European Strategic Autonomy (ESA) is currently the subject of some debate and controversy. While this issue has been on the table since at least the 1990s, it was reinvigorated by the publication of the EU Global Strategy in 2016, itself a response to fundamental developments in European security.
In this report, we consider the security and defence aspects of ESA, an area of particular difficulties and one in which in which Europe is presently weak. Even in this very practical area, the ESA concept is ill-defined and the term itself has become a buzzword. To move towards implementation, we discuss ESA in security and defence as the capacity to act in four dimensions: political, institutional, capabilities and industrial. Political autonomy, concerns questions such as to whom the ‘E’ in ESA refers, who is able to lead the development of ESA, and what is the level of ambition for this endeavour. Institutional autonomy refers to the availability of the governance structures required to prepare and administer these priorities, while capabilities autonomy refers to the availability of the military, civilian, financial, operational, and other capabilities to credibly implement priorities and decisions. Industrial autonomy refers to the availability of the industrial and technological base necessary to develop and deliver the required capabilities.
In our report, we discuss how ESA might be attained in each of these dimensions and make policy recommendations.