Consortium Leader: Netherlands Institute of International Relations ‘Clingendael’
Subcontractors: Centre for European Reform (CER), Bruegel, European Policy Centre (EPC), Carnegie Europe, Institut français des relations internationales (IFRI)

How to ‘open’ Strategic Autonomy

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 10/03/2022 - 16:13

The EU’s open strategic autonomy agenda is quickly gathering pace, especially in the trade and industrial domain. A host of initiatives and autonomous instruments have been introduced to strengthen the EU’s resilience, reduce its strategic dependencies in key sectors, and protect its industries against economic coercion and unfair trade practices. The EU has generally been careful to ensure that its efforts do not undermine the openness of its economy. However, there is an undeniable tension between the ‘open’ and ‘autonomous’ components of the agenda. Guaranteeing compatibility will require a careful balancing act, contingent on a coherent strategy not only for strengthening the EU’s strategic autonomy but also for fostering and preserving its openness. This policy brief offers concrete suggestions for operationalising the ‘open’ component in the EU’s open strategic autonomy agenda. 


Luuk Molthof, Research Fellow at Clingendael’s EU & Global Affairs Unit

Luc Köbben, former intern at Clingendael’s EU & Global Affairs Unit


Unpacking open strategic autonomy

Submitted by Inge on Thu, 11/25/2021 - 13:16

From concept to practice

Amidst the weakening of the multilateral system, the rise of multipolarity, and the Covid-19 pandemic, the concept of European strategic autonomy (ESA) has gained considerable traction. In fact, according to European Council President Charles Michel, the strategic independence of Europe is ‘our new common project for this century’ and ‘goal number one for our generation’. Long seen as a French pipedream, and first applied in 2013 to Europe’s defence and security policy, the ambition of strategic autonomy is now backed by a growing number of member states and is increasingly applied to a broad range of policy areas, including industrial and trade policy.

Open strategic autonomy

The EU’s desire for more autonomy in the trade and industrial domain has been given a boost by the Covid-19 pandemic, which crucially exposed the vulnerabilities in the global production and supply chains. Even the Netherlands, which was long sceptical of previous (French) proposals for strategic autonomy, acknowledges the risks of asymmetric dependencies in strategic sectors and the growing need for the EU to protect its economies against economic coercion and unfair trade practices.

Until recently, the Netherlands, along with some other member states, was concerned that the ambitions for strategic autonomy would lead to an interventionist industrial policy, would fuel protectionism, would provide German and French ‘industry champions’ with an unfair advantage, and would erode the interdependence that has brought Europe so many benefits.

To assuage such concerns, the European Commission insisted that its goal is ‘open strategic autonomy’, and that strategic autonomy can be achieved without resorting to protectionism and while preserving the open economy and the benefits of interdependence. In a recently published joint non-paper with Spain and another recently published joint statement with France, the Netherlands gave its cautious backing to this new open strategic autonomy agenda.

But what does this agenda look like in practice? What are the implications for the EU’s industrial and trade policy and for some of the EU’s key industrial ecosystems? To what extent are the twin aims of achieving strategic autonomy and preserving an open economy actually compatible with one another? And how can a member state such as the Netherlands both contribute to and benefit from the EU’s open strategic autonomy agenda? This report will address these questions.


Luuk Molthof, Research Fellow at the EU & Global Affairs Unit of the Clingendael Institute
Dick Zandee, Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Security Unit of the Clingendael Institute
Giulia Cretti, Junior Researcher at the EU & Global Affairs Unit of the Clingendael Institute


The RRF as administrative subsidiarity

Submitted by Inge on Wed, 10/27/2021 - 14:33

When the corona crisis broke out, it was clear that eurozone economies were ill prepared for new setbacks. Put differently, the SGP had failed to produce convergence. The RRF offers an opportunity to reconsider the effectiveness of economic governance and to strengthen national ownership for sound economic policies. Despite its potential merits, the RRF was not designed to reinforce national institutions to monitor and correct their own economic policies.

Creating the required ownership for sound economic policies would have demanded empowering the independent National Productivity Boards (NPBs) and Independent Fiscal Institutions (IFIs), and integrating them in a redesigned independent network-based European Fiscal Board (EFB). The failure in 2020 to include the NPBs, IFIs and the EFB also implies a major break with the Fiscal Compact, Two Pack and Six Pack that aimed at empowering national institutions.

