Europe must do more itself in the field of defense, without losing sight of the fact that NATO is the cornerstone of European security. When it comes to China, Europe must also go its own way, separate from the United States.
For example, Prime Minister Mark Rutte and EU Council President Charles Michel summarized a long informal discussion on Wednesday morning that EU leaders had during a dinner in Slovenia on Tuesday evening. The traditional divide between member states that want more European defense effort and member states that traditionally value NATO more has been bridged with the simple formula that both are important.
From Europe we say: we also want our own relationship with China
Mark Rutte outgoing prime minister
Europe wants to become more independent in economic terms as well as in security and defence, says Michel. “We have learned lessons from recent crises and want to join forces and become less dependent. Unity is our core asset. By working together we increase our strength.”
Concrete steps will follow later.
Until about two years ago, Europe was mainly concerned with itself. Although Europe was not alone in the world, political attention was mainly focused inwardly: euro crisis, migration, identity. Today, Europe is forced to look outwards more and more.
Read also For the battle for world supremacy, you must now look to the ‘Indo-Pacific’
On Tuesday, the heads of state and government took an entire evening to discuss the new relations in the world at an informal summit. And about the role of Europe in this. They discussed developments in the Indo-Pacific, the relationship with China and – since the inglorious retreat from Afghanistan and the new strategic alliance Aukus – also the relationship with the United States.
The question today is not only according to which rules European countries deal with each other. The question is increasingly how European countries interact with the rest of the world.
Foreign policy is almost by definition difficult territory for the European Union. It touches the core of the sovereignty of the member states and decisions have to be taken unanimously. And then there are the differences in tradition, in political preference, in self-image and instruments of power. Eastern European states attach great importance to Washington’s security guarantees, poorer member states and regions were particularly sensitive to Chinese investment, southern member states are watching North Africa with extra care. France is proud of its military tradition, Germany is not.
Read also US is powerless. Whose fault is the chaos in Afghanistan?
After the US solo performance in Afghanistan, combined with the public shock that Europe is not even capable of leading an evacuation, calls for an independent European role in defense became louder again this summer. French outrage over the way the US and UK hijacked an Australian submarine order then only fueled the outrage over the Americas of alleged Europe fan Joe Biden.
The French and European protest immediately led to damage control. Biden first called Macron, Monday evening Biden called Commission President von der Leyen. Foreign Minister Blinken was in Paris on Tuesday to prepare a Franco-American summit with Macron at the end of this month. “We could and should have communicated better,” Blinken said guiltily on French TV. Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, will also make an appearance in Paris at the end of the week.
Charles Michel underlined that Europe had to work on its own defense as well as on relations in NATO. The sensitivity of the issue was demonstrated when NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, on a visit to the US on Tuesday, warned that the EU should not step outside the NATO framework and do nothing that competes with NATO.
Defense will be a focal point in the EU in the coming months. The Strategic Compass, a description of EU security policy in outline, should be ready in the autumn. In March, this Compass should form the basis for agreements at a special EU defense summit.
Read also European Defense and the Hour of Emmanuel Macron
Later on, European cooperation should be given a clear role in a new NATO strategy paper setting out the Alliance’s mission for the next decade. EU Council President Charles Michel called NATO the “cornerstone of our security.”
The relationship with the US is also determined by the European relationship with China. Biden wants Europe to join an anti-Chinese coalition. Europe is wary of that. Although it is no longer naive to world power China and criticizes human rights violations, it is wary of losing lucrative trade. The question has been whether there is room for a third European road between China and the US for some time now.
“You want to ensure that Europe builds its own relationship with China, also separate from America,” said Prime Minister Rutte after the dinner. “America is in the process of re-establishing its relationship with China. America continues to seek dialogue, but now you also see that that relationship is really complicated,” he said. “From Europe we say: we also want our own relationship with China. A relationship based on good contacts, at the same time it is sometimes a competitor and systemically it is an opponent who looks at the world differently.”