Europe’s Hard Choices in 2020

In a world where Europe's liberal model of shared sovereignty provokes hostility from the United States, China, and Russia alike, the European Union can no longer depend on others to safeguard its strategic autonomy. In the year ahead, the EU must focus on how to strengthen its economic and military capacities.

PARIS – For the first time since 1957, Europe finds itself in a situation where three major powers – the United States, China, and Russia – have an interest in weakening it. They may squeeze the European Union in very different ways, but they share an essential hostility to the EU’s governance model.

The European model, after all, is based on the principle of shared sovereignty among states in crucial areas such as market standards and trade. That liberal idea is antithetical to the American, Chinese, and Russian view of sovereignty, which places the prerogative of states above global rules and norms of behavior. Shared sovereignty is possible only among liberal states; unalloyed sovereignty is the preserve of populists and authoritarians.

But today’s anti-EU hostility also owes something to Europe’s undeniable economic weight in the world. Without the EU, the US under President Donald Trump would likely have succeeded already in forcing Germany and France to surrender to its trade demands. Were it on its own, France would not have been able to reject bilateral negotiations with the US over agricultural issues. The EU, as a “common front,” works as a power multiplier for its constituent parts in all areas where sovereignty is shared.