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EU security lies in joint decisions related to defence, energy, science and high tech

Versailles, a sumptuous palace, the testament of a world – that of French royal absolutism – swept away by the new ideas of the Enlightenment and by the Revolution of 1789. Yet, also the symbol of a great historical failure, after the arduous negotiations that took place at the end of World War I, with the winners (France and Great Britain) blinded by greed, America indifferent to a fair world balance, a weak Italy, and Germany crushed by a great defeat, condemned to pay for the excessive war damage it caused and punished by equally excessive sanctions that only led to crisis, resentment and later a frenzied desire for revenge culminating in nazism (the young yet already authoritative John Maynard Keynes was well aware of this, so much so that he controversially left the British delegation and illustrated his reasons in the clear-headed and even prophetical The economic consequences of the Peace, a book that, years later, was thankfully held in high esteem by the authors of the Marshall Plan, which financed the reconstruction and recovery of the defeated countries and as such became crucial in leaving behind the disasters wreaked by World War II).

Back to the present time: to the last few days, when the heads of state and government that compose the European Council gathered amongst Versailles’s fine stuccos, gilded mirrors and precious tapestries to take some joint decisions concerning the serious issues caused by the war in Ukraine: extended sanctions against Russia, renewed support to Ukraine and its inhabitants displaced by the invasion, a commitment to drastically decrease the energy dependency on Russian gas and oil.

Commitments agreed only in principle, as accompanied by inadequate operational decisions that will, anyhow, take time, assert the most critical observers. A significant and positive step forward for a more cohesive and active EU as it builds its own autonomy and security, stated on the other hand Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a sensible actor in all main developments where Europe acts as the assertive architect of new global scenarios. Also positive, all in all, the judgement by Giampiero Massolo, highly experienced Italian diplomat: “The Versailles Declaration has confirmed a significant trend: the States’ increased focus in establishing an overall and prevailing European, rather than national, interest, showing, in essence, a willingness to work together to mitigate the Union’s overall vulnerability, which will then also benefit each country singularly” (la Repubblica, 14 March). A decision that will have positive consequences, no doubt.

In the meantime the war, with its losses and its wounds, tragically continues and every day we have to face what Hegel rightly called “the burden of history”. Yet, at the same time, some long-term thinking about the future needs to be done, too – to acknowledge our weaknesses, the “strengths but also the limitations of open societies” (Angelo Panebianco well reminded us of such limitations on the Corriere della Sera, 13 March), and be aware of the economic and social costs of a Europe that wants to grow, acquire more international weight and as such feel more secure in the new scenarios that are arising in this multipolar, intensely conflicted world, in this new “cold war” loaded with the threat of “hot-headed” developments.

Here’s the key point: we need to take effective decisions in order to relaunch and strengthen the EU as a major player in the international rebalancing of powers and work to promote its strategic autonomy. In other words, we need to build a European security policy founded on three major principles: foreign policy and defence (a much more incisive one than the current CFSP agreements), energy and the supply of strategic raw (“rare earth”) materials, and scientific and technological research – with all political and economic implications that might ensue.

“Only a politically cohesive EU will be able to successively tackle global challenges”, said Paolo Gentiloni, EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs (Il Sole24Ore, 26 February). And, even more clearly: “History is steering the EU towards a turning point: after a period of solidarity, united against Covid, now it’s the time to become autonomous, especially in terms of energy and defence” (La Stampa, 7 March).

Its strategic placing is plain to see: a Europe that’s both Atlantic and Mediterranean, close to the US (also owing to shared liberal democracy ideals and market economy values, which must be safeguarded, promoted and relaunched through a veritable “battle of ideas”) but also open to a dialogue with China and Russia, and showing sensitivity to cultures and interests from other parts of the world, from Africa to South America. A multipolar world, indeed. A world capable to take joint decisions or, at the very least, feel pretty much the same about themes such as the environment, life quality, freedom, the future. A world full of exchanges, trade, relationships.

Of course, global economic trends won’t disappear and many tensions will intensify. Yet, we’ll have to make an effort and continue to define a new global order, trying to make better sense of, and give some more power to, the WTO, as well as the UN. A network of strong and well-balanced trade relations can only create a positive environment for the mitigation of neo-imperialist, nationalist and sovereignist issues.

