Dimitar BechevVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
Resilience has become the EU’s favorite buzzword and for a good reason. The disruption caused by COVID-19 and now Russian President Vladimir Putin’s weaponization of natural gas supplies bear witness of vulnerabilities the integration model championed by Europe entails.
Yet the jury is still out as to whether words and actions match. Take energy for instance. The cut-off of Russian gas supplies has to be offset by deliveries from other external sellers, including in North Africa, the Gulf, and the Caspian. They might or might not prove reliable in the future. The OPEC+ decision to decrease oil production is a reason for caution. Longer term, the phasing in of renewables—which in theory should boost self-sufficiency—will likely accentuate Europe’s dependence on imports of critical materials and technology from China.
There are multiple trade-offs and dilemmas involved in the pursuit of resilience. This does not mean resilience is an ever-elusive goal. Smart policies and choices are potentially available to decisionmakers. But they are not cost-free. Expand renewables, for instance, but invest in technology as well as smart distribution networks. Ultimately, the answer to the question of whether Europe takes resilience seriously will be in the positive only when there is clear evidence that Europeans are prepared to foot the bill. I am not sure we are there just yet.
Krzysztof BledowskiCouncil director and senior economist at the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation
I think it is, but one could also ask if the United States is taking resilience seriously.
There are two levels of being prepared. For known calamities (hurricanes, earthquakes, floods), being resilient means having early warning and rescue infrastructure in place. By the yardsticks of lives lost to these types of misfortunes, both the EU and United States acquit themselves well.
Yet for unpredictable incidents, such as sabotage, terrorism, or targeted cyber-malfeasance, the transatlantic partners could do better. For example, current NATO obligations bind the allies to mutual defense in a narrow range of instances. Extending this range would serve as a powerful deterrent. However, such resilience requires intelligence sharing and trust among EU and NATO members to a far greater degree than is currently in place.
The war in Ukraine has shown how poorly prepared Europe is for an unpredictable event. The United States is currently bearing not just the heaviest military burden of defending Ukraine but also has disbursed the largest financial envelope. Weak intra-European resilience stands in the way of tightening the EU-NATO relationship.
Both Europe and the United States would gain tremendously from jointly tightening their resilience regimes, but progress will be incremental at best.
Elisabeth BrawSenior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
Yes, Europe is taking resilience seriously. Or rather, Europe is beginning to take resilience more seriously. Until the beginning of 2020, people like me, who focus on societal resilience, kept talking about the need for better preparedness and especially for more education of the public. Then came COVID-19 and dramatically made the case. Since then, I’ve seen a significant change in governments’ thinking about resilience and been part of several government initiatives to build resilience in specific areas.
But it’s absolutely crucial to bear in mind that societal resilience is not just a government activity, nor should it be. Resilience is the responsibility of the whole of society, and fortunately a great deal is happening there. I have, for example, been delighted to see companies making great strides in improving their resilience to gray-zone aggression.
Of course, more can be done, and I think we’ll see more efforts along the lines of Sweden’s pioneering public-education If Crisis or War Comes. But credit to the governments and companies that are tackling the nuts and bolts of enhancing resilience, which is far more complicated than it may seem.
Andrea ChristouPhD Candidate at the University of Edinburgh
Since the onset of COVID-19, the EU has committed itself to building resilience, something the pandemic has revealed Europe lacks. Among other documents, the 2020 Strategic Foresight Report and Strategic Compass have made multiple references to building a more resilient Europe, especially in relation to climate, defense, and energy. The Conference on the Future of Europe is also illustrative of Europe’s efforts to enhance its resilience by engaging its citizens in policies aimed at strengthening the EU’s response to key issues shaping external action, such as the green and digital transitions.
In this sense then, Europe is taking resilience seriously. But despite the EU’s various efforts, including its resilience dashboards to monitor progress, these efforts often seem to be jeopardized by the member states themselves. For example, Cyprus’s continued exploration of natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean to establish alternative energy supply routes comes at the expense of Europe’s commitment to phase out gas. Therefore, Cyprus is building its resilience in energy security, but at a cost to Europe’s climate resilience. In a crisis-ridden world which is constantly changing, how can we enhance Europe’s resilience if we cannot agree on what this entails?
