Europe must start to think more like the United States on security, says former German vice-chancellor

European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US President Joe Biden meet during the EU-US summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 15, 2021.

Dursun Aydemir | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

LONDON – The European Union must strengthen its defense and security policies as the United States withdraws from the region, according to the former German vice-chancellor.

The EU has been engaged in a soul-searching exercise since the withdrawal of US and Allied troops from Afghanistan in August. Shortly after, Australia canceled a submarine deal with France in September and announced a partnership with the United States instead. French and European officials called the deal a “stab in the back”.

Tensions between Europe and the United States have sparked calls within the EU for a stronger defense policy, less dependent on the United States.

“Europe must learn to think strategically,” Sigmar Gabriel, former vice-chancellor and German foreign minister, told CNBC on Thursday. “We didn’t need to do this in the past because this work was done by the British, a little bit by the French but mostly by the Americans. This is what we now have to learn to do on our own. “

The EU is a group of 27 nations, where powers are divided at the national level and at the level of the EU at large. In security and defense, as in health and fiscal policy, decisions are always made by national governments.

In addition, the EU has so far not felt the need for strong coordination in this area as most of its members are represented in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance of security.

“Europeans must learn anyway that Joe Biden’s slogan ‘America is back’ does not mean that old America is back, which has represented the international European interest for more than 70 years,” said Gabriel .

Biden’s administration has focused particularly on China when it comes to foreign policy. Statements at the G-7 and NATO level have demonstrated this.

“The United States wants a leading role in defending democracies against the advent of authoritarian regimes, but it will be much more focused on the Indo-Pacific region and the transatlantic alliance will have a lot to do – but the smaller of [them] everything is Atlantic, ”he added.

This geopolitical repositioning of the United States, however, opens up opportunities for the European Union to strengthen its role elsewhere.

“Europe must think about how the void will be filled [now] that the United States is leaving behind in the southern Mediterranean, North Africa and the Middle East. For the moment, the void is filled only by the authoritarian countries, Turkey, Russia, Iran and [United] The Arab Emirates, even China, all want to expand their influence in the region. The only ones who don’t have much to say are the Europeans, ”said Gabriel.

He thinks that the EU does not need to become militarily active but needs “a common security and defense policy”.

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