gros129_Thierry Monassepicture alliance via Getty Images_ursulavonderleyenEU Thierry Monasse/picture alliance via Getty Images

What EU “Geopolitical” Power Will Cost

Ursula Von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, has promised to position the European Union as a geopolitical power that is capable of holding its own against the United States and a rising China. But the EU may come to regret any attempt to parlay its economic strength into geopolitical clout.

LONDON – With former German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen assuming the presidency of the European Commission, the European Union now has a new executive. Von der Leyen has promised to lead a “geopolitical” Commission, believing that Europe needs to be more assertive in its relations with other countries, and more hard-nosed in pursuing its own interests around the world, particularly vis-à-vis the other large powers.

Because the EU lacks an army or a central secret service, it must use economic policies to achieve its geopolitical aims. But the way Europe’s policy toolkit works in practice suggests that it is not well suited for exercising power abroad.

The EU’s most important policy tool is trade, which is one of the few areas where the bloc acts as one. The EU has traditionally run its trade policy along conventional commercial lines, with the goal of maximizing market access for European exporters and protecting certain domestic sectors (particularly agriculture). Could this policy be tweaked for geopolitical purposes?

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