Dream of Autonomy*

*Editor’s Note: On March 4, 2022, Russia enacted a law that criminalizes public opposition to, or independent news reporting about, the war in Ukraine. The law makes it a crime to call the war a “war” rather than a “special military operation” on social media or in a news article or broadcast. The law is understood to penalize any language that “discredits” Russia’s use of its military in Ukraine, calls for sanctions or protests Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It punishes anyone found to spread “false information” about the invasion with up to 15 years in prison.

Igor Polyachenko, the head of the International Cooperation Department at The State University of Management, explains why the EU struggles to gain autonomy from the U.S.

Lately, European politicians have been repeatedly calling for greater strategic autonomy to avoid being overly dependent on American currency and Washington in general. French President Emmanuel Macron is a leading advocate of this idea.

While the concept is rather vague, we can say that it has to do with maintaining an independent foreign policy and security system where countries are capable of defining and enforcing international norms without being subjected to the rules established by others, namely the U.K. and the U.S.

At the same time, one cannot help but wonder how feasible such a scenario is under the current circumstances, given the fact that the U.S. (based on its action and rhetoric, at least) wants to reestablish the unipolar world order the way it used to be.

There is very little evidence of the EU taking any real steps toward strategic autonomy. As of today, it may be more accurate to say that efforts by European politicians, Macron, in particular, to gain autonomy from Washington have completely failed.

On Sept. 26, 2017, the current French president addressed Sorbonne students and said Europe is weak, slow and ineffective. Then he laid out his plan for reform. He identified five EU development priorities: security and defense, migration policy, economic development, the climate change agenda and digital technology advancement. Macron also proposed integrating the French and German economies into one space by 2024.

Fundamentally, nothing has changed in the past 5 1/2 years. There are only minor advances in improving European defense since the EU is planning to set up its own rapid reaction force. Yet, it is worth noting that even in this case, the U.S. is still the main player in NATO, which includes most of the EU countries. At the same time, several thousand American soldiers are stationed in Europe, particularly in Germany, Italy, Poland and Romania.

In addition, there are U.S. nuclear weapons in Europe, namely in the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Germany. American nuclear weapons are also deployed in Turkey, a NATO member state. It is worth noting that France has its own nuclear weapons, as does the U.K.

As for the other four priorities that Macron has outlined, there’s literally no progress whatsoever. EU economic development is significantly compromised by the substantial increase in energy costs, self-sabotaging sanctions and the relocation of businesses to the U.S., which is due to the effective U.S. law on inflation reduction. After all, Washington adopted this law to protect local electric car manufacturers from competition with German and French companies by means of tax incentives. “The U.S., our partner … They call our industry. And they tell them, why are you investing in Europe? You should come over to the U.S. Calling German firms and Belgian firms in a very aggressive way — don’t invest in Europe, we have something better,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo complained earlier.

In addition, Europe is facing a new round of migration emergency due to the influx of millions of Ukrainian refugees. The climate agenda of switching to renewable energy sources has been forgotten: France is being forced to extend the operation of its nuclear power plants and even to consider building new nuclear reactors. Germany and France are moving in opposite directions. While France is ramping up energy production at nuclear power plants, Germany shut down its remaining power plants in April.

The situation with the digital industry is even worse. In fact, over the past five years, not a single European company has been able to catch up with American information technology giants. To make things worse, the most talented EU students and young professionals in the field are leaving to study and work in the U.S. because it offers much better prospects and considerable financial incentives. Brussels invests much less in the IT sector when compared to the U.S. and China. Virtually all the important digital data of European citizens are controlled by American IT companies.

In short, American and British media groups have nearly complete control over the EU information space. It is also worth mentioning that European countries are packed with U.S. and NATO military installations, so there is no point in talking about any kind of autonomy, except for a strategic one. However, we can’t set any specific time frame for that at the moment.

The position of the author may not coincide with that of the editors.

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