About the Project

Does the EU have the capacity and agency to set priorities and make decisions autonomously in its external action? What are the necessary political, institutional and material steps to get there? How can strategic autonomy help the EU to face the challenges within and beyond European borders?

To answer these questions, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), in cooperation with the Brussels office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and the Fondation-Jean-Jaurès, launches "Strategic Autonomy – pathways to progressive action", a new flagship research project aimed at investigating the concept of 'European strategic autonomy' (ESA).

Despite the concept getting more central in EU affairs circles every day, there is a persistent lack of clarity on what European strategic autonomy actually means. For this reason - and with the debate over ESA's definition, content and implications in full swing - it's time for progressive thinkers to provide an in-depth analysis of the concept and set an agenda on where to direct and how to operationalize the term.

The Working Groups

High-level policy experts and academics will address the topic from three complementary perspectives - namely 1) Security and Defence, 2) Economics and Trade, and 3) Digital and Technology - and will provide analysis and concrete, actionable recommendations for policymakers.

1. Working Group on Security and Defence

Project Leader: Vassilis Ntousas, Senior International Relations Policy Advisor, Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS)
External Advisor: Nicoletta Pirozzi, Head of Programme on European Union and Institutional Relations Manager, IAI (Istituto Affari Internazionali)


  • Pol Morillas, Director, CIDOB (Barcelona Centre for International Affairs)
  • Claudia Major, Head of Research Division, International Security, SWP (German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin)
  • Sven Biscop, Director, Europe in the World Programme, Egmont – The Royal Institute for International Relations
  • Ana Juncos, Professor European Politics, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol

2. Working Group on Digital and technology

Project Leader: Justin Nogarede, Digital Policy Adviser, Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS)
External Advisor: Patryk Pawlak, Brussels Executive Officer, European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS)


  • Andrea Renda, Senior Research Fellow, CEPS (Centre for European Policy Studies)
  • Paul Timmers, Research Associate, Oxford University
  • Julia Anderson, Economist, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
  • Katja Bego, Principal Researcher and Data Scientist, Technology Futures and Explorations Team, NESTA

3. Working Group on Economics and Trade

Project Leader: David Rinaldi, Director of Studies and Policy, Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS)

More information coming soon


The publication of the first Policy Briefs is expected by October-November 2021. We will publish them here. 

You can follow the progress of this research project by following FEPS on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. 

1. From EU enlargement fatigue to ambiguity

Despite the EU enlargement policy framework and its declared goals, the present EU-Western Balkan political and socio-economic relations do not promise a swift convergence and lasting transformation of the region. On the contrary, the current economic and political set-up in the Western Balkans favours the empowerment of ‘charismatic strong men’ unchecked by democratic mechanisms. Such a model increasingly resembles the Chinese and Russian model of political capitalism.

The devastating consequences of Covid-19 outbreak have exacerbated this reality, further highlighting the shortcomings of EU policy toward theregion and these countries’ economic and political divergence form EU standards.

Against this backdrop, EU enlargement framework urgently needs to be supplemented with a more progressive political agenda, to navigate through these doomy and gloomy days. The Western Balkans should be included in the EU common response to the pandemic on a number of issues, among which: health and economic recovery plans; the defense of the rule of law and democratic governance; as well as foreign policy matters.

2. Dealing with EU accession in times of uncertainties: From halfway commitments to overlapping agendas

“The process of EU enlargement in the Western Balkans is today marred by ambiguities” writes Matteo Bonomi, Research Fellow at the Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), at the beginning of this Policy Brief.

The publication aims at investigating the current developments of the EU enlargement agenda in the Western Balkans and the main obstacles it is facing. It highlights the existence of resistances towards this policy and claims that the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated an already complex situation.

According to Matteo Bonomi, the EU-Western Balkan relations should move from halfway commitments toward a common agenda and need to tackle the root causes of the current situation. Among the main problems of the region, the author highlights the “enduring socio-economic regression, unresolved constitutional disputes and backsliding in democratic standards”.

3. Challenges for EU enlargement in a post-covid scenario

Today, stating that the EU enlargement towards the Western Balkan countries is in a stalemate amounts to a cliché. The number of declarations, summits, initiatives and pleas from Brussels and some member states has only reinforced a growing frustration, as deeds have not followed words and the commitment to the region’s ‘European perspective’ remains half-baked – the case of the Bulgarian veto to the opening of North Macedonia’s Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) only strengthened such gloomy picture.

This policy brief looks at how to put the process of enlargement back into the European Union’s agenda in a post-Covid environment, to prevent a further detachment of the Western Balkan states from the EU, and taking advantage of the new financing opportunities of the period 2021-27. It also look at the role that European progressives should play in order to make European accession a credible prospect for the WB 6.

4. Next steps for progressive commitment to EU enlargement

What should progressive forces do to finally overcome the deadlock that characterise European enlargement policies and ensure a credible political turn? What are their responsibilities? These topics were at the centre of the debate “What is progressive? The EU and the challenge of enlargement to the Western Balkans” that took place on 18 June 2021.

The discussion pointed out how stronger alliances among progressives and enhanced civil society participation to the enlargement process are key elements that should be strengthened in order to shift enlargement policies from technicalities to politics.


How could regional inequalities be tackled in a sustainable way? What opportunities do urban areas have to prevent social exclusion? Would it be time to even out the differences in well-being and access to welfare?

These are among the driving research questions powering the Unequal Europe project, a European collaboration led by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, and based on indicators selected in collaboration with researchers from the Institut für Landes- und Stadtentwicklungsforschung.

The project has already led to the publication of analysis in Germany, Finland, Romania, and Italy. Work is currently underway also in Sweden and Estonia, and a European overview will be published in a dedicated Policy Study in October 2021.


