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Europe's necessary strategic autonomy

As preparations are being made for major national elections in the Netherlands, France, in the Czech Republic and Germany, Europe is starting 2017 in a deeply disrupted strategic situation. There are now two types of European: Those who are combating terrorism, committed in the theatres of military operations, and those who are waiting for the next tweet about the new American President, who is focused on his own domestic priorities, hoping that he will not forget about Europe.

Because it has not drafted an independent, autonomous, clear strategy which will guide it in its relations with Asia, with its Russian neighbour, with Africa and with its American ally, Europe stands on the side-lines, waiting, transfixed, paralysed in an uncomfortable position.

The common institutions themselves now seem alert to the urgency of the situation. The European Commission now recognises the imperative for strategic autonomy and the common diplomatic service has been trying to define common European interests.

However the Member States are nowhere to be seen. Domestic agendas seem to have gained the upper hand over all other consideration. Solidarity between the Member States has declined significantly along with their ability for an independent opinion. Division between them is growing. These involve economic policy and immigration, but more seriously, the imperatives of security.

Confronted by the destabilising force of Russia, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have chosen to place all of their trust in the USA alone,reputedly to be a better bet, whilst within its fold the Union has two nuclear powers, who are moreover, permanent members of the UN's Security Council. History (Yalta, Potsdam) should however be warning enough against short term response, the danger of which has now emerged with the American election.

The strongest alliances cannot withstand the shock of national interests for very long and the best way to support these is to share them as much as possible. The closest allies are often the safest. The Atlantic alliance is a necessary, useful community of values, but this does not dispense its European members from assuming their own responsibilities, i.e. to ensure their own security and take part in that of their allies.

Moreover refusing to accept that European interests are now global, that they have to be defended in Africa, the Middle East, in Asia - everywhere across the world in fact, is proof of a lack of maturity. The fight to counter terrorism is a global one, the stability of Africa is vital for Europe, as Robert Schuman already wrote in the 1960's - the freedom of navigation is a European cause, not just for its trade interests, but also because of the principles it symbolises.

If there is no real shared belief that Europe must think of itself as an independent power that stands as one, then we should not be surprised if some Member States, amongst the most able from the diplomatic and military points of view, like France, act alone or alongside a few others. They are already the guarantors of European security. If there is no will for strategic autonomy, then the Europeans who appear to want to catch up and progressively re-arm - a vital condition for the credibility of any foreign policy - will not be able to avoid the issue of their independence this time round.