The term was first adopted in the European Commission’s Communication Towards a more competitive and efficient defence and security sector of 2013, whereby a ‘certain degree of strategic autonomy’ is necessary ‘to be a credible and reliable partner’ (European Commission, 2013, p. 3). The Communication posits that ‘Europe must be able to decide and to act without depending on the capabilities of third parties’ (European Commission, 2013, p. 3). Special notice is given to the security of supply, access to critical technologies and operational sovereignty (European Commission, 2013, p. 3).
Over the past two decades, the European Union (EU) has intensely recalibrated its strategies to fulfil its mission of promoting peace and security and guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, freedoms, human rights, and equality to its citizens. Given the increase in non-conventional threats in the cyber, hybrid, and “cybrid” domains, the EU has started to strengthen its response to this changing security environment. In this context, technological change has become the main character in a society whose governments, economies, people, and armies are highly dependent on hyper-connectivity and impacted by it. The technological transition has transformed how enemies attack their counterparts, fostering digital rivalries and tighter industry competition. To this end, the Union has recently launched the EU’s Secure Connectivity Programme (2023-2027), which encloses the third EU constellation of strategic space infrastructures called IRIS2. The latter, inter alia, has been designed to foster strategic autonomy in the Union, thereby reducing foreign dependencies. It is fundamental for the Union to enhance its ability to respond and counter cyber challenges with a comprehensive and collaborative approach, as individual and protectionist actions from the Member States obstruct the achievement of a higher degree of strategic autonomy in the technological and defence arenas.
The nexus between the concepts of European Strategic Autonomy (EU-SA) and the European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB) concerns the old willingness of the European Union (EU) to thrive as a global defence actor with autonomous decision-making and freedom of action. However, to do so, it is indispensable to achieve stronger technological sovereignty through balanced cooperation between Member States (MSs). The latter lack, inter alia, a common strategic culture, that is delaying the competitiveness and readiness of the European defence industry while leaving behind crucial investments in modern defence technologies. The EU finds itself in a reality where national interests prevail in a fragmented market with abundant duplicates of capabilities and collective budgetary deficiencies. For instance, this paper shall delve into the reasons why the EU is not yet a strategic autonomous and defence technological actor after actively working on this since 2013. This shall be done through an analysis of the two concepts – EU-SA and EDTIB – and an evaluation of the status quo. The final goal of this project is to prove that the prevalence of national interests over collective technological sovereignty is clogging the implementation of a tangible military-industrial base, without which the EU cannot become a strategic autonomous player in the defence industry.
The European Union’s foreign policy affairs and security and defence matters have always been the areas in which progressing and ad- vancing has proved to be a challenging task. Despite the integration achievements accom- plished in other EU fields, such as the Sin- gle Market, the European Monetary Union, or the Common Agriculture Policy; the cul- tural, identity, historical, and geographical differences between the MS have prevented the consolidation of a common strategic cul- ture. In this context, as the main international events of the last years have proved, the EU is still unable to carry out military operations outside its borders, not even when the stabili- ty of the European project itself is being called into question and challenged.
Semiconductors have made news recently because of a shortage of microchips earlier this year. Though the causes of the semiconductors’ shortage are not due to a shortage of access to raw materials but rather because of the Covid-19 crisis and the ensuing fluctuating demand, the threats to EU strategic autonomy and the fragility of this market are explicit. Semiconductors have become a critical component in today’s globalised economy and armed forces as they are a vital component in any current electronic device. However, the dependence on Asia and, most notably, Taiwan has generated a significant response from world players such as the US, the EU, and China. Thus, even though it appears the shortage is temporary, it seems likely that such events will continue to occur in the absence of a more coherent and global strategy.