“Europe still suffers from comparison with the leading players such as the United States or China”

LOn January 24, the European Commission presented a package of measures to strengthen the geopolitical capacities of the European Union (EU). The proposed measures aim for closer coordination at EU level of export controls on sensitive products, screening of cross-border investments in strategic sectors and protection of researchers from foreign interference.

Behind these technical tools, it is the geopolitical ambition of the EU which is slowly asserting itself. The last five years have, often for the worse, confirmed the relevance of a Commission placed under the sign of geopolitics by its president, Ursula von der Leyen, from the moment of her appointment. High-intensity warfare has returned to Europe. Vital supplies have been threatened by the selfish or aggressive behavior of partners. The vulnerability of our trade routes suddenly appeared, both for geopolitical reasons and more benignly logistical ones.

In the wake of rival Sino-American relations competing for the place of the world’s leading power, the entire international environment has become less policed ​​and more uncertain.

Building on its initial orientation, the Commission has led a rapid strengthening of the EU’s geopolitical capacities. Its limited prerogatives on questions of national security and defense, but broad on economic affairs, have oriented it towards geoeconomic instruments, that is to say the mobilization of economic tools for directly geopolitical purposes.

Little revolution

Relatively familiar from geostrategic discussions in Washington or Beijing, this approach represents a small revolution in Brussels. The vision of sweet trade, where openness to the world is a source of wealth for all, and hence of peace and democracy, has long held the place of geostrategy, under the benevolent eye of Member States happy to hold the EU to the gap in their foreign policies.

In five years, the EU has thus equipped itself with a fine geo-economic toolbox. It has identified its external strategic vulnerabilities. An anti-coercion tool was established to protect its members from foreign industrial interference. The European framework on industrial policies, notoriously restrictive in order to protect competition, has been relaxed for strategic sectors, giving rise to initiatives on microprocessors, the cloud or batteries, among others. A list of mineral critiques has been drawn up, accompanied by objectives for reducing external dependencies, and supplemented by partnerships with third parties to secure supplies.

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