Olivier de FranceSenior research fellow at The French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs
On October 10, 2022, Russia was bombing civilians in buses, universities, and playgrounds across the center of Kyiv. The same day, a well-known British newspaper published a feature complaining that “ordering a coffee in Pret A Manger has become chaotic, confusing and utterly infuriating” for the London customer. This is an—entirely anecdotal—illustration of the chasm that divides a people fighting for their lives in Ukraine from the rest of an “old continent of petty bourgeois, safe in their own material comfort, embarked on a new adventure in which tragedy has invited itself,” as Emmanuel Macron once put it himself.
Herein may lie the stumbling block for the EU and NATO’s fledgling efforts to shore up resilience in their member states. Institutions—being institutions—are wont to see resilience as a top-down undertaking. Yet the outcome of the war lies as much with Europe as with the resilience of Europeans themselves: what they can stomach, contribute, and sacrifice over the coming winter months. It is a curtain of comfort more than a curtain of iron that shuts Kyiv out from European capitals today. The fate of Ukraine will depend on whether or not we let it descend across the continent.
Caroline de GruyterEuropean affairs correspondent for NRC Handelsblad
It does, very much so. Resilience is not what Europe does; it is what Europe is. Its objective is peace, and its instruments are about building an entity where the resilience of all is the resilience of each.
The agricultural policy was created in the 1950s by people who had been hungry a few years before. It ensured that Europe could feed its people. The single currency is about resilience, to avoid constant currency fluctuations causing political tensions between European countries. Everything that was done since the financial crisis in 2008 is about resilience. Strategic autonomy is resilience. Frontex border guards are resilience. Next Generation EU funds are resilience.
Examples are countless. What is new is that the word resilience now comes also with a whiff of hard security, like in infrastructure or the digital agenda. Of course, it is not enough. It will never be enough.
Jacek KucharczykPresident of the Institute of Public Affairs, Warsaw
The seriousness of the EU’s commitment to greater resilience can be tested on many levels. Here in Poland, three areas in particular should be assessed to respond to this question: resilience against populism, resilience to threats of military aggression, and resilience of energy supplies.
As I have argued, the EU’s procrastination in responding to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s authoritarian populism paved the way for other populists, most notably Poland’s Law and Justice Party. The lack of effectiveness, so far, of the EU response to populism undermines trust in the EU among the most pro-European and pro-democratic parts of Polish society, while it is noticed by those who support the assault on the rule of law and other European values.
Likewise, the commitment to increasing Europe’s resilience against military aggression should be measured by the financial and military support to Ukraine—the country that, by defending itself against Russian aggression, is keeping other Europeans safe. The EU’s financial aid to Ukraine is not insignificant. The granting of membership status goes a long way to build up our resilience. Yet the fact that EU assistance to Ukraine, especially the most urgently needed military assistance, is dwarfed by U.S. efforts, shows a deficit on the union’s part.
Lastly, the prospect of the long, cold winter and energy cuts reveals that the EU is grossly unprepared for the energy crisis it is facing. As if EU leaders weren’t warned about how Russia used energy as a geopolitical instrument.
Eva MichaelsBeatriu de Pinós research fellow at Institut Barcelona d’Estudis Internacionals
While Europeans are constantly confronted with the need to build up resilience—not just in the context of the current geopolitical crisis and attacks against Europe’s infrastructure—their efforts could be more serious.
Resilience requires the presence of various qualities, such as connectivity, reflexivity, flexibility, and quick processing. If we think about resilience in European foreign policymaking, as the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell did this week, foreknowledge and receptivity remain key weaknesses.
Different European polities have been similarly (though not always perfectly) surprised by major contemporary crises—such as the Arab uprisings, ISIS’s rise to power, the fall of Kabul, and Russian aggression against Ukraine. There are many lessons still to be learned from the performance problems experienced, specifically related to structural constraints in the intelligence-policy nexus.
If Europeans want to be adequately prepared for future crises, they need to strengthen their capacity to ask critical questions anytime and adjust their intelligence resources rapidly to unexpected developments. They will be much better at this if they reflect upon past practices and update their assumptions together as part of wider intelligence and foreign policy cooperation.
Unrealistic? The newly launched European Political Community could provide the space for fresh thinking on these matters.
Marc PieriniSenior fellow at Carnegie Europe
Sabotage of gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea, disruption of Germany’s railway systems, hacking of hospital data in France, Gazprom’s threatening “winter is coming” video: the challenges directed at the EU, European member governments, and NATO are plenty.
A multidimensional cyber war is unfolding against a vast array of European institutions, businesses, and citizens. Perpetrators are state organizations, parastatal bodies and, indeed, unknown hackers of various types.
