The best ECFR reads in 2021 – European Council on Foreign Relations

For many people around the world, 2021 has been – like 2020 – one of the most difficult and crucial years they have known. This is not only because of covid-19, but also for reasons such as the crisis in Afghanistan, the storming of the American capital and a unique election in Germany. While all of these topics have been of interest to our readers, our most-read publications of the year paint a much more diverse picture.

One of these publications turned out to be the most widely read in the history of ECFR! That honor goes to authors Mark Leonard and Ivan Krastev, who covered the changing nature of American power around the world when Joe Biden took office. Meanwhile, Gustav Gressel wrote four of the five most popular commentaries of the year, covering topics such as events surrounding Russia’s military moves in Eastern Europe.

But, to our delight, the interests of our readers are extremely varied and span the globe. That’s why, as always, our researchers have worked diligently to keep you informed of global issues and address the greatest strategic challenges facing Europeans during this time – and why they will continue to do so.

As the year draws to a close, the ECFR presents an overview of the ten most popular guidance notes (long form) and the ten most popular comments (short form).

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Guidance notes

1. America’s Power Crisis: How Europeans See Biden’s America by Ivan Krastev, Mark Leonard

This is the most-read policy brief in ECFR history (since we started tracking readership). The authors explore European perspectives on America’s role in the world and its relationship to Europe.

2. The fall of the Afghan government and what it means for Europe by Andrew Lebovich, Andrew Small, Asli Aydintasbas, Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, Jana Puglierin, Jeremy Shapiro, Julien Barnes-Dacey, Kadri Liik, Susanne Baumann, Tara Varma

ECFR policy experts examine what the Taliban takeover means for countries and regions around the world: Europe, the United States, the Middle East, Russia, China, Iran , Turkey and the Sahel.

3. Useful Enemies: How the Turkey-UAE Rivalry is Reshaping the Middle East by Asli Aydintasbas, Cinzia Bianco

An exploration of the relationship between Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, who are engaged in a decade-long feud that is reshaping the geopolitical order in the Middle East and North Africa. Their rivalry plays out everywhere from the Horn of Africa to the Eastern Mediterranean – in the corridors of Washington and Brussels, global media discourse, the energy industry and, lately, ports and the high seas.

4. Europe’s Invisible Divides: How Covid-19 Is Polarizing European Politics by Ivan Krastev, Mark Leonard

The lived experience of the covid-19 pandemic has divided Europe as have the euro and refugee crises, with the south and east feeling much harder hit than the north and east. Where is.

5. Crisis of confidence: how Europeans see their place in the world by Jana Puglierin, Susi Dennison

Public trust in EU institutions has declined due to their handling of the covid-19 pandemic and vaccine supply. However, the European project is not doomed to failure, as citizens still believe in the need for greater cooperation – especially in strengthening the European Union as a global player.

6. The Geopolitics of the European Green Deal by Guntram Wolff, Jean Pisani-Ferry, Jeremy Shapiro, Mark Leonard, Simone Tagliapietra

The European Green Deal will have profound geopolitical repercussions, some of which are likely to have a negative impact on EU partners. The EU must be prepared to manage these repercussions in its relations with important neighboring countries such as Russia and Algeria, and with global players such as the United States, China and Saudi Arabia.

7. China’s Great Game in the Middle East by Camille Lons, Degang Sun, Jonathan Fulton, Naser Al-Tamimi

China has significantly increased its economic, political and, to a lesser extent, security footprint in the Middle East over the past decade, becoming the largest trading partner and external investor for many countries in the region. Yet the country’s growing economic presence is likely to draw it into broader engagement with the region in ways that could significantly affect European interests.

8. Decade of Patience: How China Became a Power in the Western Balkans by Vladimir Shopov

China has become the third most important player in the Western Balkans. The country
Activities are unevenly distributed across the region, but they follow a common approach. As European and American ambivalence towards the Western Balkans persists, the region will be increasingly at risk of falling into an endless spiral of competition between various foreign players.

9. What Europeans Think of the US-China Cold War by Ivan Krastev, Mark Leonard

A majority of European citizens think a new Cold War with China and Russia is underway – but they generally don’t think their own country is involved. There is no European public consensus that the world of tomorrow will be one of growing competition between democracy and authoritarianism.

10. Beyond Merkelism: What Europeans expect from post-election Germany by Jana Puglierin, Piotr Buras

EU citizens see Germany as a trustworthy pro-European power. But, to lead the EU effectively, Germany will have to tackle the two biggest threats it faces: a weakening of the rule of law in the EU and the bloc’s inability to defend its interests in the EU. world.


1. Gustave Gressel

Receiving his own category, Gustav Gressel must have broken some kind of record with four of the five most read ECFR comments of the year. We sense a trend in the interests of our readership…

Many European leaders do not seem to grasp the gravity of this moment in the Ukrainian conflict. Unless the West makes a greater effort to counter Russian military coercion, there is no guarantee that Russia will stop with Ukraine.

Russia is mobilizing its forces, but much more secretly than in the past. Moscow’s belief that the EU and US will not intervene to protect Ukraine could lead it to take direct military action.

European governments have yet to learn a key lesson from the war in Ukraine. The alternate reality in which the Kremlin lives becomes increasingly dangerous.

The 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war holds important lessons for European defence. European governments should study it urgently.

2. After the Withdrawal: China’s Interests in Afghanistan by Janka Oertel and Andrew Small

ECFR’s Janka Oertel and Andrew Small discuss China’s attitude to NATO’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

3. Why America Confronts the International Criminal Court by Anthony Dworkin

The United States has long taken umbrage at the unlikely prospect that the ICC could prosecute Americans. The consequences of this position are now being revealed.

4. Somalia’s Electoral Deadlock: A Crisis of State Building by Matt Bryden, Theodore Murphy

The EU can unblock the so-called “electoral stalemate” paralyzing Somalia by rejecting the involvement of the incumbent president. But he must also define a new framework to help the country move forward

5. The Capture of Kabul: What the Taliban Takeover Will Mean for Iran’s Economy by Esfandyar Batmanghelidj

Iran was more economically dependent on Afghanistan than many realize. Regime change will impact Tehran in four main ways.

6. What the new German cybersecurity law means for Huawei, Europe and NATO by Beryl Thomas

The German government’s 5G security plan tacitly allows Huawei to integrate into national telecom networks, with big implications for Europe’s defense and security.

7. The new Chinese military base in Africa: what it means for Europe and America by Michaël Tanchum

A permanent Chinese military installation in Equatorial Guinea is the culmination of nearly a decade of investments in Africa – and will not be the last of such bases on the continent’s Atlantic coast.

8. Why Attempts to Reset Relations with Russia Fail by Nicu Popescu

Offering “resets” to Russia does not work. On the contrary, a more muscular approach to the country will yield results.

9. Foreign and Defense Policy in German Elections by Ulrike Franke

The parties of Germany’s next coalition government may struggle to iron out their differences on foreign and defense policy.

10. Nordic malaise: how Denmark, Sweden and Finland could harm the European project by Marlene Riedel

Too many Europeans turn a blind eye to the internal politics of the Nordic states. But it is a trajectory that could affect the future of the EU.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take a collective position. ECFR publications represent the views of its individual authors only.