18 April

What factors will influence Europe’s security cooperation beyond 2030?

Russia’s war against Ukraine, the US's relationship with China, new member states and the rise of populism in several EU countries — these are some of the factors that will shape European cooperation on security and defence in the coming decade.

In the report EU Security and Defence Policy in Transformation – An analysis of drivers and possible implications beyond 2030, FOI researchers Alina Engström and Lisa Bergsten take a closer look at both the external and internal drivers shaping the union's security and defence cooperation.

EU flags

Flags outside the European Parliament in Brussels. Photo: Shutterstock.

Will a protracted war in Ukraine eventually cause some EU member states to reassess the threat posed by Russia and resume trade, leading to a more divided union? Or will the political unity on Russia as a major existential threat, coupled with a US increasingly focused on China, continue to deepen EU member states’ cooperation on security and defence issues?

Drawing from interviews with researchers, EU officials, and policy experts, FOI researchers Alina Engström and Lisa Bergsten have analysed internal and external factors that are likely to influence security and defence cooperation within the European Union beyond 2030.

“It is not possible to predict what will happen in the future, but what we have done in this report is that we have identified several key drivers that will influence which direction the EU’s cooperation is likely to develop,” says Alina Engström, researcher at the Defence analysis division, Security Policy and Strategic Studies department. “These drivers can in turn be used to develop different scenarios.”

Internal drivers include national and economic interests, the power dynamic between different member states as well as what is often referred to as the Franco-German engine, differing threat perceptions, the rise of populism, and future EU enlargement. External drivers include the threat from Russia, the US’s leadership and engagement in Europe, the rivalry between the US and China, and the consequences of climate change.

“There is not one driver that alone will determine if we see a more united or a more divided EU in 2030,” says Lisa Bergsten, junior analyst at the Defence Analysis division, Strategy and Policy department. “Rather it is a combination of several drivers that will affect the cooperation over time.”

The threat of Russia

How Russia’s war against Ukraine progresses and how EU member states collectively and individually view the threat posed by Russia will have a major impact on the EU's security and defence policy going forward.

"If the political unity we have seen following Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022 prevails, it is likely to contribute to a more unified union, but a drawn out war in Ukraine could also drive a wedge between member states,” says Lisa Bergsten.

It is clear Russia is preparing for a prolonged confrontation with the West, and regardless of the eventual outcome of the war against Ukraine, Russia will remain a threat to Europe for the foreseeable future. The question is if all member states will continue to view Russia as a major threat to European security, or if some will start to see the war as a regional conflict and push to normalize relations with Russia.

Where is the US headed?

Europe is already heavily dependent on security guarantees from the US, but America’s future leadership and involvement in Europe is changing, not least in view of the US re-balance towards Asia and the presidential election coming up in November.

"Since the US is so essential to European security, Europe will have to relate to the US's strategic choices going forward, as well as the expectations and demands the US may have," says Alina Engström. "Thus, the EU will need to navigate its position amidst the US-China rivalry, and also balance security needs with potential shifts in American priorities."

It is already clear that the US is increasingly prioritizing the challenge and threat from China, sending clear signals that Europe must take a greater responsibility for its own security.

“There is also a lot of uncertainty surrounding China's actions, which may affect how EU countries view China. Another complicating factor is that many European countries are economically dependent on China.”

Internal power structures and future cooperation

"Cooperation within the EU has always been influenced by the member states' domestic political interests and priorities at any given time, but the study has also identified six specific internal factors driving the security and defence cooperation over time," says Alina Engström.

“Furthermore, our study highlights the importance of understanding the interplay between these drivers and their potential implications for future security cooperation within the EU. We examined how national interests and differing threat perceptions among member states may shape the pace and scope of integration efforts.”

The interplay between external developments and internal political and economic dynamics in Europe is also important in shaping the trajectory of security and defence cooperation.

"The study also reveals a shift in the EU's role as a security policy actor, extending beyond traditional boundaries due to evolving security threats and broader definitions of what requires protection, and is thus considered as a security issue,” says Lisa Bergsten.

"Through the interviews, it became clear to us that it is no longer possible to look only at the EU’s common security and defence policy when discussing how cooperation within the union may evolve beyond 2030."