Autonomy and Strategy: what should Europe want?


12 March 2019



The 2016 European Global Strategy (EUGS) introduced the objective of strategic autonomy. But what exactly does the EU want to be autonomous for?

The debate so far has focused on the military dimension.

The EU has updated the list of military operations that it wants to be able to undertake, and the capability requirements that this entails. What remains less clear, is which responsibilities the EU is really willing to assume. Will it undertake operations to protect itself, or to protect others, outside Europe, as well? Will it operate in Europe’s neighbourhood or further afield, or will it only make sure that the walls of Europe are not breached?

Military autonomy only makes sense in the framework of an autonomous foreign policy. The EUGS does make a number of important choices, but in view of the rapidly evolving geopolitical landscape and the return of great power rivalry, an update of EU “grand strategy” seems necessary as well. How should the EU position itself in the great power game between the US, China and Russia? Which political end-state should it strive for in the Middle East and other contested regions?

The debate could be further broadened, because strategic autonomy in foreign policy and military operations are possible only if the EU preserves its sovereignty. Sovereignty, i.e. the capacity to take one’s own decisions without undue external influence, and strategic autonomy, i.e. the capacity to act outside one’s territory, are not the same though. The EU must defend itself against all attempts to subvert its sovereignty, but in the full knowledge that in a globalised world autarky is impossible and interdependencies unavoidable.

Egmont and the IISS are organising an expert seminar to analyse what strategic autonomy could mean. Panel 1 will focus on the objectives: the “grand strategy” and the military responsibilities that Europe should assume in that context. Panel 2 will zoom in on the political, military and industrial capabilities that strategic autonomy would require.



08.30–09.00 Registration                                                             

09.00–09.10 Introduction by the Day’s Chair

  • Dr. Sven Biscop, Egmont & Ghent University

09.10–09.30 Keynote Speech  

  • Dr. Jolyon Howorth, University of Harvard

 09.30–11.00 Panel 1: Strategic Autonomy – What Is it For?

  • Jean-Pierre Maulny, Institut de relations internationales et stratégiques (IRIS)
  • Bruno Dupré, Senior Advisor on Security Defence, EEAS General Secretariat
  • Brigadier-General (Ret.) Jo Coelmont, Egmont

11.00–11.30 Coffee

11.30–13.00 Panel 2: Strategic Autonomy – What Does it Require?

  • Bastian Giegerich, IISS
  • Daniel Fiott, EUISS
  • Inge Ceuppens, European Commission
  • Brigadier-General Heinz Krieb, EUMS