Author: Wolfgang Münchau, former co-editor of Financial Times Deutschland and director of Eurointelligence.

  1. The first option is to continue to muddle through without direction, accompanied by some ineffective grand-standing schemes like a special reaction force. It would work well with the media but wouldn’t solve the problem.
  2. Second, move towards strategic autonomy from the US, developing the freedom to strike a distinct relationship with China based on strategic interests. This presupposes a discussion of what the strategic interests are. In a second step, the EU would need to create a legal and political framework in which these strategic interests to be enforced, a monumental task. The option of strategic autonomy seems the most desirable one — but it requires a total reboot of the EU’s constitutional order. This is not a policy shift or another PR exercise. The issue goes beyond qualified majority voting in the foreign affairs council. Real strategic autonomy requires treaty change: the creation of a federal union in which foreign policy and security constitutes a delineated area of EU competence. It would need to be complemented by a fiscal union to tax and raise debt. It would require constitutional change in some member states, like Germany for example. The adult version of strategic autonomy is a very serious undertaking. The discussions that have been taking place on this subject in European capitals are not in that category.
  3. Third, reinforce the strategic alliance with the US.

Aligning with the US is not a good option since Washington is clearly pushing its own unilateral interests. This means that the default option is to continue muddling through and pretending that some symbolic military co-operation — like joint headquarters or a small fast-reaction force — constitute something real. In the meantime, member states will pursue their own national trade and investment policies with the likes of Russia and China — the EU’s role will continue to be relegated to setting some minimum legal protection under current EU treaties.

The Role for France

AUKUS has economic, strategic and political implications for France.  France is one of the few nuclear powers present in the Indo-Pacific through its overseas territories. It is home to 1.5 million French citizens and 8,000 soldiers. Naturally, it has a strong strategic interest in the region. The US has demonstrated that it can bully everyone around it and make its allies swallow nearly anything. What role will France play in the future? It is the only EU country with a serious stake in the Indo-Pacific and it is the only nuclear power in Europe apart from the UK. The biggest risk is falling back on historic narratives. Domestically, this new geopolitical reality plays right into the election campaign for the French presidency. France also holds the next EU rotating presidency, with a common European defence strategy already on the agenda. Suddenly, the geopolitical role of France is back on the table. This is home turf for Macron, more so than for his opponents. The question is whether Macron can steer France through the motions of humiliation and build a fresh European narrative in this new world of geopolitical alliances.

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