Prompted by constant betrayals of US, EU strives to enhance strategic autonomy
Published: Oct 29, 2021 05:49 PM
EU-US illustration: Liu Rui/GT

EU-US illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The troubled trans-Atlantic alliance was not formed in one day. Analysts keep asking, "Are the US and Europe breaking up?", as European countries constantly find themselves betrayed by their US ally. What's worse, "The US and Europe cannot stand shoulder to shoulder unless they agree on the threats that democracies now confront. But in too many areas, they don't," asserted a recent opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal.

The latest betrayal by the US fell on France in September. This came with the pushing of a US multibillion-dollar deal to supply nuclear submarine technology to Australia. Another recent example is the embarrassing mess the US dragged its NATO allies into as it hastily withdrew from Afghanistan. This, too, generated loud and persistent criticism within Europe.

There are numerous more cases that show how the US pursues its own interests at the cost of Europe. In May, the media reported how Denmark collaborated with US spy agency to collect information about European politicians from Germany, France, Sweden and Norway. Nord Stream 2, a project that would pipe natural gas from Russia under the Baltic Sea to Germany, has suffered major assaults from the US since its very beginning. Former US president Donald Trump escalated the trade fight with Europe by imposing tariffs on European steel and aluminum in 2018. 

In the face of Washington's constant betrayals, Brussels will certainly try to strengthen the EU's strategic autonomy. The EU and its main members, such as France, have been emphasizing European strategic autonomy since around 2007 due to the US' betrayals, unilateralist behaviors, and the Eastward shift of the strategic focus in its diplomacy. They aim to truly shape Europe's independent foreign policy and operational capacity and become free from dependence on major international powers, including the US.

Currently, in terms of building strategic autonomy, the EU has launched the Permanent Structured Cooperation and the vision of the Strategic Compass. It has also established the European Defence Fund in its medium- and long-term budgets.

In the economic arena, the EU has proposed to promote the autonomy of industrial chains and established the European Raw Materials Alliance. Moreover, it attempted to introduce a carbon border tax and included human rights and environmental standards into foreign trade and economic relations.

Politically, the EU emphasizes the place of European values and ideology in foreign relations. It does so while expanding European standards and norms in global governance. Regarding geopolitics, it has started to emphasize competition and tried to make the European Commission a "geopolitical commission" that highlights the competition for power. 

The EU's willingness and practice to enhance European autonomy in all aspects and fields will change the traditional US-EU alliance, to a certain extent. However, as the EU strengthens its autonomy, it will also enhance its cooperation with the US in certain areas, even if constantly betrayed by the latter. This is because the EU will and cannot really get rid of the trap of the US-EU alliance.

For example, Europe's defense autonomy, the most important part of its strategic self interest, faces several difficulties to make any substantial breakthroughs. This includes huge expenses, technical difficulties around weapons, internal contradictions, military buildup problems, and complicated relations with NATO.

In other areas, Europe cannot be truly independent from the US as well. In fact, the two sides are a community of interests in many areas. In the economic and trade fields, for instance, the US and the EU are willing to cooperate to strengthen the autonomy of their industrial chain. They also jointly maintain the "rules-based liberal international system" dominated by the West. In addition, in the face of China's rise, the US and Europe have common interests to join forces to compete with China, and even to confront it in certain areas.

In general, the US not only shares the same ideology with the EU, but also provides the latter with defense security. Moreover, both sides enjoy huge common interests in maintaining the current West-led international economic order and multilateral mechanisms. All these factors have decided that there will not be a fundamental change in the US-EU alliance, despite the betrayal of Washington.

However, as the international pattern changes and the US moves the center of its strategy more toward the Indo-Pacific region, the betrayal of the US will stimulate the EU to enhance its strategic autonomy further. This will, to a certain extent, give new meanings to traditional transatlantic relations. It may very well have a greater impact on the international community too. 

The author is a research fellow at the Center for China-EU Relations at Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn