Introduction

The evolving international stage spells worrying scenarios for the EU, with dark clouds of insecurity and geostrategic competition building on many fronts. The current coronavirus pandemic will further strain the status quo. This might be the EU’s greatest challenge to date, as the union faces a crisis of legitimacy and demands to clarify where political power rests, especially in high-politics fields, such as security and defense. The pandemic is already indirectly affecting the process of EU defense integration by testing the tenets of European solidarity and Europe’s capacity for collective crisis management.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, political debates about security and defense reached a new level of ambition in EU defense cooperation. This was significant at a time when Europe was grappling with limited military capabilities, gaps in technological innovation, a lagging defense industrial base, and lackluster national defense expenditures.

These concerns spurred EU institutional and policy efforts to converge European strategic needs, advocate more coherent and interoperable military capabilities, and avoid further duplication in the research and development (R&D) of weapons systems. The aim was to offer lucrative financial incentives for the European defense sector and encourage cross-border collaboration.

That is not to mention that in recent years, the EU appears to have moved beyond pure intergovernmentalism—a model of integration and decisionmaking that emphasizes the role of national governments—in security and defense matters and when it comes to new mechanisms of developing military capabilities.

Raluca Csernatoni
Raluca Csernatoni is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, where she works on European security and defense with a specific focus on disruptive technologies.
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What followed was a call to arms for Brussels to take more action on defense in two ways. The first was by forging a more integrated and competitive European defense industry and market. The second way was by finding feasible solutions to improve the EU’s strategic autonomy as part of a broader effort to mitigate new internal and external security threats. In a nutshell, the goal was to turn industrial defense matters into a European—not an exclusively national—pursuit and legitimize an effort to build defense sovereignty in Europe.

This shift resulted in a flurry of ambitious policy initiatives from 2016 following up on the release of the EU’s global strategy. Innovations included the European Defense Fund (EDF), which seeks to “foster an innovative and competitive defence industrial base,” and the creation of a Directorate General for Defense Industry and Space (DG DEFIS) in the European Commission, the EU’s executive.

However, the changed political context since the UK’s departure from the union in January 2020, contentious negotiations over the EU’s 2021–2027 budget, and the challenges of dealing with the coronavirus have shifted the union’s defense priorities. On top of an array of woes already plaguing flagship European defense initiatives, the EU’s defense portfolio may yet fall victim to the pandemic. Troubling postcrisis projections and shifts in investment priorities from defense to health-related areas signal a bleak outlook in Europe.

Furthermore, the wave of EU-level defense-related initiatives and signs of supranational defense industrial integration have raised questions about transparency and legitimacy. This trend equally calls for a serious discussion of what criteria might be appropriate for assessing the democratic quality of the EU’s security and defense policy and decisionmaking.

Left unchecked, current challenges could send European defense integration into a winter of reduced capabilities, diminished autonomy, and a lack of accountability. To avoid serious and long-lasting consequences for their defense portfolios and the overall legitimacy of decisionmaking in defense, the EU and its member states should acknowledge the short- and long-term effects of the pandemic.

In the short term, an impending European defense winter would likely mean an increased rollback of defense integration, reduced funding for EU military capabilities, and a wave of renationalization in the defense sector. In the long term, it would affect emerging questions about the democratic accountability of the union’s institutional machinery responsible for security and defense. To mitigate these challenges, the EU and its member states need a change of mindset to safeguard both their capacity to act autonomously on defense and the democratic quality of the integration process in this area.

The EU’s Heady Days of Defense Ambition

When it comes to designing a global strategy for the EU, the distinction between foreign and security policy is tough to discern. The June 2016 presentation of the EU global strategy by the EU’s then foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, marked an important shift toward a global approach to strategic thinking. The document did not shy away from the union’s vital internal and external security interests. It offered a paradigm shift in the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) from the idealist narrative of a civilian, normative, and transformative power with external ambitions, as captured by the EU’s 2003 European Security Strategy, to the creation of an EU that is pragmatic and resilient against internal and external challenges.

With its focus on “principled pragmatism” and “resilience,” the global strategy put forward an integrated foreign and security policy approach, noting the links between internal and external aspects of security and defense. Resilience is a hyped concept that emerged from the strategy and has now been tested by the pandemic, especially in terms of Europe’s cooperation reflexes, the importance of critical infrastructure, and overall preparedness.

In practice, the EU has always struggled to make good on its idealist and normative promise to be a force for good for a better world. That is in part because member states have not kept their commitments to the EU’s Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) peacekeeping and crisis management operations. After an initial phase of enthusiasm in the early 2000s, the appetites of member states for the CSDP seem to have been decreasing, indicating a lack of political willingness to deploy armed forces under the EU flag. For instance, the CSDP was not deployed in Libya in 2011, raising questions about the use of the policy’s instruments to launch and conduct EU-led crisis management operations.

The EU as an organization has always been more ambitious than its members when it comes to normative commitments. The global strategy finally recognized that reality by anchoring its objectives in levelheadedness and realism. Another important development was a new narrative of “strategic autonomy”—albeit a halfhearted one, which, according to experts, was grounded in talk of an emerging European “military-industrial complex,” a balanced relationship with Washington, and an overall step-up in defense cooperation.

Arguably, the global strategy downscaled the normative and transformative ambition of the EU’s external action. But equally, the document was accompanied by more integrationist actions and practices in defense, as demonstrated by policy and institutional developments after the strategy was implemented (see figure 1). The EU presented the consolidation of a strong European defense technological and industrial base as a top mission for this new, pragmatic effort, and the commission identified the integration of the EU’s defense industry and market as a key priority.

In this respect, the global strategy was complemented in November 2016 by the Implementation Plan on Security and Defense, which contained a set of tangible and practical actions. As a case in point, the same month, the commission put forward the European Defense Action Plan. In an unprecedented move, this document proposed a new tool under the EU budget to finance cooperation and investment in the joint R&D of strategic defense equipment and cutting-edge technologies.

In May 2017, the EU unveiled the Preparatory Action on Defense Research (PADR). For the first time and as a test case, the commission would fund defense-related research and technology projects directly from the EU budget and not through member states’ joint initiatives. This scheme was framed as a concrete step to demonstrate the added value of EU-supported defense research and innovation. The PADR paved the way to the European Defense Industrial Development Program (EDIDP), which sought to further boost the competitiveness of Europe’s defense industrial base. These developments were intended to prepare the ground for an ambitious EDF under the EU’s 2021–2027 budget.

As part of the effort to implement the global strategy, the EU launched other initiatives in 2017 to boost European defense cooperation by enhancing the union’s joint planning, development, procurement, and operation of capabilities. The EU set up the Coordinated Annual Review on Defense (CARD) as a link between national defense planning and EU priorities. In addition, the Capability Development Plan was revised to serve as a key reference for member states for capability development and ensure coherence with NATO. Between March 2018 and November 2019, the Council of the EU adopted forty-seven projects under revamped permanent structured cooperation (PESCO). These enhanced cooperation projects covered training, capability development, and operational readiness in the field of defense.

In February 2019, the commission presented the EDF as a timely catalyst for defense research and high-risk innovation in Europe. The fund is meant to bolster cross-border cooperation and coordination among member states, the defense industry, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and research centers. It comprises a research window, which provides funding for collaborative defense research projects, and a capability development window of defense products and technologies, which are co-financed by the EU budget. The amount available for the EDF for 2021–2027 was initially expected to be 13 billion euros ($14 billion), of which up to 8 percent was to be dedicated to future disruptive defense technologies such as capabilities powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

When the EDF was launched, many rushed to argue that it represented a fundamental step in European defense integration. Despite unresolved questions over the fund’s final budget, this financial instrument still marks an important shift in the commission’s institutional role as an empowered defense player. In this respect, this supranational body has become more active in the fields of defense technology and industry, and it now intervenes more strongly in a sector that was the exclusive preserve of the member states at the intergovernmental bargaining table.

The inflated rhetoric surrounding recent EU defense initiatives and instruments was undoubtedly a consequence of a pervasive sense of urgency in Europe. Some policymakers saw the EDF, CARD, and PESCO as the ideal setup to guard against geopolitical uncertainty and consolidate the European security and defense architecture.

Nevertheless, it might be too early to fully harmonize these initiatives and reap their coordinated benefits, mainly because their timescales are not synchronized. CARD started its first full cycle in 2019 and so did not directly inform the launch of the first PESCO projects. Those projects, in turn, mostly represented member states’ efforts to demonstrate their continued political commitments to the EU. The union has yet to introduce coherent sequencing between CARD and PESCO projects, which could be financially supported by the EDF.

The creation of DG DEFIS in the “geopolitical” European Commission—to quote its president, Ursula von der Leyen—marked another concrete step and a political signal that the commission is ready to increase its competencies in this domain. If successfully implemented and given enough financial investment, the EDF and DG DEFIS could indeed significantly increase the commission’s agenda-setting power in security and defense. The aim is to bolster lucrative joint investment schemes in research and innovation in defense technologies and boost the EU’s leadership position in this strategic sector. In this regard, the EDF and DG DEFIS are unprecedented moves to consolidate the new EU political project of a more sovereign Europe on defense matters.

It could be argued that the commission has cast itself in the role of safeguarding the EU’s technological and industrial base. The union’s executive aims to develop critical military technologies and contribute to the EU’s strategic autonomy by making defense industrial cooperation under the EU budget a reality. In this respect, a clear priority has been set: to involve member states and the European defense industry in joint projects that lead to competitive defense capabilities with tangible, operational outcomes in the form of upgraded forces and military assets. The hope was also that deepened defense industrial integration would inject new momentum into the European political project. The reality has been much more difficult.

Challenges to EU Defense Integration

After significant steps from 2016 onward, the EU has begun to face a number of hurdles that threaten to undo earlier progress on the defense portfolio. Four obstacles stand out: the difficulty of defining strategic autonomy as a narrative for the European political project, the EU’s lack of accountability and transparency in defense matters, reductions in European defense funding, and, most recently, the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ambiguity of Strategic Autonomy

It has become increasingly clear that the EU needs to rethink its role in the shifting world order. The union must take stock of its peculiarities and structural vulnerabilities in areas including security and defense. The pandemic further underscores the need for a European collective will and capacity to tackle challenges.

Indeed, the EU’s CFSP should reflect this collective effort. As Europeans become more aware of their weaknesses, it is high time for the EU to be clear about its common interests and values and how best to protect them. Doing so would help prevent the union from depending on other actors in critical areas, including security and defense.

In this respect, the concept of European strategic autonomy in defense has become both popular and controversial in recent years. Broadly speaking, this concept is commonly understood as the capacity to act and cooperate with partners whenever possible while being able to operate independently whenever necessary.

However, despite frequent mentions of strategic autonomy in European debates on security and defense, there is no precise, universally agreed definition of the term. It is an empty signifier, not only in security and defense, but also in other technology-related areas such as the EU’s digital agenda and made-in-Europe AI. The global strategy employs the term “autonomy” no fewer than seven times to refer to issues from decisionmaking to action.

Strategic autonomy could be narrowly defined as defense technological and industrial autonomy, or it could be framed in terms of absolute autonomy, including operational independence and territorial defense. However, as experts have pointed out, strategic autonomy is not necessarily an absolute quality or a binary choice, but rather exists on a continuous spectrum.

The lack of conceptual clarity surrounding strategic autonomy means the term is often misunderstood both inside and outside Europe. The French pedigree of the concept does not necessarily play in its favor. First used in France’s 1994 white paper on defense, the term is most notably associated with French Gaullist ambitions, and President Emmanuel Macron has come to be seen as its champion today. The concept has also become a rallying call by the French to lead the way in European defense integration after Brexit. This drive is backed up by the recent appointment of French official Thierry Breton as European commissioner for the internal market, with DG DEFIS under his leadership.

Advocates of strategic autonomy often have to fend off criticism by explaining what the term does not mean, rather than what it does stand for. This waters down its usefulness as a central concept to rally around. Other terms, such as self-sufficiency or sovereignty, are occasionally used interchangeably with strategic autonomy, adding to the lack of clarity. However, the basic rationale behind most of the lofty rhetoric calling for strategic autonomy is that at a time of greater geopolitical tension and instability, the EU must be able to act more independently to defend and advance its interests and values in the world.

Time will tell whether strategic autonomy can still serve as a useful concept in a new European sovereignty-building political project after the pandemic. The value of the term is especially uncertain when it comes to galvanizing European countries and industries to up their game on security and defense. It is also important to acknowledge that not all EU member states are comfortable with the concept, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe.

The ambiguity of strategic autonomy has prompted mixed reactions toward the EDF as well. Some experts see the fund as a clear indication of political will across member states about collective European defense as an EU responsibility. Others view the EDF as merely signifying technological and industrial autonomy. The commission supports the latter interpretation in a bid to not ruffle national feathers and assuage fears that it is engaged in a turf war with member states over decisionmaking in defense.

