushed for the European aspiration to strategic autonomy to be integrated into the text. On June 24, 2016, the European Council endorsed this “Global Strategy”, still unanimously. But the event went unnoticed, compared to what had happened the day before: on June 23, the British had decided, by referendum, to leave the EU.

A “misinterpretation of history”

Five months later, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. Then six months later, Emmanuel Macron won the election in France. Together, they brought European strategic autonomy up to date, the first through its unilateralism, the second through voluntarism.

Joe Biden’s victory on November 3 brought to light the differences in sensitivities between Paris and Berlin in the face of this concept which fundamentally questions the relationship with the United States: to German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer , which sees in strategic autonomy a “Illusion”, Mr. Macron replies that she commits a “Wrong way of history”. The Germans much prefer the word “Sovereignty” European autonomy, which they consider perilous for their close relationship with the United States. They are wary of Gallic activism and the grandiloquence of the French president.

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