The EU’s strategic autonomy entails not only a joint energy policy, but also better choices related to industrial policies (which will have an impact on defence needs) and fiscal policies (a joint budget for investments in technology, weaponry, scientific research, cyber security and artificial intelligence), and as such swifter governance, with respect to making political and economic decisions in a crisis, also able to overcome the notion of unanimity requirement.

Let’s take a better look at the industry. The number of companies that are radically altering their value production chains, supply chains and supply networks is increasing (as mentioned in our blog post from 23 November). Our manufacturing industry is coming home: a clear change in direction when we think of choices that were popular only a few years ago (when production was relocated to countries that offered lower costs and better conditions, from the Far East to certain areas of Eastern Europe).

Backshoring – or reshoring – continues, factories are no longer located abroad and therefore supply chains are getting shorter. What we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed that long and extensive supply chains (molecules essential to the pharmaceutical industry being produced in India, for example) are extremely fragile and precarious. A lack of raw material, jams in the transport system and strains due to tensions of any kind, including wars and adventurism, can cut them off – as we’re learning from the Russian invasion of Ukraine – or they can be disrupted by crises provoked by cybercrime. Better, then, to try and keep manufacturing in a safe environment, and therefore bring production and supply chains back home, to more auspicious places where they can be adequately managed and kept in check.

Backshoring tactics that, of course, should not be adopted separately by each single European country, but should be employed to turn the whole of the EU into a common production hub and make it more competitive at an international level. The EU’s decision to invest intensively in the production of microchips is a positive sign, and other sectors should follow suit.

Of course, manufacturing will continue in the Far East, but with European companies paying heed to more local-for-local approaches and a production system suited to the internal markets of the areas in which investments are made, rather than old-fashioned strategies relying on large import and export volumes. This is not at all meant to sound protectionist – it’s merely a shift in competitive attitude, to give companies the chance to strengthen their production skills and their quality in the world’s markets, and in more autonomous and safe conditions.

Basically, European institutions and industry need to collaborate, in order to define a downright road map for this transition. This, too, is strategic autonomy, and therefore freedom and security.

(photo China Photos/Getty Images)

Versailles, a sumptuous palace, the testament of a world – that of French royal absolutism – swept away by the new ideas of the Enlightenment and by the Revolution of 1789. Yet, also the symbol of a great historical failure, after the arduous negotiations that took place at the end of World War I, with the winners (France and Great Britain) blinded by greed, America indifferent to a fair world balance, a weak Italy, and Germany crushed by a great defeat, condemned to pay for the excessive war damage it caused and punished by equally excessive sanctions that only led to crisis, resentment and later a frenzied desire for revenge culminating in nazism (the young yet already authoritative John Maynard Keynes was well aware of this, so much so that he controversially left the British delegation and illustrated his reasons in the clear-headed and even prophetical The economic consequences of the Peace, a book that, years later, was thankfully held in high esteem by the authors of the Marshall Plan, which financed the reconstruction and recovery of the defeated countries and as such became crucial in leaving behind the disasters wreaked by World War II).

Back to the present time: to the last few days, when the heads of state and government that compose the European Council gathered amongst Versailles’s fine stuccos, gilded mirrors and precious tapestries to take some joint decisions concerning the serious issues caused by the war in Ukraine: extended sanctions against Russia, renewed support to Ukraine and its inhabitants displaced by the invasion, a commitment to drastically decrease the energy dependency on Russian gas and oil.

Commitments agreed only in principle, as accompanied by inadequate operational decisions that will, anyhow, take time, assert the most critical observers. A significant and positive step forward for a more cohesive and active EU as it builds its own autonomy and security, stated on the other hand Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a sensible actor in all main developments where Europe acts as the assertive architect of new global scenarios. Also positive, all in all, the judgement by Giampiero Massolo, highly experienced Italian diplomat: “The Versailles Declaration has confirmed a significant trend: the States’ increased focus in establishing an overall and prevailing European, rather than national, interest, showing, in essence, a willingness to work together to mitigate the Union’s overall vulnerability, which will then also benefit each country singularly” (la Repubblica, 14 March). A decision that will have positive consequences, no doubt.