In other words, governance concerns over the EDF, which the commission will manage, revolve around supranational, intergovernmental, and national tensions. If successful, the fund might epitomize the commission’s agenda-setting power in defense and its exceptional emergence as a nontraditional defense actor. But at the same time, the EU member states want to cling to the perception that they maintain their freedom of action and sovereignty in security and defense matters. For most member states, NATO remains the go-to umbrella for territorial defense. In reality, the EU is slowly acquiring an authoritative voice in defining defense technological and industrial priorities.

Many defense experts doubt whether this impetus will be enough to trigger effective EU defense integration. However, there is no denying that EU institutions and member states are openly thinking and talking about increasing the union’s strategic autonomy and defense sovereignty. The pandemic has further caused a somber systemic shockwave for the EU and its member states, triggering additional interest in discussing EU dependencies and the need to become more autonomous in general.

A Lack of Transparency and Accountability

The EDF reaffirms the EU’s need to get the best strategic value for money by potentially funding cutting-edge research and innovation and fostering the development of interoperable capabilities. But equally, the fund raises questions about opacity in defense governance, political priorities, and output legitimacy. Policy innovations and supranational consolidation under the guise of strategic autonomy have been advancing fast. However, the union has dedicated little substantive political and public debate to democratic oversight and transparency when it comes to the EU’s defense policy agenda.

Issues of transparency and legitimacy in EU defense integration can be summarized in three questions: Are recent defense initiatives democratically accountable? Do they subject to meaningful parliamentary scrutiny and oversight from the European Parliament or national parliaments? And will they contribute to exacerbating weapons production and arms exports in Europe—issues on which the EU lacks a unified perspective?

An enhanced defense union will need to ensure that further defense integration is democratically accountable. Broadly defined, democratic participation and accountability in the EU are guaranteed by two interlinked mechanisms: One is direct accountability via European Parliament elections and national elected officials. The other is indirect accountability via a complex technocratic system of checks and balances, indirect representation, the bureaucratic professionalization of the defense policy field, and niche expertise.

Decisions on EU defense policy are made by the member states together, and the intergovernmental method of decisionmaking dominates. This means that democratic accountability is safeguarded by national governments, most of which are accountable to their parliaments for military affairs. But in practice, European security and defense policy has long been an elusive domain for national legislatures. The recent surge of defense decisionmaking at the supranational level further complicates the oversight mechanisms of national parliaments. What is more, the boost in defense integration, as seen in the creation of the EDF and DG DEFIS, has translated into a relative decline in scrutiny from the European Parliament in this area.

Most importantly, current trends in EU defense and security policymaking have come under increased critical scrutiny from civil society and advocacy groups, which have raised concerns about transparency. Civil society groups and activists have criticized closer defense integration as indicative of elite backroom and expert-driven policymaking. That has led to a perception that the EU’s goals and interests in defense are progressively being designed by the European defense industry for the defense industry.

Powerful industry-driven lobbying has played a significant role in shaping priorities in European security and defense R&D. As a result, critics have decried what they see as the corporate capture of EU military initiatives by a nascent European military-industrial complex fostered by the commission in collaboration with defense consortia. Major EU-based arms-producing companies—such as the Airbus Group, Leonardo, BAE Systems, and Thales—are among the key players that graft their strategic interests onto European defense policy processes to reap financial benefits from EU-level defense research grants.

For instance, in 2015, the commission set up the Group of Personalities on Defense Research, a high-level advisory body for revamping the EU’s military R&D agenda. Chaired at the time by Elżbieta Bieńkowska, a former European commissioner for the internal market, the group was heavily dominated by the defense industry: its members included representatives of major European arms-producing companies and the AeroSpace and Defense Industries Association of Europe lobby group. In this respect, the commission and the group have come under fire for opaquely setting up such defense research advisory groups.

Member states with strong national defense industries and the means to co-finance costly projects are also expected to be the main beneficiaries of EU defense industrial integration, sidelining other member states. Smaller EU countries are therefore increasingly concerned that funding for defense projects will be directed to larger states with more competitive defense sectors.

