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Making European Strategic Autonomy Work

Spain is using its EU Council presidency to flesh out the concept of "open strategic autonomy" with a new, detailed blueprint for achieving economic and geopolitical security. Though the document is far from perfect, it promises to advance a debate that Europe urgently needs.

MADRID – Faced with many differences between its member states, the European Union has sought to refine its concept of strategic autonomy over the past few years. Now, Spain intends to use its EU Council presidency to bring greater coherence and substance to this debate. If it succeeds, Europe will have taken a significant step toward deeper integration.

The concept of strategic autonomy has already evolved considerably. Originating in the defense sphere, it first appeared in an official EU document in 2013. It then became a foreign-policy principle in the EU’s 2016 Global Strategy, before finally extending to the economic realm with the bloc’s new commitment to “open strategic autonomy” in 2020.

The basic idea is that Europeans must be able to live by their own laws and defend their interests without foreign interference (or assistance). Yet given the EU’s cooperative nature, consensus-based decision-making, and deep economic ties to the rest of the world, external action must strike a delicate balance. It must be multilateral when possible, but unilateral when necessary.