Recent developments concerning the security of Europe suggest a new momentum for the EU’s foreign policy. In late May, Angela Merkel claimed that Europe’s security is in its own hands and the continent should not rely on others to protect itself and its neighborhood. At the EU level, a report was published on the progress of 2016’s EU Global Strategy, as well as the Commission’s reflection paper on the future of European defence.
All these are inter-relevant and Merkel’s words are supportive of the EU’s recent foreign policy initiatives. There seems to be the initial signs of a political will to bring a solid foreign and security policy base for the European community. But it is early to say if this will bring about an outright EU-level cooperation. The uncertainty of Brexit and the cautious public opinion for more integration in Europe may make the governments to form small and closed groups of partnership in the field of foreign policy. However, the same environment can also encourage the Franco-German leadership to be the pioneers of a conception of EU foreign policy that is more independent from the US and NATO.
When read in this light, the Commission’s above-mentioned reflection paper on European defence reveals some hopes for the Union’s common foreign and security policy. The paper explicates that the Union should be able to “act alone” when needed. I think that this point should be interpreted with the statements in the rest of the text. I say so, because for me the EU is a community which has an expertise of finding writings that can be read in many ways. It also has knowledge and experience on finding leeways when formulating policies and circumventing political deadlocks. The reflection paper is not an exception. Although it pushed for more cooperation and integration in security and defence, it also explicitly mentions the importance of complementarity with NATO.
As a leeway, the concept of “role sharing” comes to the rescue at this point. EU, trying to find itself an appropriate global role, would like to see NATO taking the military initiative where European interests are at stake. At the same time, the Union would use its soft power tooolbox in military operations. EU’s comprehensive approach frames an actorness as a blend of hard and soft power, but the Union is still drawing a border between the two when it comes to interaction with NATO.
In order to handle the imminent criticism from the public opinion, the paper also invokes to the sovereignty of Member States by respecting their constitutional rights and responsibilities. It goes so far as to claim that the security and defence cooperation in Europe will ensure the preservation of the Member States’ sovereignty.
These are the signs that the Union still struggles to define what role to play in the international arena. As far as its relation with NATO is concerned, it comes short of providing a full-fledged strategy to act autonomously from the EU. Although it has its own independent military operations since 2003, the EU still considers “acting alone” as a long shot. Internally, the uncertainty in the continent makes the EU to use an ambiguous language. Promoting cooperation while at the same time not causing concerns about sovereignty is a promising project, but the EU does not really know how to do this.