A year ago, this would have been impossible and even inconceivable. Even six months ago, the European Parliament would not have so easily adopted a report on Euro-American relations stating from the outset that the European Union must “develop its strategic autonomy in terms of defence and economic relations”.
However, the Parliament adopted this report this week by a very large majority. Yesterday exclusively French, taboo everywhere except in Paris, the idea of a common defence is thus becoming a European project since Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the Commission, had already rallied to it in her State of the Union speech.
The turnaround is complete, and to all those who are blasé and think that “these are just words”, it is urgent to remind them that politics begins with words, in this case with this new consensus on which everything has to be built but without which nothing would have been possible.
After the Common Market and the long stagnation that followed the introduction of the single currency, the Union is well and truly entering the third moment of its history, that of political unity, and it is first and foremost thanks to Donald Trump.
By declaring that if one of the Baltic States was attacked, the United States should only come to its aid if it had paid its contributions to the Atlantic Alliance, he had shown that the American protection was becoming uncertain. Even in the most Atlanticist of the member states, this discovery was gaining ground when Covid-19 came along. To the astonishment of Eurosceptics, the Union was able to take up the challenge of vaccination when no treaty had prepared it for it. The Union was able to prove itself, and it was here that Europeans and their members of the European Parliament learned a lesson about the state of the world and the Atlantic Alliance when they saw the United States withdraw from Kabul on its own before concluding behind their backs a new front against China from which they were excluded.
In five years, an epistemological break has taken place in the Union. Reality has become what should have been in the heads for a long time instead of what was always believed. But now, what?
We must now lay the foundations for a pan-European military industry and research, without which there will be no Common Defence, identify the threats that the Union will have to face in the decades to come and equip ourselves not with a European army but with European rapid intervention forces. In other words, we will enter a long and difficult period of confrontation between different political priorities and competing industrial interests that will have to be reconciled and brought together.
More than once, the European ship will be close to sinking. Everything will rock in the fury of a stormy sea, but the means to meet this challenge are in fact clear. First fact: because the democracies need to perpetuate their alliance more than ever, and because, in any case, the deployment of a credible Defence requires 15 to 20 years, it will not be about turning this common Defence into a complement to NATO but into the European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance.
The second obvious fact is that the Europeans will have to convince the countries of the Baltic coast and Mitteleuropa that they should not move towards a Common Defence with resignation but with determination. The third is that this necessary step forward will not be taken if this renewal of the Atlantic Alliance is not the joint work of the United States and the Union.
The fourth is that the 27 will have to obtain Washington’s political support for the creation of this European pillar of the Atlantic Alliance. The fifth is that, in the end, the Americans will agree to this development because they have no other way of getting Europeans to take their Defence into their own hands and one day give them their support, as they gave us theirs from the beginning to the end of the last century.
The sixth is that in his last phone call with Emmanuel Macron, Joe Biden seemed to start considering opening that door. The seventh evidence is that the team change in Berlin should not slow down but accelerate this movement since its necessity is admitted by the three constituent parts of the future coalition.
As for the eighth evidence, it is that the rise of the international tensions could be precipitated in a moment when the Union would not have yet a Common Defence and when the United States could not already take care of its protection. This moment may come sooner than we imagine, and this possibility alone makes it necessary to move as quickly as possible from words to concrete action, from political consensus to practical decisions.