The RRF concerns a major financial commitment and could thus have been used as bargaining chip to strengthen the long-term reform measures by insisting on a subsidiarity-based European monitoring and enforcement system, including mutual inspections, and build around the nascent macroeconomic independent national and EU agencies. Such decentralized systems have proved their worth in successful European policy areas such as in monitoring the state of the environment in member states. This will have consequences for the organization of the EU Commission.

Using the lessons from the RRF to (forget to) strengthen national institutions is also relevant for redesigning the SGP. Firstly, redesigning the NPBs, IFIs and EFB will offer a suitable model for monitoring national policies as a replacement of the current centralized control under the SGP by the Commission. Secondly, the future development of the RRF and NGEU can be used as bargaining chip in the negotiations on the SGP.

The review of the SGP will involve adaptation of rules, reinstituting the ESM, and deciding on new emergency funds. The negotiations ahead offer opportunities and leverage for steering towards a pro-active and constructive role for the Netherlands in the elaboration of subsidiarity-based economic governance.


Adriaan Schout, Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute


Economic governance from rules to management

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 01/04/2021 - 15:41

The required complementary governance agenda draws on experience in success EU policies areas and is aimed at converging national institutions in the framework of EU networks. When it comes to the SGP, rules are important but they are meaningless without ownership for the intentions behind the rules. This will demand a switch in roles from the European Commission and in particular from DG ECFIN and the European Fiscal Board (EFB). In essence, the proposed new approach is based on the subsidiarity-based distinction between first and second-order control. The member states have to supervise themselves and the Commission has to monitor whether they have the required independent institutions.

Read policy brief. 


Adriaan Schout (Senior Research Fellow, the Clingendael Institute)

Jens Kuitert (Intern, the Clingendael Institute)


Europeanising health policy in times of coronationialism

Submitted by Inge on Tue, 11/10/2020 - 12:01

The future of EU health policy after the COVID-19 pandemic changed conventional thinking

The COVID-19 crisis has prompted the European Union (EU) to rethink its health policy, or rather those of its policies that influence the health policies of member states, as those largely comprise a national competence, and sometimes a subnational one. During the pandemic, EU institutions and EU member states identified issues where more EU coordination was desirable, for instance with regard to stockpiling and joint purchasing of medical products. Much is still unclear, however, about how a broadly supported revised EU health policy should look, particularly as this has traditionally been a field where EU citizens and EU member states saw little added value in the EU becoming involved. A newly proposed EU4Health programme saw a setback right at its inception, with its proposed funding being cut drastically by the European Council, even though EU health expenditure will continue to rise. This policy brief explores the future of EU health policy after the COVID-19 pandemic changed conventional thinking.

Download the policy brief



Louise van Schaik (Head of Unit EU & Global Affairs, the Clingendael Institute)

Remco van der Pas (Senior Research Associate, the Clingendael Institute)

Watch online debate ‘The Covid Crisis: what EU Role in Health?


From legal to administrative subsidiarity

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 09/14/2020 - 10:29

Diagnosing enforcement of EU border control

Enforcement is a major challenge in the EU’s multilevel system. Solving the tensions between sovereignty and interdependencies requires internalisation of the core values and objectives embodied in EU legislation. Internalisation depends on strong involvement in all phases of policy-making through teamwork. States in the EU’s multilevel administrative system have to regard themselves as fully responsible for EU policies. High levels of interaction among experts in enforcement contribute to the required professional cultures. In organisational terms, a multilevel (subsidiarity-based) administrative system is based on cooperation in which the centre (the Commission and/or EU agencies) assumes essential managerial roles without eroding the integrity of the member countries.

Subsidiarity is generally seen as a legal principle. This paper presents the practical governance consequences of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is well grounded in the EU treaties. Yet, the implications are little understood by policymakers when it comes to creating the conditions for effective EU policies at the shop floor of national administrations.

Download report. 


Prof. Dr. Adriaan Schout (Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute, Professor of European Public Administration at the Faculty of Management Sciences of Radboud University in Nijmegen)

Ingrid Blankensteijn (intern at the Clingendael Institute)


The European Commission on the brink of a green recovery

Submitted by Inge on Mon, 07/20/2020 - 11:09

Will it be able to deliver?

Greening the huge Corona recovery investments and the revised Multi Annual Framework is marketed as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The European Commission is keeping its Green Deal ideas at the heart of its Next Generation EU package, but meanwhile the recovery measures of individual Member States are aimed mostly at ensuring the jobs and businesses of the grey economy. Moreover, an east-west divide is emerging over the Commissions’ green ambitions. Successful implementation will certainly depend on the steering authority the Commission might acquire.

