Europe is in serious danger of becoming a mere "vassal" of the United States, one of Europe's leading think tanks has warned, echoing French President Emmanuel Macron's highly controversial recent comments.
In a policy brief published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR), Research Director Jeremy Shapiro and Senior Policy Fellow Jana Puglierin suggested that, with the possible exception of France, the whole of Europe "has almost completely renounced the idea of greater strategic autonomy."
The paper also compared Germany's previous unwillingness to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine unless the US agreed to provide its own M1 Abrams vehicles to the behaviour of "a scared child in a room full of strangers [who] felt alone if Uncle Sam was not holding its hand."
Since the Ukraine war, the authors argue, Europe has rapidly accelerated the degree to which it has become economically and militarily subservient to the United States.
The authors also suggested that many of Washington's recent policies – from encouraging European nations to ban Huawei sales in Europe to the passage of the highly protectionist Inflation Reduction Act – "have the potential to reduce economic growth in Europe [and] cause (further) deindustrialisation."
The ECFR report was published just days before French President Emmanuel Macron – whom the paper compared to "last of the Mohicans" in his support for greater European sovereignty – made virtually identical comments to Western reporters on a flight back from China in April.
In a recent interview with The Brussels Times, Shapiro noted that much – although admittedly not all – of the criticism of his and Puglierin's paper has been similar to that levelled against Macron, insofar as it took issue not so much with what was said, but rather that it was said at all.
"That word 'vassal' really did trigger some people," Shapiro said. "But I often found that what people were saying to us [and] also to Macron was that the problem is not the concept you are trying to convey, the problem is the way you've described it. It sounded like they were basically saying: 'You're right, but don't talk about it this way.'"
Intriguingly, Shapiro remarked that such "weird" and "disturbing" criticism suggested that there might in fact be a process of "meta-vassalisation" developing among some European officials.
"I wouldn't want to say that all of the reactions were like that," he explained. "But there were quite a few that did seem to be a sort of meta-vassalisation, along the lines of: We are so vassalised that we can't even admit to it. If we did, then people might figure it out and that would be terrible."
Shapiro also argued that such criticism failed to recognise a crucial contextual distinction between his own comments and Macron's.
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"My job is to put things starkly and make sure people understand them in stark terms, whereas the job of a Head of State is to make sure relationships are soothed," he said. "So I'm not necessarily defending what [Macron] did. Diplomacy has its own value."
"But what I think is important is that think tankers and intellectuals should have greater freedom to say these things than the President of France, and should not be criticised along the same lines," he added. "The job of a think tanker is to confront people with difficult truths."