Technically, Europe is highly capable of tackling these kinds of threats to its interests. But their recent increase—and possibly the dramatic increase yet to come—warrants a vastly reinforced resilience policy. This is a complex and painstaking effort, civilian and military, technical and legal, national and intergovernmental, and one which requires immense trust between those concerned. The European Institute of Innovation and Technology is one good example of what’s needed.
It also requires Europe’s own cultural revolution. Since the late 1940s, Western Europe has operated with a “never again” mantra and based its vast political and legal apparatus on the collective belief that peaceful coexistence will forever prevail on European soil. With war returning to Eastern Europe and disruptive behaviors becoming commonplace, this enchanted parenthesis is over.
Multidimensional, pluri-national resilience is the new priority. Political leaders must adjust to this new reality, whatever it takes.
Kristi RaikDirector of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute
Europe is forced to start taking resilience seriously due to various recent and ongoing crises, especially Russia’s war against Ukraine and COVID-19. Both have exposed Europe’s unhealthy dependencies on authoritarian major powers and related vulnerabilities that seriously hamper Europe’s ability to cope with crises. The concept of resilience is broad and ambiguous, but there are a couple of profound questions regarding Europe’s approach to resilience that require hard strategic rethinking, which is already in progress.
First, how open and connected can the European economy be to authoritarian countries that pose a threat to our security and democracy? Open connectivity has supported our economic development, but the war in Ukraine and COVID-19 have exposed the readiness of Russia and China to weaken Europe by exploiting its dependencies. Such vulnerabilities need to be minimized.
Second, how does Europe respond to attacks against the key building blocks of its resilience, including critical infrastructure, digital networks, and free media? In what ways and in what kind of situations should it hit back in order to deter future attacks, in addition to protecting itself? National measures are crucial for the level of resilience of each country, but the EU and NATO also have an important role to play.
Lucia RybnikárováJunior research fellow at Centre for Global Europe, GLOBSEC
The buzzword “resilience” gained momentum throughout the coronavirus crisis. It underlined the need for the EU to devote greater efforts to anticipatory governance and an attempt to strengthen its resilience in the face of predictable and unpredictable events. Yet with the Russian war in Ukraine, Europe finds itself in a difficult position.
Lessons learnt from the COVID-19 infodemic might not be enough to tackle the new wave of disinformation. Europe needs to step up its efforts in building up resilience.
Populist forces that lurked in the sidelines in the early days of the Russian war in Ukraine are starting to gain back attention, using a predictable but dangerously successful formula for public opinion disruption, and voting gains. Elections across the EU are already seeing the surge of populist Eurosceptic nationalist parties (Sweden, Italy, Bulgaria). Yet, the intensification of disinformation efforts will be felt even harder as winter is around corner. Coupled with a high inflation and energy crisis, building societal resilience must be a priority.
The EU has still very limited means of fighting Russian disinformation. The only way out is to enhance interinstitutional relations, increasing transparency and creating collaboration between democratic actors among member states.
Sten RynningProfessor at the Faculty of Business and Social Sciences at the University of Southern Denmark
Europe is taking resilience seriously, but not seriously enough. Resilience used to have a flavor of civilian emergency planning, which allowed Europe to probe its way into this new domain. But we now know that resilience is about collective defense as well—about the management of contests of power. This dawned on the West after Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014.
Russia and China have each in their own way pushed the frontier of the issue ever since. NATO has come quite far in defining resilience as a self-help obligation under its treaty’s Article 3. But still, nations have to deliver, and it is not easy to entice civilian sectors of society to act on defense policy. It is also costly.
The bigger challenge lies with the EU, which has more or less the full bag of resilience not tied to the deployment of military force. This train is moving too slowly. Energy and food are integral to the strategic competition with Russia. Investments and cyber security to that with China. Europe should much more aggressively develop policies that counter their intent and capabilities. At stake is no less than the future wealth and welfare of the continent.
Stanley R. SloanAuthor and visiting scholar at Middlebury College
I tell students in my Middlebury College class on American power that a key difference between many continental Europeans and Americans is their acceptance of vulnerability. Even after 9/11, Americans find it difficult to accept vulnerability, having largely been protected by two oceans for almost two centuries. Europeans, on the other hand, have a history of wars being fought in and by their countries, living under occupation, and still coming out successfully on the other side—with the help of the United States in some cases, of course.