This policy brief analyses the effectiveness of key steering instruments available to the Commission. And it analyses how this effectiveness is influenced by the political context of the European Council.

Read policy brief

The author

Paul Hofhuis (Senior Research Associate at the Clingendael Institute)


Towards a realistic contingency approach to negotiations

Submitted by Inge on Thu, 04/16/2020 - 16:15

One of the most praised elements of the workings of the European Union (EU) is its ability to reach compromises between its Member States. Yet, evidently, the integration process of the EU is also characterised by protracted decision-making, resulting in poorly-functioning policies in domains that are highly politicised, like migration, enlargement and Eurozone policy. Even when difficult compromises could be stuck, compromising on salient political issues has proven to be problematic in several ways: policies are not functioning as intended because some of their actual consequences were unforeseen; policies are not functioning as well because they were poorly thought through; policy initiatives have suffered from questionable (ideological or overoptimistic) assumptions; policies suffer from poor substantiation; or policies stretch the interpretations of EU treaties (also known as creeping integration), for example in taxation policy. Difficulties related to enlargement, the functioning of the eurozone and border control can be related to the dynamics in the ways in which compromises were substantiated and agreed. One simple solution, often is to streamline EU decision making e.g. by abolishing unanimity voting in sensitive areas such as in economic governance. Before going down that road, this policy brief critically examines whether institutional short-cuts to pre-empt tough and protracted EU decision making should be supported.

Read full report.

The authors

Adriaan Schout (Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute)

Adriaan Nunes (Junior Researcher at the Clingendael Institute)


Nederland zoekt nieuwe Europese ankers

Submitted by Inge on Fri, 12/20/2019 - 12:22

Het jaar 2019 was in twee opzichten een kanteljaar. Na de verkiezingen in mei is een nieuwe Europese Commissie aangetreden met opnieuw grote ambities. De grote ambities van Juncker zijn deels vastgelopen op de lidstaten en hetzelfde dreigt te gebeuren met de ambities van Von der Leyen. Ten tweede sluit 2019 een woelig decennium af. De lessen van de afgelopen periode zijn essentieel om het draagvlak in de jaren 2020 te bewaken. Kwaliteit van beleid en van het gezamenlijke Europese bestuur moeten voorop staan.


Adriaan Schout


Comparative Trends in EU Governance

Submitted by Inge on Thu, 07/04/2019 - 15:16

From the ‘Ordinary’ Method to the Transgovernmental Method?

We observe an emerging split between policy areas that are governed by the Community/Ordinary method, such as more technical single market issues, and politically sensitive policy areas that are governed by what is usually termed as “intergovernmentalism.” However, the governance structures that we see emerging in politically sensitive policy areas cannot be properly described as “intergovernmental” because they display a stable set of new interinstitutional relations, in which the European Commission also plays a varying role, albeit that the Member States overall have a more pronounced role. Hence, we see a shift from “the” interinstitutional balance to the emergence of two different interinstitutional balances: the Ordinary method and the Transgovernmental method.

Transgovernmentalism is characterised by a bigger role for the Member States and a less strategic role for the Commission (and hence the EP and European Court of Justice) compared to the Ordinary method, but goes beyond simple intergovernmental governance, because it is clearly based on standing European practices, meetings with defined procedures and reporting mechanisms. Evidently, the role of the European Parliament is different in both areas. The consequence for the further development of defence policy is that we assume that it will develop along the lines of transgovernmental governance, even though the European Commission and potentially other EU institutions might favour the “efficiency” of a single, Ordinary method, with a more focal role for the European Commission in the interinstitutional balance.

About the authors

Adriaan Schout is Senior Research Fellow and Coordinator Europe at the Clingendael Institute. He combines research and consultancy on European governance questions for national and European institutions. He has worked amongst others on projects addressing issues of the EU presidency, EU integration and improving EU regulation.

Dick Zandee is Head of the Security Unit and Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Institute. His research focuses on security and defence issues, including strategies, policies, capability development, research and technology, armaments cooperation and industrial aspects.

Wouter Zweers is a Junior Researcher at the ´Europe in the World´ unit of the Clingendael Institute. His research revolves around the external dimension of EU policy making, focussing specifically on the European Neighbourhood Policy, EU enlargement policies and migration.

Julian Mühlfellner is a Research Assistant at the ‘Europe and the EU’ unit of the Clingendael Institute, where he focusses on the role of the European Commission and the European Parliament in EU governance.

Barcode image of European Member States © OMA EU flag © Shutterstock / edited by Textcetera