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Some remarks on the issue of European sovereignty – European autonomy

- blogpost by Anna Molnár and Éva Jakusné Harnos

- Read the article here


Since when war returned to Europe with the unprovoked Russian aggression in Ukraine, the question of sovereignty is more relevant than ever, both on European and state level. In the case of states, sovereignty means supreme authority and capacity to act autonomously. At the European level, the question of strategic autonomy and sovereignty was raised in the past decade. The strategic autonomy of the European Union (EU) can be interpreted as the capacity to act autonomously, and as the springboard of the European sovereignty.

So, which is the difference between the concepts of sovereignty and autonomy? Put in quite simple terms, “sovereignty” refers to a legal status of a state or a group of states or entities to legislate within its borders, while “autonomy” refers to the capacity of a state or a group of states or entities to act and to implement policy decisions. In addition, the EU can be described as a political entity with shared sovereignty. By now, these concepts refer not only to security and defence, but also to economy, digitalisation, technological systems and innovation. Also, the Strategic Compass adopted by the European Council in 2022 highlighted the need for creating strategic autonomy and technological sovereignty.

Having said that, can the European Union act autonomously and tackle the threats and challenges raised by the Russian aggression in Ukraine? Formally, the European Union – and EU Member States- are able to take decisions and take effective external actions. Moreover, during last year, despite some internal debates, the EU demonstrated its ability to act in unity and effectively within the framework of the integrated approach, and provided support via the EU’s crisis management toolbox. The EU also coordinates the delivery of emergency supplies to Ukraine and a temporary protection mechanism for Ukrainian nationals was activated. Furthermore, it has been estimated that until February 2023, the EU and its Member States have provided 37.8 billion euros in financial, humanitarian, and emergency financial support for the Ukraine crisis, including the use of the European Peace Facility tool. And in the framework of this new instrument, the EU agreed to provide 3.6 billion euros for Member States to acquire weapons to send to the armed forces of Ukraine.

In conclusion, while unity within the EU manifests in the collective support to Ukraine, the question whether the European Union will deepen cooperation in the field of security and defence - both in the shadow of NATO and in parallel with external and crisis management actions - still remains open. The war in the neighbouring Eastern territory may lead to the acceleration of processes which have so far been hindered by the occasional competition among major EU institutions and by the cautiousness of Member States about sharing more of their sovereignty.

Having clarified these premises, we invite you to read our article on the postmodernity of the European Union, recently published on The International Spectator, which attempts to reflect on moments of transformation from an interdisciplinary perspective on the State of the Union Addresses. In particular it tracks the inclusion of more and more areas in a context of deepening integration, and it also highlights the struggle of the European Union for self-definition.


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