The arrival of US President Donald Trump in 2016 has “awakened” the EU and made it realise it was too dependent on Washington, prompting a trend of boosting Europe’s autonomy, the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, told EURACTIV’s media partner EFE in an interview.
“Trump has awakened us from certain strategic sleepwalking. At the end of World War II, we, Europeans, got used to living under the protective umbrella of the United States, and many countries are very comfortable with that, and some rightly believe that they owe their freedom to the United States, which won the Cold War.”
This comfortable relationship between Brussels and Washington, where Europeans put much of the global military weight on the Americans through NATO, was blown up by Trump, who, using “sometimes excessively harsh” language, has pointed out to Europe that it must assume its “share of responsibility in matters of international security and defence”, the Spanish diplomat stressed.
“Trump told us: ‘Listen, I’m going to close the umbrella, you can wake up’. And that has created a certain awakening and awareness of our dependence”, Borrell added.
Better defence spending
Borrell, who admits he also has a role to play as “a very incipient European minister of defence”, believes Europe’s first task is to harmonise and coordinate its twenty-seven military budgets and its military industry.
“Before spending more, we must spend better (…). The United States has only one model of battle tank, one. I think we, Europeans, have ten. The same thing happens with fighter planes, with ships… all that costs a lot of money,” Borrell explained. “The United States would be the first to benefit from a stronger, more united, more capable Europe,” he added.
Forging a new era of relations with the Biden administration
Borrell also said he sees great opportunities for a joint diplomatic agenda with the new administration of US President-elect Joe Biden.
Recovering the Iranian nuclear pact is the first objective. The pact is “still alive”, despite Trump’s withdrawal of the United States, but it “now needs to be revived”.
However, Borrell fears Europe could now “go back to sleep” and return to delegating responsibilities to Washington, as it had been doing before Trump.
In his view, the EU needs to gain more autonomy from the US. “Europe must be capable of acting on its own: alone when necessary and with others when possible”.
Greater technological sovereignty
“Many would like to have the technological capacity that we, Europeans, have. We have been -and still are – leaders in technology and thanks to that (…) we have the capacity to set the standards,” he stressed.
However, Borrell acknowledged that the EU was no longer a leader in technology “in some areas”.
He gave the example of the COVID-19 crisis, when, at the peak of the pandemic in March and April, the EU suffered a shortage of basic medicines or masks, because they were produced mainly in China and India.
An aeronautical engineer by training, Borrell stressed that “strategic autonomy begins with technological autonomy”.
“Almost everything in life begins with technology. Military power is based on technology; it has always been like that: from the bow and arrow, the armour, the shield, the halberd, the blunderbuss and even the steam engine. Technology changes the world and shares power. And Europe undoubtedly has to keep working and make up for lost time in some technological sectors,” he stated.
Brexit and ‘fake news’
On Brexit, he expressed his optimism about a “last minute” agreement with London: “the problems of a (UK) exit without agreement are so huge that I believe the need for the pact will prevail. We will see this in the next few hours”.
He also recalled a few examples of the official propaganda made by Brexit supporters prior to the referendum, when they argued that with the money the UK was giving to the EU a hospital could be built every week in the United Kingdom.
“The day after that false narrative, they were already saying that it was a miscalculation”, Borrell said and drew a parallel with the Catalan independence movement in Spain.
The UK has always complained that it was contributing with too much money to the EU. Likewise, Catalan separatists argue that Spain is stealing money from them.
“An effort must be done to counteract disinformation, and we should react because we live in a world governed by the battle of narratives,” Borrell warned.
[Edited by Alexandra Brzozowski/Zoran Radosavljevic]