#1 Unequal Germany. Socioeconomic Disparities Report 2019 Neither the strong economic growth nor the fact that more people in Germany are finding work these days have done anything to reduce the gulf that divides the country’s rich and poorer regions. Indeed, the gap between the dynamic and the disadvantaged regions has only increased. The federal state’s levelling of inequalities between the Länder no longer works. This study shows that socio-economic inequality in Germany has become further entrenched in recent years. What is more, while some cities are booming, whole regions are at risk of being left behind for the foreseeable future.
» Publication Map

#2 Unequal Finland: Regional socio-economic disparities in Finland On the outset and in international comparison, Finland has developed one of the wealthiest and most generous welfare states in the world, with low levels of income inequality and high social mobility. A deeper look reveals deepening regional disparities, leading to the observation that, in fact, there are four Finlands.
» Publication | Interactive Map | Event

#3 Unequal Romania: Regional socio-economic disparities in Romania In recent years Romania has been the fastest growing economy of the EU. Still, at the same time, the last decade has also been a period of ongoing emigration and increasing spatial disparities. The economic benefits of European integration were not distributed equally across the country, and despite increasing regional disparities, the issue was hardly prioritised by political decision-makers during the last three decades. The report identifies current spatial variations of strengths and weaknesses in light of future risks and challenges for the country, and calls for new national and European policies to address the issue.
» Publication | Interactive Map | Event

#Related An inegalitarian France The gilets jaunes (yellow or "hi viz" vests) protests in France have brought to light far-reaching regional grievances and socioeconomic disparities that run counter to the aspiration to equal living conditions for all. A closer look at these regional dis­parities shows a "fragmented" country, riven at all administrative levels by numer­ous faultlines. Despite – or perhaps even because – of the centralised redistribution policy an active state is no longer discernible for many people living in the regions.

#4 Unequal Italy: Regional socio-economic disparities in Italy Historically, Italy has been characterised by a marked divide between North and South, but there are profound differences, specific strengths and weaknesses, and untapped potential in both areas. The report identifies and analyses "four Italies" and "three Mezzogiornos" before proposing precise policy recommendations to remedy the country's socio-economic disparities.
» Publication Interactive Map | Event

#5 Unequal Sweden: Regional socio-economic disparities in Sweden Internationally, Sweden is still associated with a growth model that secures a high level of social equality via a strong universal welfare state. However, this perception overlooks a distinct rise in inequalities over the past 30 years. Successive market-based reforms and structural change have created distinct regional socioeconomic disparities. This leads to the observation that there are four Swedens.
» Publication | Interactive Map | Event


Related materials

A vast amount of money will be needed to finance the transition to a climate-neutral and circular economy whilst investment in polluting infrastructure will have to cease.

What ‘rules of the game’ need to change in order to redirect private capital flows in support of our long-term societal objectives? What is the role of central banks and other supervisory authorities in managing the transition? How should public revenues and expenditures be revisited to achieve a real fair society?

These are in essence the questions that FEPS would like to address in this Policy Breakfast series on Financing the EU Green Deal. Each meeting will consist of a policy presentation, followed by a discussion with experts and policymakers; to which you are invited to contribute.

#1 European and National Development Banks for the Green Transition

Professor Stephany Griffith-Jones, Financial Markets Director, Initiative for Policy Dialogue at Columbia University presented FEPS Policy Study "The Role of the EIB in the Green Transformation". She explored the European Investment Bank (EIB)'s double mandate to maximize sustainable and inclusive development impacts while maintaining some financial profits or avoiding financial losses in the context of the major green transformation.

A discussion with the director of the KfW Liaison Office to the EU David Denzer-Speck and the director of the Economics Department of the European Investment Bank Debora Revoltella, as well as a Q&A, followed.

#2 New Resources for the EU Green Deal

Rafael Wildauer and Stuart Leitch, University of Greenwich, presented FEPS Policy Study "A European wealth tax for a fair and green recovery"  in partnership with the Renner Institut, where they investigated the potential of a European net wealth tax to raise substantial revenues while supporting the economy and the consensus on climate action

Jos Delbeke, Professor at KU Leuven and at the EUI School of Transnational Governance and former Director-General of the European Commission's DG Climate Action, gave a presentation on the carbon border adjustment mechanism and the ETS reform. A discussion with MEP Aurore Lalucq and a Q&A followed.

#3 Greening ECB and EU Macro and Monetary Policy
> This event will take place in September. Follow us on Twitter and click on the bell to be notified!

#4 Carbon disclosure and private investment
> This event will take place in September. Follow us on Twitter and click on the bell to be notified!

It took us a global pandemic to realise that we depend on care. But despite all the clapping from the balconies, care workers continue to work in precarious and vulnerable conditions. In the EU, carers earn on average 65% of the national average employee income.

Who are the ones at the forefront? 70% of health and social carers are WOMEN. Women suffer from a severe lack of recognition of their paid and unpaid care work.

Most care work is not even paid at all. The essential everyday tasks in our homes, performed by an overwhelming majority of women, remain unacknowledged.

Our economies, our lives, cannot go on forgetting that paid and unpaid caregivers are the ones that cover our most basic needs. We need to move away from a profit-driven model of growth to a care-driven model.

It’s time for a care revolution! We need to #Care4Care!

The Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), together with its member foundations, has been intensively working since November 2019 to monitor the EU gender equality policy agenda through a progressive lens focusing particularly on its care dimensions.




Care Workers' Voices


FEPS Talks Podcast


FEPS President Maria João Rodrigues Contribution to PES Women Campaign #MakeHerCount for Equal Pay