All in all, anxieties about democratic oversight and transparency stem from a deeper problem in European defense integration. This is because recent dynamism in this area has played out in narratives, technocratic policies, and institutional processes while avoiding substantive political and public debates across EU member states.

Cuts to Defense Funding

The gap in political legitimacy on European defense has become more apparent as the hype surrounding defense integration has begun to wane. At the same time, letdowns over the EU’s 2021–2027 budget negotiations risk irreversibly obstructing flagship European defense initiatives, such as Military Mobility and the EDF.

Military Mobility is a PESCO project under Dutch coordination that aims to enable the unconstrained movement of military personnel and assets within the EU, avoiding bureaucratic procedures to move across EU member states by rail, road, air, or sea. During the 2021–2027 budget negotiations, the proposed funding for Military Mobility has been drastically cut from 6.5 billion euros ($7 billion) under the commission’s initial May 2018 proposal to 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion) under the latest budget proposal of May 27, 2020, put forward by the commission to power Europe’s post-coronavirus recovery.

This might come much to the dismay of the EU’s Central and Eastern European member states, which see the mobility program as essential to defense challenges along the EU’s eastern border. The decision to remove a significant amount of funding also suggests that budget negotiations on defense are based not on genuine priorities but on national interests. Given that this project is branded as the poster child of EU-NATO cooperation, the budget cut will further strain collaboration and interoperability between the two organizations.

As for the EDF, instead of the 13 billion euros ($14 billion) originally proposed by the commission for 2021–2027 in May 2018, the fund saw a decrease to 6 billion euros ($6.6 billion) under the negotiating box of the Finnish presidency of the Council of the EU in December 2020, then a slight increase to 7 billion euros ($7.7 billion) under the negotiating box of President of the European Council Charles Michel in February 2020. The latest development, as of this writing, is that 8 billion euros ($8.8 billion) was tabled by the commission in its new budget proposal of May 27, 2020. The latest sum seems quite optimistic given the current political climate in Europe and the coronavirus-dominated negotiations on the 2021–2027 budget, in which primacy is given to the economic recovery.

Overall, the EU’s defense portfolio is falling short of initial high expectations. In this context, it might seem that a European defense winter is already here. Besides the pandemic, an important cause for a substantial cooling in defense integration is Brexit: with the departure of one of the largest contributors to the EU’s budget, the reflex of the remaining member states is to economize. Arguably, however, Brexit could have the opposite effect and increase the EU’s defense drive, because the UK historically opposed deeper defense integration when it was an EU member.

Another possible cause of a European defense winter is rooted in intergovernmental obstacles and nationalist reflexes when it comes to defense integration. Some EU member states fear either that European defense policy will move to a supranational level, that Europe’s defense will be decoupled from Washington, or that defense industrial policy will be captured by certain interests, in particular of the French variety.

While EU member states generally agree on the broad strokes of European defense integration, there is considerably less unity on the direction of defense industrial policy. The potential budget cuts in the two flagship defense projects of Military Mobility and the EDF demonstrate a lack of political commitment from the member states. Besides, while some initial analyses heralded the commission’s increased agenda-setting powers in defense, the reality is that the commission might have a restricted role as a mere coordinator in the process.

The EU’s loss of momentum and the possibility of an impending European defense winter risk further damaging the union’s claims to strategic autonomy—not to mention the EU’s credibility as a global actor. There is also a risk that the latest European defense initiatives may end up deepening transatlantic rifts at a time when the broader policy agenda between Washington and European capitals is already under severe strain. Conversely, if the EU’s defense momentum falters, the United States will likely be less concerned with the union’s defense industrial portfolio if projects receive less funding and are perceived as failures.

The EU has a long history of disagreements and dissonant national policies on European defense integration. Member states are equally divided on the future of the transatlantic link, Russia, China, and the nature of threats. The most recent example of such division has been the union’s disjointed response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Impact of the Coronavirus

In an increasingly volatile strategic context, when fissures in alliances are laid bare and geostrategic competition is becoming fierce, the EU needs more than ever to meet expectations. As the union faces the coronavirus crisis, its ability to keep the momentum of defense integration becomes ever more difficult.

The pandemic will likely slow, if not reverse, recent increases in national defense budgets, as member states will have to mitigate the economic impacts of the crisis. With public budgets under strain, governments will be under pressure to allocate resources elsewhere to address the health and fiscal implications of the pandemic. It will likely become difficult to convince EU member states to substantially contribute to current and new CSDP missions if these operations do not reflect countries’ national priorities and interests.

