European Strategic Autonomy and the US–China Rivalry: Can the EU “Prefer not to Choose”?

Year of Publication
Sylvie Bermann
Organization Name
Istituto Affari Internazionali
Academic articles
Country - European Union
US foreign policy
EU external relations
Transatlantic Relations
European Union
The US–China rivalry is not just a battle between democracies and autocracies, in such a complex context the EU should find a path that transcends mere balance of power considerations. This competition – often referred to as a new Cold War – has not only a trade and economic dimension, with the technology as the main area of focus, but also a soft and hard power scope. In such a multifaceted scenario, the EU’s decisions should be based on European interests on a case-by-case basis and should not be constrained by decisions taken in Washington. Brussels is still a powerful economic actor and should, as such, build a strategy that does not necessarily entail embracing US decoupling. Instead, while pursuing greater autonomy concerning technology and standard-setting, the EU should also develop a more realistic human rights policy toward China and strengthen its ties with other Indo-Pacific countries. Only by acknowledging its strength, the Brussels Consensus can find its spot alongside its American and Chinese counterparts. US–China rivalry, already established but exacerbated by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, will be the defining geopolitical framework for the coming decades. It will have an impact on the whole planet and particularly the EU, which will have to define its place and role.
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