Policy brief

Redefining Europe’s economic sovereignty

This Policy Contribution delves into the position of the EU in the current global order. China and the United States increasingly trying to gain geopo

Publishing date
24 June 2019

Europeans like to believe the European Union has the collective economic size and capacity to determine its own economic destiny. But the behaviour of others global powers is increasingly calling this ability into question. China and the United States, especially, do not separate economic interests from geopolitical interests in the same way the EU does. They are increasingly using economic connections, from cyberspace to financial links, to gain geopolitical advantage or to serve geopolitical goals. Europe’s economic sovereignty is at stake.

The problem for Europe is real but manageable. This Policy Contribution examines the specific problems that China and the US pose for European economic sovereignty, and considers how the EU and its member states can better protect European economic sovereignty in a range of areas, including state aid to domestic industries, competition policy, investment screening, export controls, the international role of the euro, the role of European development banks, the European payments infrastructure and the global governance system. In each area, we recommend ways to improve the EU’s capacity to wield economic power, without advocating increased protectionism or a retreat from globalisation.

We make recommendations on how to adapt the EU and national policy systems to better integrate economic and geopolitical considerations. The next European Commission should develop an economic sovereignty strategy to boost Europe’s research and scientific base, protect assets critical to national security from foreign interference, enforce a level playing field in domestic and international competition, and strengthen European monetary and financial autonomy.

To guide the implementation of this strategy, an economic sovereignty committee should be established that will seek to integrate economic and security considerations within the European Commission. But the answer to this problem does not lie only in Brussels. We recommend a flexible implementation strategy that connects with member-state policy debates and makes use of ‘mini-lateral’ groups of member states.

About the authors

  • Jean Pisani-Ferry

    Jean Pisani-Ferry holds the Tommaso Padoa Schioppa chair of the European University Institute. He is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel, the European think tank, and a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute (Washington DC). He is also a professor of economics with Sciences Po (Paris).

    He sits on the supervisory board of the French Caisse des Dépôts and serves as non-executive chair of I4CE, the French institute for climate economics.

    Pisani-Ferry served from 2013 to 2016 as Commissioner-General of France Stratégie, the ideas lab of the French government. In 2017, he contributed to Emmanuel Macron’s presidential bid as the Director of programme and ideas of his campaign. He was from 2005 to 2013 the Founding Director of Bruegel, the Brussels-based economic think tank that he had contributed to create. Beforehand, he was Executive President of the French PM’s Council of Economic Analysis (2001-2002), Senior Economic Adviser to the French Minister of Finance (1997-2000), and Director of CEPII, the French institute for international economics (1992-1997).

    Pisani-Ferry has taught at University Paris-Dauphine, École Polytechnique, École Centrale and the Free University of Brussels. His publications include numerous books and articles on economic policy and European policy issues. He has also been an active contributor to public debates with regular columns in Le Monde and for Project Syndicate.

  • Guntram B. Wolff

    Guntram Wolff is the Director of Bruegel. Over his career, he has contributed to research on European political economy and governance, fiscal, monetary and financial policy, climate change and geoeconomics. Under his leadership, Bruegel has been regularly ranked among the top global think tanks and has grown in influence and impact with a team of now almost 40 recognized scholars and around 65 total staff. Bruegel is also recognized for its outstanding transparency.

    A recognized thought leader and academic, he regularly testifies at the European Finance Ministers' ECOFIN meeting, the European Parliament, the German Parliament (Bundestag) and the French Parliament (Assemblée Nationale). From 2012-16, he was a member of the French prime minister's Conseil d'Analyse Economique. In 2018, then IMF managing director Christine Lagarde appointed him to the external advisory group on surveillance to review the Fund’s priorities. In 2021, he was appointed to the G20 high level independent panel on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. He is also a professor (part-time) at the Solvay Brussels School of Université Libre de Bruxelles, where he teaches economics of European integration.

    He joined Bruegel from the European Commission, where he worked on the macroeconomics of the euro area and the reform of euro area governance. Prior to joining the Commission, he was coordinating the research team on fiscal policy at Deutsche Bundesbank. He also worked as an external adviser to the International Monetary Fund.

