United we stand, divided we fall

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.com PLC.

Hungary's border fence is emblematic of the divisions that threaten to destroy the EU. [Freedom House/Flickr]

The many challenges facing Europe cannot be solved on a national level. The EU must respond in a coherent, comprehensive way or risk being pulled apart, writes Petros Fassoulas.

Petros Fassoulas is the Secretary-General of European Movement International.

If a further reminder was needed that the EU finds itself in a strategic environment that has fundamentally changed over recent years, last month’s events in Brussels have provided one. New threats to Europe’s security, among them terrorist attacks on European soil, radicalisation, and the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine, Libya and the Middle East, have gained urgency in European debates. Meanwhile, the refugee crisis, linked to many of the above conflicts, the need for a concerted humanitarian response, energy dependency and global climate change are also pressing problems.

Considering all the above, it should go without saying that, in today’s multipolar and globalised world, these challenges cannot be solved at the national level. The economic crisis and ensuing cuts in defence and security budgets only underscore this. To protect Europe’s interests both at home and abroad, the EU offers the best forum for cooperation on defence and security issues.

But looking at the way EU member states have responded it seems that this obvious realisation has escaped them. The current crises have revealed the EU’s limited capacity in crisis management. There is a lack of political will and response among member states, yet European citizens expect answers to the current security challenges.

In our recently published Policy Position, the European Movement International put forward a host of proposals while High Representative Federica Mogherini is preparing the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. We believe that the EU’s strategy should be realistic, streamlining existing strategies and policies, setting up top priorities that all member states share and should adhere too.

The Lisbon Treaty contains several articles that have never been implemented, such as articles 20.2 on enhanced cooperation, 44 on the flexibility provision and, in particular, 46 on Permanent Structured Cooperation. It is time for the EU to put them to good use. Yet these provisions and tools must only be employed with the aim of ensuring peace on the European continent and in its neighbourhood, and to contribute to peace efforts worldwide whilst defending human rights and promoting European values. Their misuse could generate new crises.

The EU needs not only to cooperate internally, but also externally. NATO should identify concrete ways to increase cooperation, while avoiding duplication. Furthermore, the EU should keep an open channel with all partners and future EU members when devising its security and defence policies.

The completion of the single market for defence is an important element for a closer, integrated and more competitive defence industry, as well as for civilian and military synergies in research and technology. It will ensure a more efficient use of resources in times of austerity, while increasing Europe’s capability to face security challenges.

No EU strategy can be complete without considering each and every one of the challenges that Europe is facing at the moment.

Addressing the current refugee crisis in Europe demands a focus on the causes of the refugee flows. There is a clear security dimension in addressing the conflicts that result in the displacement of people, such as the war in Syria.

Enlargement should be an integral part of the strategy. Based on strict but fair and credible conditionality, with special emphasis on human rights and democracy, the enlargement process fosters the rule of law, economic development, good governance as well as good neighbourly relations among (potential) candidate countries. As one of the most successful external policies of the EU, it can have a direct impact on the peace and security of the European continent.

Climate change and security are closely interwoven. Not only does global warming pose a direct threat to Europe – for example in rising sea levels – but the impact of global warming often aggravates existing tensions and security problems elsewhere, not least in the form of mass population displacements.

Energy plays a role in many of the conflicts in Europe’s neighbourhood and has a strong geopolitical aspect. Europe’s energy dependency makes it vulnerable, and diversification, interconnection and integration of European energy markets is therefore important.

The EU is one of the biggest global actors in development cooperation. Assistance in establishing good governance, human and economic development in its neighbourhood and worldwide will prevent conflicts and critical situations such as the current migration crisis facing Europe.

Last but not least, the digital realm is of increasing importance with regard to security. EU member states need to invest more in sharing information and improving digital security, while respecting the privacy of citizens.

If ever European states needed to pull together to safeguard their security, now is the time. The many threats amassing on our doorstep, together with the home-grown challenges to our values and way of life, call for a joint response. The European Union is the ideal platform upon which Europe can build and launch a comprehensive and appropriate response. In an age of international challenges we must either stand together or fall alone.