In the meantime the war, with its losses and its wounds, tragically continues and every day we have to face what Hegel rightly called “the burden of history”. Yet, at the same time, some long-term thinking about the future needs to be done, too – to acknowledge our weaknesses, the “strengths but also the limitations of open societies” (Angelo Panebianco well reminded us of such limitations on the Corriere della Sera, 13 March), and be aware of the economic and social costs of a Europe that wants to grow, acquire more international weight and as such feel more secure in the new scenarios that are arising in this multipolar, intensely conflicted world, in this new “cold war” loaded with the threat of “hot-headed” developments.

Here’s the key point: we need to take effective decisions in order to relaunch and strengthen the EU as a major player in the international rebalancing of powers and work to promote its strategic autonomy. In other words, we need to build a European security policy founded on three major principles: foreign policy and defence (a much more incisive one than the current CFSP agreements), energy and the supply of strategic raw (“rare earth”) materials, and scientific and technological research – with all political and economic implications that might ensue.

“Only a politically cohesive EU will be able to successively tackle global challenges”, said Paolo Gentiloni, EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs (Il Sole24Ore, 26 February). And, even more clearly: “History is steering the EU towards a turning point: after a period of solidarity, united against Covid, now it’s the time to become autonomous, especially in terms of energy and defence” (La Stampa, 7 March).

Its strategic placing is plain to see: a Europe that’s both Atlantic and Mediterranean, close to the US (also owing to shared liberal democracy ideals and market economy values, which must be safeguarded, promoted and relaunched through a veritable “battle of ideas”) but also open to a dialogue with China and Russia, and showing sensitivity to cultures and interests from other parts of the world, from Africa to South America. A multipolar world, indeed. A world capable to take joint decisions or, at the very least, feel pretty much the same about themes such as the environment, life quality, freedom, the future. A world full of exchanges, trade, relationships.

Of course, global economic trends won’t disappear and many tensions will intensify. Yet, we’ll have to make an effort and continue to define a new global order, trying to make better sense of, and give some more power to, the WTO, as well as the UN. A network of strong and well-balanced trade relations can only create a positive environment for the mitigation of neo-imperialist, nationalist and sovereignist issues.

The EU’s strategic autonomy entails not only a joint energy policy, but also better choices related to industrial policies (which will have an impact on defence needs) and fiscal policies (a joint budget for investments in technology, weaponry, scientific research, cyber security and artificial intelligence), and as such swifter governance, with respect to making political and economic decisions in a crisis, also able to overcome the notion of unanimity requirement.

Let’s take a better look at the industry. The number of companies that are radically altering their value production chains, supply chains and supply networks is increasing (as mentioned in our blog post from 23 November). Our manufacturing industry is coming home: a clear change in direction when we think of choices that were popular only a few years ago (when production was relocated to countries that offered lower costs and better conditions, from the Far East to certain areas of Eastern Europe).

Backshoring – or reshoring – continues, factories are no longer located abroad and therefore supply chains are getting shorter. What we experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic has confirmed that long and extensive supply chains (molecules essential to the pharmaceutical industry being produced in India, for example) are extremely fragile and precarious. A lack of raw material, jams in the transport system and strains due to tensions of any kind, including wars and adventurism, can cut them off – as we’re learning from the Russian invasion of Ukraine – or they can be disrupted by crises provoked by cybercrime. Better, then, to try and keep manufacturing in a safe environment, and therefore bring production and supply chains back home, to more auspicious places where they can be adequately managed and kept in check.

Backshoring tactics that, of course, should not be adopted separately by each single European country, but should be employed to turn the whole of the EU into a common production hub and make it more competitive at an international level. The EU’s decision to invest intensively in the production of microchips is a positive sign, and other sectors should follow suit.

Of course, manufacturing will continue in the Far East, but with European companies paying heed to more local-for-local approaches and a production system suited to the internal markets of the areas in which investments are made, rather than old-fashioned strategies relying on large import and export volumes. This is not at all meant to sound protectionist – it’s merely a shift in competitive attitude, to give companies the chance to strengthen their production skills and their quality in the world’s markets, and in more autonomous and safe conditions.

Basically, European institutions and industry need to collaborate, in order to define a downright road map for this transition. This, too, is strategic autonomy, and therefore freedom and security.

(photo China Photos/Getty Images)