The European Union’s Strategic Sovereignty in Times of Contestation

Ten years ago, the Lisbon Treaty promised a stronger, more coherent and more effective EU foreign and security policy. This anniversary comes at a time when the Union is confronted with rising internal and external obstacles as well as expectations.

The EU’s neighbourhood is characterised by conflict and instability. The rules-based international order is heavily contested and the transatlantic relationship is under constant pressure. The EU is facing internal contestation as illustrated by Brexit as well as more populist and nationalist foreign policies. Meanwhile, its citizens are calling for a ‘Europe that protects’ and are clearly in favour of closer foreign and defence cooperation. In parallel, external expectations on the EU to counteract the erosion of multilateralism are rising.

Although the EU promises more strategic sovereignty and autonomy, it has too often failed to speak with one voice and influence international developments. The new institutional cycle offers an opportunity for a fresh start for EU foreign and security policy. Using it will imply addressing some key questions: How can the member states attain a more common understanding of the practical implications of EU strategic sovereignty? How can the EU live up to the promise of Lisbon and bridge the divide between the supranational and intergovernmental spheres of its external action? How can it bundle resources and instruments to effectively influence a select number of joint priorities?

My research as Europe’s Futures fellow focuses on these questions, reviews old and new limitations, and makes suggestions on future paths.

Nicole Koenig

Nicole Koenig is Deputy Director of the Jacques Delors Institute Berlin. She leads the Institute’s research on EU foreign and security policy, institutions and democracy, and migration. Beforehand, Nicole worked for various European think-tanks and universities including the Trans European Policy Studies Association in Brussels, the Istituto Affari Internazionali in Rome, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam and King’s College in London. Nicole holds Master’s degrees from the University of Constance and the College of Europe as well as a PhD from Edinburgh University and the University of Cologne (co-tutelle).