Policy paper, Laurent Charbonneau : "Strategic Autonomy: Where Does The Franco-German “Couple” Stand?"
June 25th 2023
Faced with a resurgence of power dynamics and conflict on the Old Continent, a reassessment of the geopolitical posture of the European Union (EU) has become imperative for its 27 member states. In this time of Zeitenwende, the concept of strategic autonomy has come to dominate discussions about the way the EU should respond to contemporary security challenges. Serving as both a framework for reflection and an industrial-political program, this divisive concept fuels the fears of some states as much as the geopolitical ambitions of others.
Although France has employed this concept at various levels for several years (even decades, if we consider formulations such as “Europe of Defence” (Europe de la Défense in French) or the ESDU, the “European Security and Defense Union”), it nonetheless faces resistance in several member states, particularly its German neighbour. Oppositions of a semantic, sometimes ideological or practical nature, the Franco-German couple does not always share the same vision of its promotion. Among these divergences, the opposition between Atlanticism and Europeanism, and the role of NATO, never fail to fuel the debate. Added to this is the difficulty of Europeanizing national interests. Given these factors as well as their role as driving forces within the EU, can France and Germany yet harmonize their visions of a European strategic autonomy, and thus lead the EU to adapt to the realities of the 21st century?
Far less recent than some might think, the relevance of this concept was confirmed by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by the war in Ukraine, which led to Europe's “geopolitical awakening”. Drawing on interviews and research, as well as discussions at the Franco-German seminar on European and transatlantic security architecture held in 2022, this article explores how France and Germany approach European strategic autonomy through the following angles: the history and recent salience of the concept (1), debates on the relationship with NATO (2), and the implementation and operationalization of strategic autonomy as an illustration of Franco-German divergences (3).