Should the European Union include additional member states? Is Europe well equipped to be an assertive actor in foreign policy? Does the EU have what it takes to address the most pressing challenges in today’s world, ranging from internal democratic backsliding to the climate crisis and a global pandemic?  

When scrutinizing issues in international politics such as these, the concept of the national interest is a prominent perspective. However, when analyzing EU policy, the European interest is rarely, if ever, invoked. Yet, without incorporating a coherent and repeatedly applied notion of one or multiple European interests during EU policy formation, Europeans risk the renationalization of EU policy debates, decisionmaking paralysis, and underappreciation of the EU’s potential.

The German Marshall Fund of the United States has launched an innovative project that aims to produce a workable definition of what constitutes the European Interest(s) and facilitate the evaluation of policy ideas and concrete policies by decisionmakers in the future.


Toward Defining and Deploying the European Interest(s)

Applying the traditional concept of the “national interest” to Europe by defining “European interests” will help improve EU policymaking overall and assist EU leaders in garnering public support for actions taken to those ends.

The EU’s status as a hybrid—part state, part international organization—without a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its territory and from which member states can choose to leave requires that European interests be defined much more broadly than traditional national interests focused on states’ physical self-preservation. Instead, European interests must be defined as indispensable for the continued preservation of the EU as a well-functioning entity with its fundamental institutions and democratic values intact.

Some European interests are revealed by the solutions adopted in their defense during acute EU crises. They can also be motivated by the EU’s desire to resist the effects of other countries’ extra-territorial policies outside the national security and military realm, the need to maintain a size that helps retain its global influence as its share of global GDP and its population decline, or the need to collaborate given the nature of the challenges faced by the EU. As the EU is unlikely to evolve into a single, wholly sovereign entity, it will continue to possess fewer traditional military and national security assets than its economic weight would otherwise suggest, and it must temper the scope of its related European interests accordingly.

Based on this approach, six distinct European interests are identified. Some are simultaneously of a domestic and external nature for the EU, and their designation as domestic or external is to indicate their predominant orientation. These interests will also overlap and may even occasionally come into conflict with each other. They are:

European Interests Project -  6 European Interests


About the Project 

The European Interest(s): Redefining the European Debate is a project carried out by the German Marshall Fund with kind support from Stiftung Mercator and has been running since September 2020. A consortium of European experts has contributed to a first definition of the European Interest(s), , subsequently evaluated through a consultation by a group of European residents. The input provided during the citizens’ consultation held in September of this year has been integrated into the final publication. After hosting two launch events in Berlin and Brussels, the flagship publication will be presented at a series of public events in other major European capitals.

The project aims to reform and rejuvenate the European debate. Ultimately, we want to provide decisionmakers and other actors with a new concept and narrative in their struggle over the future of Europe. Our target audience consists of decisionmakers in political institutions, academics, the think tank community, and the media, as well as civil society and citizens. 

For more information about the project and how the results will be used, please reach out to [email protected].


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