Europe 2022: The transatlantic comeback?

2022 will likely be a turbulent year for the European Union. As it continues to strengthen its freedom and capacity to act in foreign affairs, it must also adapt to profound structural changes within global geopolitics, such as the shifting nature of power, the return of strongman politics, growing involvement from non-state actors and the waning separation between domestic and external policies.

Global trends like climate change, digitalisation, changing demographics, and a worldwide decline in democracy and freedom complicate matters further and will have a major influence on EU policymaking.

In the EPC’s first Outlook Paper, a new format launched the same year the EPC celebrates its 25th anniversary, the centre serves a comprehensive overview of the main developments on the global stage in 2022, analyses and highlights how these will impact the EU’s role in the world and, finally, outline what the EU and member states can do to hold their own and wield their power more effectively in an increasingly complex and hostile environment.

Biden at EU Summit

This is what Europe may expect to happen in a number of strategic regions and countries around the world, and in its relationship with key global actors:

• 2022 is a crucial year for transatlantic relations. After a few years apart, the EU and US are back in a relationship – albeit an ‘open’ one.

The Indo-Pacific region is a recent addition to the EU’s foreign policy vocabulary. It is high on the EU’s 2022 agenda, as the Union sets to roll out its new strategy for the region.

• The modus vivendi with China is likely to be the status quo. Despite Beijing’s opposition, the EU will maintain a multifaceted approach to the rising power: systemic rival, competitor and partner.

Russia will remain a significant security threat for Europe. An improvement of relations between Russia and the transatlantic partners is unlikely.

Ukraine has begun the year locked in an ongoing confrontation with Russia. Russian aggression – conventional and non-conventional – is likely to continue in 2022. Avoiding a further escalation or fully- fledged invasion will be a priority.

Turkey is likely to be engulfed by political uncertainty and rising domestic tensions. In the event of snap elections leading to the opposition coming to power,
a major change in dynamic and reset in relations with the transatlantic partners could be expected.

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is likely to be shaped by post-pandemic recovery and increased intraregional dialogues or growing unrest.

Africa is likely to have a more prominent role in the EU’s foreign policy agenda. Pandemic permitting, 2022 will likely see the 6th European Union–African Union summit and progress in the EU’s proposed new partnership with Africa, a priority for the French presidency of the Council of the EU.

The growing rivalry between China and the US will be a key geostrategic feature of 2022. It is likely to continue influencing global events in the coming year and will have implications for EU policies and decision-making.

Human rights will continue to look dire around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic measures facilitate a sustained attack on democratic principles and human rights.

There are also a number of internal challenges and developments to watch out for:

• 2022 will be a defining year for EU security and defence as internal and external challenges mount. A European defence summit and the adoption of the Strategic Compass are set to happen in the first half of 2022.

• 2022 will be a key year for EU trade policy, particularly for strengthening the multilateral WTO framework
for international trade while also re-enforcing the
EU’s autonomous trade toolbox to tackle unfair trade practices.

The Eastern Partnership (EaP) will continue to
be shaped by ‘geopoliticisation’ and policy inertia. Even though the EU is trying to be more assertive, its approach to the EaP will likely be defined by a lack of strategic vision and common will.

The EU should take the following actions to deal with a more challenging international context in 2022:

Launch a review of the 2016 EU Global Strategy
to better define the union’s global role towards 2030. Continue strengthening its freedom and capacity to act with partners, or alone when necessary.

Set strategic goals for the coming decade and consider how to achieve them. In a world of limited resources, priorities and trade-offs should be considered.

Foster better coordination between the European External Action Service, and the European Commission and its Directorates-General. The continued policy ‘siloisation’ within the EU undermines its overall ability to project power and influence.

• Identify the tools and processes that can be mobilised within the current EU Treaties to build up its capacity and freedom to act, as well as its executive power in global affairs.

More can be read of this executive summary to the European Policy Centre 2022 Outlook Paper here