Europe's Global Footprint

German foreign policy advisors are calling for a more offensive EU foreign policy and warn of the EU's decline

BERLIN (Own report) - German policy advisors are calling for a more offensive EU foreign policy and discuss strategies for dealing with the possibility of a global polarization between the USA and China. With Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's "geopolitical" commission the EU must strengthen its "global footprint," according to the current edition of "Internationale Politik," Germany's leading foreign policy journal. This not only pertains to foreign policy but to the economy as well. The Union must particularly seek to establish an independent IT sector and should take measures to ensure that the euro can play a stronger international role. Skeptics point out that in recent years the EU had not succeeded in enhancing its global political clout, even though it was considered a "nascent global power" at the turn of the new century. If this stagnation continues, "the only question" will be "whether Europe will become a satellite of the United States or of China."

"Nascent Global Power"

The EU only has a slight chance of developing an independent global policy, according to the Polish political scientist Sławomir Sierakowski. In his article published by the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), Sierakowski reminds that in the US economist Jeremy Rifkin's book "The European Dream," published in 2004, Rifkin had described the continuous rise of the EU as an economic superpower on a par with the United States. At the time, Rifkin believed that the Union would have the potential of becoming a global power in every respect. The EU was indeed on the upswing during the first few years of the new century: it enhanced integration, introduced its own currency, set the course for a common foreign policy, and - particularly with the creation of EU Battle Groups - took initial steps toward establishing its own armed forces and carried out its first joint military operations, for example in the Congo. With its own constitution, the EU wanted to present itself as a cohesive unit capable of globally intervening. German experts called it a "nascent global power."[1]

The EU as Satellite

A decade and a half later, these prospects have changed. In reference to the prognosis, at the time - the EU as a nascent global power - and the current situation, Sierakowski concludes, "Europe was not, and is not bound to succeed."[2] Fifteen years ago the EU was on an upswing, today it is China. China is now the world's largest exporter, and it could overtake Germany to become the global leader in the automobile production. Compared to the 19th century, Europe and China's roles have, in fact, been reversed. In the 1800s, China, the strongest economic power at the time, had to accept the gradual economic infiltration of foreign powers, and was increasingly subjugated and exploited. For China, it is remembered as the "age of humiliation." Today, "the EU increasingly resembles nineteenth-century China," Sierakowski writes. It is "a still-rich empire that cannot be occupied by others," but is at risk of falling behind and becoming economically dependent. "If this stagnation continues, the only question is whether Europe will become a satellite of the United States or of China."

Coalitions of the Willing

The debate around how to put the EU back on track toward becoming a world power is currently being intensively discussed in foreign policy circles. It is widely being said that the EU must develop new foreign policy cohesion to be able to prevail in global power struggles. Jana Puglierin, Program Head of the DGAP's Alfred von Oppenhiem Center for European Policy Studies says, for example, that the EU must "use its strengths better, defend its interests more robustly."[3] "Von der Leyen's new 'geopolitical' Commission" seeks, "as a logical consequence, to enlarge Europe's global footprint," acknowledged Puglierin, and "thereby insure that the EU internationally applies its strengths more focused and more strategically, to align allies and challengers behind the EU." Due to persisting diverging interests among the EU member countries, "the trend is growing stronger toward coalitions of the willing, comprised of countries cooperating within and outside of the EU framework." Puglierin suggests that "foreign policy objectives and strategies be discussed at the European Council" and thereafter "a coalition of the willing and capable member countries be delegated to fulfill the task."

Technological Strength

At the same time, political advisors are calling for strengthening the EU economically. On the one hand, this calls for the "reduction of dependency on technology from non-EU states." "Europe must develop its own technological strengths, a prerequisite if the EU wants to establish worldwide norms in future technologies," declared Daniela Schwarzer, director of DGAP.[4] "Initiatives such as the development of a European data cloud" [5] or the establishment of an "overarching authority on security-critical technology infrastructure," would be "a beginning." Occasionally, demands are also raised in the debate to systematically reinforce the EU's 5G industry without reliance on technology from China's Huawei Group. On the other hand, Schwarzer calls for the euro zone's consolidation and reinforcement. The euro can "play a stronger international role as an investment and trade currency," if it "deepens the banking union, move toward a capital market union, and create a shared safe European financial asset."

The "Decoupling"

Foreign policy experts are particularly worried about US efforts to impose an economic and technological "decoupling" from China - along the lines of the creation of Cold War blocks. Currently the "fear of a world degenerating into a US American and a Chinese techno-sphere is spreading both in political and business fields," according to an article by Kaan Sahin, a DGAP research fellow, published in the current edition of the DGAP's publication, "Internationale Politik." "Ultimately, that would also mean that there will be two types of technological standardization and two completely separate delivery chains, for example, two global 5G standard systems," notes Kahin.[6] The EU must oppose this decoupling and "promote a global innovation system." At the same time, it was important "to ensure functionality in the form of a strong tech industry." However, the DGAP expert considers the creation of the EU's own independent IT sectors to be "unrealistic, both in short and intermediate terms."

Conscious of one's own Power

In general, two perspectives emerge in this debate. Both had been outlined by DGAP expert Puglerin. "If the EU would be more conscious of its own means of leverage and use these strategically, it can also form its environment," writes Puglierin. It would then become "an attractive partner for like-minded such as Japan, Australia or Canada," who "would like to maintain a multi-lateral system."[7] At the same time, if a global polarization between the USA and China ("G2-world") evolves, the EU will also have to fundamentally rely on its own power. In this case, "the Europeans" should "make it clear that they are not an appendix of US foreign policy." However, the USA would need "in a G2-world ... strong partners." "And the more the Europeans enhance not only their own economic but also their political and military clout and operability," writes the DGAP expert, "the more attractive they will also become in this sense."[8]


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[1] See also Wille zur Weltmacht.

[2] Sławomir Sierakowski: Europe's Age of Humiliation. 18.12.2019.

[3] Jana Puglierin: Europas größte Herausforderung. In: Internationale Politik Januar/Februar 2020. S. 28-31.

[4] Daniela Schwarzer: Wirtschaft als Waffe. In: Internationale Politik Januar/Februar 2020. S. 32-37.

[5] See also Deutschland auf Aufholjagd (I).

[6] Kaan Sahin: Zwei Tech-Welten. In: Internationale Politik Januar/Februar 2020. S. 44-46.

[7] Jana Puglierin: Europas größte Herausforderung. In: Internationale Politik Januar/Februar 2020. S. 28-31.

[8] Europa wird immer noch von Washington aus verteidigt. 05.01.2020.