Strategic Autonomy in EU Space Policy: A Conceptual and Practical Exploration
When asked why Europe, be it in the guise of the EU or that of ESA, should support or even undertake particular space activities in parallel with—or, formulated more negatively, in duplication of—the activities of other space faring nations and organisations around the world, one element often cited in justification is that it is strategically important that Europe establishes an autonomous set of capacities in this field. It is the objective of this contribution to shed light on the actual and possible meanings of this concept of strategic autonomy both in theory and in EU policy practice. The following section opens the enquiry by taking a closer look at the linguistic, philosophical and conceptual mechanics that operate behind this reference to autonomy, broadening the debate to include other related notions such as autarky, interdependence and non-dependence. In the third section, we examine the meaning and functioning of autonomy as a goal in the context of several other EU policy areas, with attention turning to agriculture, international trade, energy, the Common Foreign and Security Policy and, finally, space. With respect to our final objective of deriving some indications of what the quest for (strategic) autonomy can entail in the context of a nascent European space policy, we conclude that the EU’s use of the autonomy motif has evolved in such a way that it can serve as an effective tool in shaping European space policy. More specifically, it can serve as a plausible and legitimate basis for the EU to enact a sector-specific industrial policy for the space sector.