No. 41




How Can We Avoid Failure in Developing European Defence Cooperation? Europe’s Strategic Autonomy Initiative from the Estonian Perspective

10 June 2020


RiTo No. 41, 2020

The article discusses whether the recently proposed initiatives in the European Union to enhance defence cooperation could strengthen European security, and why these have failed to garner widespread support in Estonia.

Cooperation in foreign and security policy is critical for the survival of the European Union. Keeping Europe peaceful has been the key goal of the integration of nations over the last century; however, the current security environment puts this in a very immediate risk. In order to give more weight to Europe in this field, the Belgian political analyst Sven Biscopi suggests reviewing the policies of the Union so far, and introducing extensive changes if necessary.

There is a clear need for new solutions because there is no reason to assume that policies that have not brought the desired results so far would now suddenly do that very thing. At the same time, the current EU security and defence cooperation framework document, the so-called global strategy, endorses the continuation of the current activities, but in an even broader scale and with increased financial means. The specific foreign policy interests of the EU have once again remained largely undefined. This undermines the EU’s ability to fully use its potential on the global scale and successfully represent the common interests of the EU, as well as its individual Member States.

There is also ambiguity around the recent EU defence cooperation initiative, i.e. Europe’s strategic autonomy. Among the EU Member States, the firmest supporter of the initiative is France, while Estonia has remained rather sceptical. This is ever more surprising because Estonians generally tend to support a more influential Europe that offers more security. The lack of clear understanding of the definition of European strategic autonomy is the main reason why Estonians have remained pessimistic about the initiative.

If the idea of European strategic autonomy is really something to take forward on the Union level, we need to find consensus on the tangible goals to be reached with this initiative, the abilities that we need in order to fulfil these goals, and the capabilities whose development should be set up as a priority. To find solutions, we need to keep a critical mindset by exercising strategic restraint; i.e. we need to acknowledge that the European Union cannot simultaneously deal with all the global problems and be a “friend and partner” to every country and regime. If improving European defence capability is something that the Member States also wish to uphold with their actions, keeping the EU unity and clearly defining the objectives will be key factors. The latter presumes – or rather, demands – a comprehensive public discussion. If such a discussion should start in Estonia in the near future, we must avoid getting caught up in antiquated ideas.