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A new guardian of the people?

In a world increasingly conscious of security risks, is the EU relevant? Many people – especially in Euro-sceptic Britain – think not. In the diffcult process of fostering integration , the challenge of corralling diverse European states into common security efforts appears to be a step too far.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq seems to bear out this scepticism. Throughout the conflict, external security policy by the European Union was paralysed, riven by disagreements amongst those such as the UK, Spain and Italy that supported the US-led intervention and others, notably France and Germany, who opposed it.

Yet the constraints that remain on the EU’s external security policy obscure significant progress made in the domain of the Union’s internal security policy. In 2010 the EU approved its first ‘Internal Security Strategy’ and followed it up with a European Commission Communication designed to implement the Strategy. I recently submitted written evidence to a House of Lords enquiry set up to assess these initiatives.

Powerful forces have pushed the EU to assume a greater role in internal security, including the threat from terrorism,  illegal immigration and cross-border organised crime. In counter-terrorism the emphasis remains on measures designed to prevent acts of violence, to combat the radicalization and recruitment of individuals and to deny terrorists access to funding. These measures are all consistent with the 2005 EU Counter-terrorism Strategy that followed attacks in Madrid and then in London.

Such security challenges have necessitated a Europe-wide response. They have enabled the EU to demonstrate  ‘added value’ to its members through promoting such activities as the sharing of law enforcement information, the facilitating of cross-country prosecutions and helping to protect the Union’s external borders.

A plethora of organisations have emerged to deal with these tasks, including the European Police Office (Europol), a Judicial Agency (Eurojust), a Border Management Agency (Frontex) and a European Police College. These organisations now interact with and complement the efforts of national security agencies on a daily basis.

The passing of the Lisbon Treaty at the end of 2009 has helped to create a single legal framework within the EU and has done away with the overlapping structures that hitherto made its actions in home affairs so complicated. Efforts have been made to address the old problem of the Union’s democratic deficit by rendering its internal security policies more transparent and giving greater powers to the European Parliament.

Internal security cooperation within the EU lacks the high profile of external security initiatives. Yet for that very reason it has been possible for the Union to progress with its internal security domain whilst the external sphere has remained constrained by sensitivities over national sovereignty. It is one of the ironies of European integration that, despite being a late developer, the internal security portfolio is coming to eclipse EU progress in external security cooperation.

Obsessed with it’s supposed desire to regulate the shape of bananas, the EU’s many critics in the UK have yet to to realise how important and constructive the EU’s internal security role has become.

Wyn Rees

Published inEUEuropean PoliticsEuropean security

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