The world on which COVID-19 has unleashed its destructive force is a place in which multilateralism-minded Europeans are ill at ease. Geopolitical rivalry, transatlantic estrangement and a nationalist tide all bear heavily on Europe’s integration project, given its liberal premises. The risk that the pandemic would tip the European Union beyond a breaking point, however, has not materialised. On the contrary, COVID-19 has spawned a new integration drive, with the contours of a “transfer” union emerging for the first time in EU history. However, unless the EU turns the emergency measures into something more permanent, it will struggle to navigate the agitated waters of a pandemic world. A main variable determining Europe’s ability to weather the storm is the state of the transatlantic relationship, which is expected to rebound under Joe Biden. However, the EU should resist the temptation to fall back in its comfort zone of followership and seize America’s re-investment in transatlantic relations as an opportunity to take greater responsibility for its future.
Paper presented in a joint webinar on transatlantic relations by the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI) and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik (DGAP), organised in cooperation with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the Compagnia di San Paolo, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Rome Office) and the US Embassy to Italy on 5 November 2020.
1. The EU’s predicament in a COVID world
1.1 A more troubled transatlantic relationship
1.2 A more acute US-China rivalry
1.3 A more volatile neighbourhood
1.4 A weaker multilateral order
1.5 The EU’s autonomy conundrum
2. The EU’s response to COVID-19
2.1 A slow start, and then a sprint
2.2 A Delorian moment
3. The fate of strategic autonomy