    He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bonn and studied in Bonn, Toulouse, Pittsburgh and Passau. He taught economics at the University of Pittsburgh and at Université libre de Bruxelles. He has published numerous papers in leading academic journals. His columns and policy work are published and cited in leading international media and policy outlets. Guntram is fluent in German, English, French and has good notions of Bulgarian and Spanish.

  • Jeremy Shapiro

    Jeremy Shapiro is Research Director at ECFR. Previously he was a fellow in the Project on International Order and Strategy and the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings, where he edited the Foreign Policy program's blog Order from Chaos. Prior to Brookings, he was a member of the U.S. State Department’s policy planning staff, where he advised the secretary of state on U.S. policy in North Africa and the Levant. He was also the senior advisor to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon, providing strategic guidance on a wide variety of U.S.-European foreign policy issues.

  • Elina Ribakova

    Elina Ribakova directs the IIF’s economic research on emerging markets. Ms. Ribakova was previously a visiting fellow at Bruegel, where her research focused on financial markets, EMs, and central banks. Prior to Bruegel, she held senior level roles in economic research at a diverse set of financial institutions, most recently with Deutsche Bank in London as Head of EEMEA Research, as well as leadership positions at Amundi (Pioneer) Asset Management, Avantium Investment Management, and Citigroup. She has also taught graduate and undergraduate courses at the Stockholm School of Economics and given guest lectures at the London School of Economics, New Economic School in Moscow and Chicago Booth in London. Ms. Ribakova began her career as an economist at IMF headquarters in Washington D.C.

  • Mark Leonard

    Mark Leonard is co-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the first pan-European think tank. His topics of focus include geopolitics and geoeconomics, China, EU politics and institutions.

    Leonard hosts the weekly podcast “Mark Leonards’s World in 30 Minutes” and writes a syndicated column on global affairs for Project Syndicate. Previously he worked as director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform and as director of the Foreign Policy Centre, a think tank he founded at the age of 24 under the patronage of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In the 1990s, Leonard worked for the think tank Demos where his Britain™ report was credited with launching Cool Britannia. Mark has spent time in Washington, D.C. as a Transatlantic Fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and in Beijing as a visiting scholar at the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences.

    He was Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Geoeconomics until 2016.

    Honoured as a “Young Global Leader” of the World Economic Forum, he spends a lot of time helping governments, companies, and international organisations make sense of the big geo-political trends of the twenty-first century. He is a regular speaker and prolific writer and commentator on global issues, the future of Europe, China’s internal politics, and the practice of diplomacy and business in a networked world. His essays have appeared in publications such as Foreign Affairs, the Financial Times, the New York TimesLe MondeSüddeutsche ZeitungEl PaisGazeta WyborczaForeign Policy, the New Statesman, the Daily TelegraphThe EconomistTime, and Newsweek.

    As well as writing and commenting frequently in the media on global affairs, Leonard is author of two best-selling books. His first book, Why Europe will run the 21st Century, was published in 2005 and translated into 19 languages. Leonard’s second book, What does China think? was published in 2008 and translated into 15 languages. He has published an edited volume on Connectivity Wars and is working on a forthcoming book on the same topic.

    conomic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Geoeconomics until 2016.

    Honoured as a “Young Global Leader” of the World Economic Forum, he spends a lot of time helping governments, companies, and international organisations make sense of the big geo-political trends of the twenty-first century. He is a regular speaker and prolific writer and commentator on global issues, the future of Europe, China's internal politics, and the practice of diplomacy and business in a networked world. His essays have appeared in publications such as Foreign Affairs, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Le Monde, Süddeutsche Zeitung, El Pais, Gazeta Wyborcza, Foreign Policy, the New Statesman, the Daily Telegraph, The Economist, Time, and Newsweek.

    As well as writing and commenting frequently in the media on global affairs, Leonard is author of two best-selling books. His first book, Why Europe will run the 21st Century, was published in 2005 and translated into 19 languages. Leonard's second book, What does China think? was published in 2008 and translated into 15 languages. He has published an edited volume on Connectivity Wars and is working on a forthcoming book on the same topic.

Related content