Europe wants to get better at planning for the worst

Article by Sarah Anne Aarup: “The European Union is beset by doom and gloom — from wars on its doorstep to inflation and the climate crisis — not to mention political instability in the U.S. and rivalry with China.

All too often, the EU has been overtaken by events, which makes the task of getting better at planning for the worst all the more pressing. 

As European leaders fought political fires at their informal summit last week in Granada, unaware that Palestinian militants would launch their devastating raid on Israel a day later, they quietly started a debate on strategic foresight.

At this stage still very much a thought experiment, the concept of “open strategic autonomy” is being championed by host Spain, the current president of the Council of the EU. The idea reflects a shift in priorities to navigate an increasingly uncertain world, and a departure from the green and digital transitions that have dominated the agenda in recent years.

To the uninitiated, the concept of open strategic autonomy sounds like an oxymoron — that’s because it is.

After the hyper globalized early 2000s, trust in liberalism started to erode. Then the Trump-era trade wars, COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine exposed Europe’s economic reliance on powerful nations that are either latent — or overt — strategic rivals.

“The United States and China are becoming more self-reliant, and some voices were saying that this is what we have to do,” an official with the Spanish presidency told POLITICO. “But that’s not a good idea for Europe.”

Instead, open strategic autonomy is about shielding the EU just enough to protect its economic security while remaining an international player. In other words, it means “cooperating multilaterally wherever we can, acting autonomously wherever we must.”

It’s a grudging acceptance that great power politics now dominate economics…

The open strategic autonomy push is about countering an inward turn that was all about cutting dependencies, such as the EU’s reliance on Russian energy, after President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

“[We’re] missing a more balanced and forward-looking strategy” following the Versailles Declaration, the Spanish official said, referring to a first response by EU leaders to the Russian attack of February 24, 2022.

Spain delivered its contribution to the debate in the form of a thick paper drafted by its foresight office, in coordination with over 80 ministries across the EU…(More)”.