Europe’s Great Reawakening — Will Brussels Walk the Talk on its “Strategic Autonomy”?
2020 has been the year of much foreign policy introspection in Europe. With the coronavirus crisis, attitudes towards China have taken a decisive, downward turn. Even though Europe breathed a cumulative sigh of relief with Joe Biden’s election, the damage to transatlantic relations under Trump have tempered any hopes of return to old, untroubled times. Strategic autonomy is the new buzzword, as Europeans endlessly debate what it would mean exactly. Still, it has dawned on many that Europe will not just have to assume more responsibility for its own defense and security, but also forge a new foreign policy in response to the challenges 2020 has brought.
One of the biggest challenges for Europe going forward will be forging a China policy. Attitudes towards China in Europe were already hardening on economic matters — questions about state subsidies, intellectual property, Chinese acquisition of strategic infrastructure, shrinking market access in China and a level playing field have been bones of contention for a long time. The coronavirus crisis and China’s mask diplomacy in Europe, crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, the border crisis with India, and, most importantly, the recent trade war with Australia have raised alarm bells as Europe has been confronted with an assertive and less willing to compromise China.