A protracted global lockdown will likely have consequences for the European defense industry, affecting critical operations, manufacturing, supply chains, and companies that are vulnerable to foreign takeovers. The geopolitics of the pandemic risk exacerbating structural fractures in the global order, with security and defense implications for the EU as a foreign policy actor and its engagement abroad. More than ever, the union needs to act multilaterally and break the zero-sum narrative between the United States and China.

The European defense sector still requires a radical overhaul—that is, if strategic autonomy remains a priority. In this regard, as the commission was gearing up to present a revised EU budget proposal for 2021–2027, defense ministers held a videoconference on May 12, 2020, with Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who made the case for funding defense initiatives after the coronavirus. He emphasized the need to secure funding for security and defense both in the member states and at the EU level.

At the same time, with national defense budgets under increased pressure, member states could have more incentives to cooperate on defense at the EU level or buy into PESCO and EDF-financed programs. They could also be encouraged to boost defense cooperation in other formats, such as an arrangement similar to NATO’s framework nations concept, a paradigm for multinational defense cooperation in which states cooperate voluntarily in an agile format while preserving their sovereignty.

If funded accordingly, projects under PESCO and the EDF could contribute to member states’ preparedness to fight this and future pandemics. Of note is the European Medical Command, a project that aims to “create a common operational medical picture, enhance the procurement of critical medical resources and contribute to harmonising national medical standards.”

The coronavirus crisis could also reinforce the need to develop dual-use and cutting-edge digital technologies, to make full use of digital and AI-enabled capabilities, for example. The EDF, with its focus on future and disruptive technologies, and its two forerunner programs, the EDIDP and the PADR, could also significantly contribute to pandemic preparedness. With a total budget of more than 160 million euros ($173 million) for 2020, the EDIDP has launched a call for project proposals for the design, prototyping, and testing of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear countermeasures. Examples include preventive and therapeutic immunotherapy that could prove beneficial in tackling future pandemics.

Above all, beyond discussions of policy technicalities and budget allocations, the stark reality of the pandemic has highlighted the continuum between internal and external security. Most importantly, the virus has underscored the fundamental importance of human security and solidarity, especially in light of rampant national protectionism in member states. The EU may emerge stronger if it uses this lockdown to advance a more substantive collective reflection about its future, including the union’s role in security and defense at home and abroad. The jury is still out on whether this outcome will happen.

Conclusion

There are no ready-made blueprints for EU security and defense policy. The union is still confronted by vital yet sensitive dilemmas: how to enhance European sovereignty in defense despite lackluster political and financial commitments; how to help generate a common EU strategic culture amid diverging national threat perceptions; how to ensure transparency and accountability in security and defense matters; and how to address capability dependencies on the United States.

The year 2016 may have presented a window of opportunity to push European defense integration forward. But it should not be forgotten that it took decades of negotiations for the CSDP to get this far. Progressing toward a so-called European Defense Union—a stated responsibility of Borrell’s—is likely to take years. The plot is still being written, and it is unclear whether the story will turn out to be a comedy, a tragedy, or a rousing success.

It might be premature to say definitively whether such developments are delivering the expected results, given budget cuts. However, in the span of four years, a new identity-building narrative has taken shape at the EU level, coupled with pragmatic policy steps. This marks a shift from portrayals of the EU as an externally oriented, normative power built on peace, democracy, open markets, and human rights to notions of an inward-looking union that prioritizes European sovereignty in defense.

A sovereign Europe might indeed be the rallying call for the EU’s new political project. This ambition does not limit itself to defense but spans domains such as healthcare, technology, cyber, and AI—as long as the health of the European body politic is maintained, given the coronavirus. At the turn of this century, such rhetoric and policy developments were almost unthinkable, let alone voiced in public. There is a sense of reassurance in turning to a familiar tale of state building when Europe lags behind and loses control of its destiny in the face of global geopolitical and technological changes.

The EU, if not its member states, must step up and convey a legitimate sovereign vision to meet Europeans’ expectations in terms of security and defense. The new political project has legitimate justifications as international issues test the EU’s collective capacity to respond to internal and external security challenges. This project can succeed as long as it retains the hallmarks of what made the EU great: the protection of democratic principles and the promotion of peace internally and abroad.