European Council President Charles Michel declared on Saturday that “2022 will be the year of European defense,” a clear recognition that EU leaders must confront widespread doubts that Europe can protect itself militarily.
Michel’s comments, in a speaks At this year’s Charlemagne Prize ceremony to Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, the 27 EU heads of state and government will discuss European defense and security during Tuesday’s dinner at a summit in Slovenia.
Long-standing concerns about Europe’s military capabilities and a lack of coordination among EU member countries have recently returned to the center of political discussions following the chaotic and hasty US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan. To compound the tension, Washington announced a new Indo-Pacific strategic alliance with the UK and Australia that surprised EU allies, especially France.
But when he called for greater strategic autonomy in his speech Saturday, Michel also seemed to acknowledge that Europe’s main source of power will always be its wallet, not its firearms.
“We want less dependency. We want more influence, because we have values to promote, they are strong as we have just said, interests to defend and citizens to protect ”, said Michel. “Our greater autonomy must be based on two strategic pillars: economic, social development and security. The first pillar is economic and social ”.
“The second pillar is our security,” added Michel. “The Atlantic Alliance is its backbone. Strengthening defensive Europe means strengthening the Alliance. Stronger allies make stronger alliances. Therefore, 2022 will be the year of European defense ”.
Michel also directly addressed the deep and historic divisions between EU member countries over “strategic autonomy”.
“We know that strategic autonomy, this expression can have various connotations, sometimes it can also be the subject of misunderstandings, misunderstandings, perhaps even suspicions,” he said. “Supporters of greater European strategic autonomy suspect that sometimes those who seem most reluctant want to slow down integration … And others see in greater empowerment the risk of weakening our Atlantic Alliance.”
Michel said Tuesday’s dinner would kick off a discussion among leaders that would address a new declaration of strategic partnership between the EU and NATO and culminate in a summit in Brussels in March.
“Our goal of greater autonomy is not new,” Michel said, noting that leaders had endorsed the concept before, including at a 2019 summit in Sibiu, Romania, where Iohannis was the host.
“We will protect our citizens and ensure their safety by investing in our power to convince and our power to compel, and working together with our international partners,” Michel said.
His reference to international partners was designed to reassure EU countries that believe their security can only be guaranteed by the US It remains to be seen whether those countries are prepared to change that fundamental premise anytime soon.