This historical reality perhaps influences Europeans to be more patient and less aggressive in reaction to challenges to the resilience of their nations. There is a stronger belief in negotiating their way out of difficulties. Whether this makes Europeans more resilient is an open question. Some might say it makes them weaker, some might say wiser. In any case Europeans do persist even under very difficult circumstances. Perhaps this says something about Europe’s ability to deal with—or accept—the many economic, societal, political, and military challenges currently facing them.
Monika SusVisiting Professor at the Centre for International Security at the Hertie School, Berlin
Not yet, but Europe has been forced by both external and internal threats to take it seriously as a matter of urgency. And it is learning how to do that. In the last decade, resilience has increasingly become a buzzword in almost every area of EU policy, from crisis management and countering hybrid threats to trade, the supply of raw materials, and the protection of the union’s democratic principles and the rule of law.
In responding to mounting internal and external challenges, the EU has developed a number of policy instruments—such as the Recovery and Resilience Facility—aimed at increasing its resilience in various dimensions, but it will take time to see their effects.
At the same time, building up resilience seems to be like chasing a moving target. We are constantly learning about the many dimensions of resilience and how many areas we still lack it in. The recent explosions of the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines clearly demonstrate how much the union still needs to improve in terms of the resilience of its energy infrastructure. And this is certainly not the end. Europe’s resilience will be constantly put to the test in a world of hybrid wars, contestation of the liberal order, and rising populist sentiment, as well as geopolitical competition between global powers. Therefore, the EU cannot afford the luxury of not making resilience its top priority.
Sinan ÜlgenSenior fellow at Carnegie Europe
As a response to geopolitical challenges, the EU has sought to enhance its resilience across many domains ranging from health and cyber to energy. One important area where the objective of resilience has influenced policymaking is international trade. The EU has designed a series of initiatives, including the Anti-coercion instrument, the International Procurement Instrument, the 5G Toolbox, and the Foreign Subsidy Instrument to reshape its trade policy to take into account the geopolitical challenges and the associated aim of improved resilience.
Unlike policy areas such as health, energy, or cyber, building resilience through trade policy is more complex because of the existence of an international rules-based system underpinned by the World Trade Organization. In other words, the risk is that the trade policy linked initiatives aiming to enhance resilience may be incompatible with the norms of international trade. So just like in the area of data privacy with General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or in climate policy with Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM), the EU will be compelled to demonstrate global leadership in designing a trade policy that embeds resilience goals while remaining compliant with the prevailing global rules. The success of this exercise of compatibility will determine the effectiveness of EU-level initiatives to bolster resilience through trade policy.
Pierre VimontSenior fellow at Carnegie Europe
European governments are well aware of the risks surrounding their countries’ resilience. If only because of the piling up of incidents affecting European nations in all fields of activities, the disruption due to increasing cyber attacks or the sabotage of some of their main transport infrastructures can no longer be ignored.
The problem is not about understanding how serious that situation is but about how to tackle it. Here the complexity of the many challenges facing Europe as to all industrialized countries makes the task of buttressing resilience an almost impossible one. In our increasingly sophisticated societies with interconnection and interdependence at the core of Western economies, how to guarantee full proof protection? Where to fix public priorities when citizens expect governments to safeguard every aspect of their daily life? Political choices have to be made and explained to the populations.
Perhaps one of the first actions to be taken should be prioritizing the defense of our democratic systems, as constant disinformation is slowly undermining the bedrock of our liberal societies at home and the solidity of our international positions abroad. Countering the flow of insidious fake news and open propaganda could be the first step toward a more resilient Europe.
Anna WieslanderDirector for Northern Europe at the Atlantic Council
During the COVID-19 pandemic, resilience became the new buzzword, but a lot of talking has not yet turned into action in Europe. Resilience, the ability for society to bounce back after a major shock, is increasingly important not only because of extreme weather effects on society but also because of the ability of adversaries to conduct hybrid warfare during peacetime, which puts societal resilience at the forefront of any efficient deterrence measure. Resilience thus becomes closely connected both to resistance and endurance, and a matter for everyone living in Europe.
Sweden and Finland are interesting in this regard, with reputations of having strong resilience. The foundation for this is the notion of total defense, developed during the Cold War—a concept that Ukraine also has studied carefully. Total defense includes all activities needed for society to prepare for war. It underlines that all citizens are responsible for the security and preparedness of the country. A well-informed and well-prepared citizen can act and help others in a crisis situation. In light of this experience, to increase crisis awareness and preparedness among citizens would be among the greatest achievement for Europe to increase its resilience.