Open strategic autonomy: what is in a name?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The US, as the EU’s closest and most powerful ally, will be an essential partner in the EU’s pursuit of open strategic autonomy, writes Susan Danger. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

The United States, as the EU’s closest and most powerful ally, will be an essential partner in the EU’s pursuit of open strategic autonomy, writes Susan Danger.

Susan Danger is the chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU (AmCham EU)

It’s a small world, after all. Thanks to exponential progress in transport and communications, the world has grown ever smaller over the past century. Meanwhile, our global economy has become so integrated, our business interests so intertwined, that prosperity and security are necessarily concurrent with openness and engagement.

‘No man is an island’, as poet John Donne wrote in the seventeenth century. In today’s deeply interconnected world, nor is any nation.

In such an integrated economy, our fate is inextricably collective. This fact has been brought into sharp relief by the COVID-19 emergency. As outbreaks flared up across various regions of the world, supply chains were disrupted, leading to fluctuations in the supplies of essential goods and services.

The EU is now turning its attention to recovery from the crisis, and how to enhance its resilience. It is in this context that the concept of ‘open strategic autonomy’ is gaining traction within EU policy circles. But with a margin for interpretation so broad, the question is: what exactly does it mean?

Originally derived from the foreign and security dimension of EU policymaking, open strategic autonomy is now also pursued in areas such as defence, digital, energy, financial services and healthcare.

The stated aim, as put forward by EU leaders in their Strategic Agenda 2019-2024, is for the EU to ‘act autonomously to safeguard its interests, uphold its values and way of life, and help shape the global future’. In many respects, its pursuit is at the core of the EU integration project.

When a few European countries came together over 60 years ago to set up a community of shared values and interests, they launched a process that unified a whole continent. Even if different words are used today, EU leaders still strive to deliver on the foundational principles of freedom, prosperity and peace for all.

In an increasingly complex and multipolar world, the EU needs to be more assertive and strengthen its voice on the global stage.

The current debate provides an opportunity to equip the EU with the policy tools it requires to safeguard the integrity of the single market, protect its citizens, defend the values that are shared across the Atlantic and continue to be a regulatory standard-bearer that can bring common approaches to common challenges.

One thing that open strategic autonomy cannot be, however, is protectionism by another name. For the EU to succeed, it must not close itself off: openness and market access are key drivers of prosperity.

The EU should continue to cooperate with like-minded global partners such as the US, with the aim of making these critical partnerships stronger and more reliable than ever. This would send a clear signal to foreign investors: the EU is open for business.

Through their investments in Europe, American companies have always been among the strongest supporters of EU integration. They have contributed first-hand to the tremendous achievements it has brought to citizens and companies: jobs, capital, intellectual property, innovation and growth.

They are an integral part of the European fabric and industrial base. The goods and services they produce or supply, the partnerships they build with European entities, the added value they create, the local communities they support – these are all concrete examples of how, already today, American companies strengthen the strategic autonomy of the EU.

No single country or region can solve collective problems independently. Multilateralism must become the strategy of first resort to tackle complex societal issues. The transatlantic relationship is the most important economic relationship in the world. It is also a key component of Europe’s security.

But the relationship is built on far deeper foundations than these two elements alone. Common values are the unbreakable bond that ties us together. The US, as the EU’s closest and most powerful ally, will be an essential partner in the EU’s pursuit of open strategic autonomy.

The EU and the US must take advantage of the renewed momentum to reboot the relationship and lead the way in facing the common challenges of our time. Together, we can tackle climate change. Together, we can take on unfair trade practices. Together, we can define the global standards for emerging technologies. Alone, we cannot.

In this fiercely interconnected world of ours, no nation is an island. Strength is derived not from self-sufficiency, but from the ability to build trust and bring partners along. Europe must continue to engage with the world on its own terms. That must be the essence of open strategic autonomy.


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