Tech and migration leave EU short of Macron's dream of 'sovereignty'

Analysts rank Germany highest and Hungary lowest in their contribution to European independence

Analysts said Europe's sensitivity to migration crises such as the arrivals on Poland's border with Belarus left it vulnerable to blackmail. AFP
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The European Union cannot fully determine its own destiny because it is reliant on others for defence and technology and it is too easily blackmailed through the threat of a migration crisis, a study has found.

Analysts said Germany, the Netherlands and France had made the greatest contribution to what French President Emmanuel Macron likes to call “European sovereignty” — the EU's ability to act freely in the world.

But they said some countries lagged far behind because of a reliance on Russia or China, a lack of technological progress or an unwillingness to absorb refugees, leaving them vulnerable to the whims of other powers.

“The EU cannot afford weak links that others could use to fracture the union,” said Pawel Zerka, co-author of the study carried out by the European Council on Foreign Relations.

“In the emerging global order, Europe should be able to act according to its principles and values, without being bullied by others.”

Mr Macron sees his sovereignty agenda as vindicated by the crisis in Ukraine, which exposed much of Europe’s dependency on Russian energy — putting it in an awkward position as it tries to isolate the Kremlin.

However, some EU countries have long been wary of any attempt to loosen defence ties with the US, which they see as their ultimate protector against Russia.

The council analysts looked at the state of European sovereignty in six areas and were satisfied with only two of them — health and economic policy.

Europe is fairly independent in health matters because of its strong pharmaceuticals industry, they said, but its relative economic autonomy is weakened by Russia and China's influence on some countries.

This includes Germany, they said, which received the highest overall score but was faulted for its “vulnerability to Chinese and Russian lobbying”, after the war in Ukraine prompted a reckoning over its years-long overtures to Moscow.

“In this context, the way in which Berlin responds to Russia’s war on Ukraine could redefine the EU’s relations with other major economies,” the report's authors said.

French President Emmanuel Macron is a champion of the idea of European sovereignty. AFP

On migration policy, the report found Europe wanting because it is “highly vulnerable to the weaponisation of migration” by third countries such as Turkey and Belarus.

Germany received a higher score on this front after its relative success in absorbing refugees who arrived in 2015, but France was seen as prone to far-right rhetoric and Spain made concessions to Morocco after a migrant surge.

France, which has long championed defence autonomy, was seen as the strongest player in that field — but many other countries were regarded as doing too little to help Europe act independently in military matters.

“There is still a clear divide within the EU between member states that see US security guarantees as their main form of life insurance and those that also consider the EU to be an important player,” the report said.

Tech deficit

In technology, the EU and its member states “have much work to do” in shaping their own future, the experts said, after Europe failed to produce 21st-century tech companies to rival those in the US or China.

The EU “is not at the forefront of global technological development in many areas”, they said, but has shown a willingness to get there in some areas such as artificial intelligence.

In the sixth area, climate, countries with a high level of dependency on Russian energy such as Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Slovakia were well down the table.

Hungary, the worst performer overall, was described as “not pulling its weight” and lacking commitment to European sovereignty, after it proved a difficult negotiating partner as EU countries tried to block Russian oil imports.

“The events of the past few years — escalating China-US tension, the pandemic and Russia’s attack on Ukraine — have made clear the need for a greater pooling of European sovereignty,” argued lead author Jana Puglierin.

“This will allow the EU to overcome key global challenges and empower it to shape the resulting world order.”

Updated: June 08, 2022, 3:51 PM