Ideas on Europe

European Union Security in an Age of Uncertainty

©Scott Webb sur Unsplash European Union Security in an Age of Uncertainty
©Scott Webb sur Unsplash

Every Monday, a member of the international academic association ‘UACES’ will address a current topic linked to their research.

Filiz, you have been working for several years on the security of the European Union, first for your doctorate, and now as guest researcher, at Leiden University, in the Netherlands.

Security has always been one of the most complex and critical issues for the EU. After decades of remarkable success in promoting peace, stability and prosperity on a continent historically marked by conflict and division, the EU’s security landscape has shifted dramatically in recent years in the face of evolving security threats and changing global dynamics.

From the rise of non-state actors, like cybercriminals and terrorists, to geopolitical tensions, the challenges are diverse and complex: growing instability in the South and East, Russian aggressiveness, the Syrian War, Brexit of course, and now the current Israeli-Palestinian War. These challenges are testing the EU’s resilience and commitment to ensuring the security and well-being of its member states.

Multiple challenges, which require multiple responses.

That’s right: the EU’s response has been multifaceted. It can be grouped up under several headings: CSDP (the Common Security and Defence Policy), border management, terrorism, cyber security, and crisis management through diplomatic means.

CSDP is my primary research area. There have been profound breakthroughs made in the last decade, such as the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence, the European Defence Fund, and PESCO, the Permanent Structures Cooperation, which include crisis management missions and civil and military operations.

On border management, the EU has invested a lot in the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), and it has also strengthened its counterterrorism efforts through intelligence sharing, law enforcement cooperation, and adopting measures to prevent radicalization.

Finally, in terms of cybersecurity, the establishment of the Network and Information Security Directive and the European Cybersecurity Agency (ENISA) were essential developments in ensuring the protection of critical infrastructure and protection against cyber threats.

This sounds impressive, but is it also efficient?

This is a good question, which is at the heart of the concept of “Strategic Autonomy”, which emerged in 2016 from these ongoing discussions about EU security. The idea is that the EU should have more control over its destiny and reduce its dependence on external powers – mostly NATO – in defence and security matters.

This process is not without challenges.

First, the EU still relies heavily on NATO. Creating an independent defence structure requires not only substantial coordination among EU member states, but also significant investments in military capabilities, which seems economically and politically difficult for many EU member states. Most of them have not yet even achieved NATO’s 2% of GDP benchmark for defence and security funding. And even if they did, the EU cannot duplicate or oppose NATO.

Is the EU at all capable to act coherently in security and defence?

With difficulty. There are severe differences in foreign policy priorities and security strategies between member states. In addition, the pursuit of strategic autonomy will not be without complications with regard to the EU’s principles of international law and human rights, as there will be legal and ethical restrictions on certain military actions. And finally, existing industrial, technological and economic interdependencies might strain transatlantic relations and hinder cooperation with the United States in addressing common security challenges.

Whenever we speak about strategic autonomy, we get back to the question of how to redefine the EU’s role in the world.

Exactly. The EU stands at a crucial juncture in pursuing security and defence. Recent developments illustrate the EU’s determination to take control of its security destiny and overcome the challenges that lie ahead on the road to this destination. In my PhD dissertation, I insisted on the need for the EU to offer a holistic security approach and definition, including both military and civilian aspects. In practical terms, rather than aiming at a comprehensive strategic autonomy, it might be wise to start with focusing on one common security area, where member states can efficiently act together, which is cyber security.

The good old “Monnet method”, one step at a time. Many thanks, Filiz Doğan, for sharing your thoughts with us on this crucial topic. I recall you are a recent doctor, and now a guest researcher at Leiden University, in the Netherlands.

An interview conducted by Laurence Aubron.