The 2016 EU Global Strategy delineated the level of ambition of the Union, but four years later the EU still struggles to reach this level in the defence domain. The paper investigates how the current EU initiatives such as Permanent Structured Cooperation and European Defence Fund could help defining and reaching such a concept, to eventually realise an appropriate level strategic autonomy. In light of the principle of the “single set of forces”, as well as due to synergies and commonalities between EU and NATO, the paper also inquires whether the old vertical “division of labour” discussed in the early 2000s is still a valid approach, or if the EU quest for a wider and stronger strategic autonomy could ultimately bring to a geographical division of responsibilities. However, such an occurrence implies a strong political willingness and commitment towards EU defence, that is now further shaken by the impact of COVID-19 particularly on military budget and capability development. In such a context, Italy needs to clearly position itself in a post-Brexit EU at 27, where the different stances on the level of strategic autonomy and on transatlantic relations need to be balanced in renewed ways – also in light of the new role played by the European Commission. In the end, a new and more solid “centre of gravity” for EU defence in Europe could be established, should Rome manage to fully enter the Franco-German driver for strategic autonomy. Updated version of the paper presented during the closed-door seminar “Europe of Defence in a World (Dis)Order: Choices for Italy”, jointly organised on 9 November 2020 by IAI, Centro Studi sul Federalismo (CSF) and Scuola di Applicazione dell’Esercito, with the support of the Fondazione Compagnia di San Paolo and of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Produced in the framework of the IAI project “Politiche e strumenti per promuovere l’autonomia strategica dell’Ue nei settori della difesa, del commercio internazionale e dell’allargamento”.
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