Thursday

1st Oct 2020

Opinion

EU's new Security Union Strategy is a good first step

  • The new EU Security Union Strategy is a broad, cross-sectoral document that seeks to overcome old dichotomies between online and offline security, digital and physical security, and internal and external security (Photo: UK Ministry of Defence)

Brussels is a place where security strategies of different kinds proliferate.

Long-time followers of the EU will remember the 2003 European Security Strategy and its 2008 implementation report.

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  • Commissioner Margaritas Schinas (left) described the SUS as a new house with a single roof, within which the EU seeks to build a new security ecosystem that covers the entire policy spectrum (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service)

Then, in 2016, came the EU Global Strategy. In addition to these, the EU has published multiple sector-specific strategies such as the 2013 cybersecurity strategy, and the 2014 maritime security strategy, to name a few.

On 24 July, the European Commission published the latest addition to the collection of EU strategies, the new EU Security Union Strategy (SUS).

It's a response to then-Commission president candidate Ursula von der Leyen's political guidelines for the current commission, and the mandate that her mission letter to commission vice-president Margaritis Schinas gave to him to develop an integrated and comprehensive approach to security.

The SUS is a broad, cross-sectoral document that seeks to overcome old dichotomies between online and offline security, digital and physical security, and internal and external security.

It's a response to the sophisticated cross-border and cross-sectorial threats that require more and more room on the EU's security agenda. These include terrorism, cybercrime, hybrid attacks, and disinformation campaigns, to name a few.

The SUS is also shaped by the ongoing fight against the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.

It notes that Covid-19 has reshaped our notion of safety and security threats, and highlighted the need to guarantee security both in the physical and digital environments.

Covid-19 has also underlined the importance of secure supply chains, and reinforced the need to engage everyone in an effort to boost the EU's resilience. The SUS is therefore also a product of its time.

Although the SUS doesn't explicitly define what a Security Union is, it does provide suggestions on how a Security Union should be conceptualised.

The first page of the document suggests that a Security Union is a place where the rights and freedoms of individuals are well protected. This makes it an aspiration, a goal to be attained, rather than a concrete structure.

Commissioner Schinas described the SUS as a new house with a single roof, within which the EU seeks to build a new security ecosystem that covers the entire policy spectrum.

This is because the SUS lays the foundations for this work by identifying four priority areas for EU-level action. These are a future proof security environment, evolving threats, terrorism and organised crime, and a European security ecosystem.

'To Do' list

Within each of these areas, the SUS identifies a "to-do list" for the EU for 2020-2025.

The tasks under the first heading focus on boosting the resilience of Europe's physical and digital infrastructure, those under the second on tackling cybercrime and hybrid threats, those under the third on combating terrorism and organised crime, and the ones under the fourth on boosting Europe's institutional and administrative security landscape.

It's worth noting that the security of the individual is at the heart of the Security Union, rather than the security of the member states, or even the security of the EU.

All of these are of course interlinked and not mutually exclusive, but the SUS's emphasis on priorities such as boosting the fight against child sexual abuse and human trafficking puts the security of the individual front and centre.

Overall, the SUS seeks to facilitate the development of capabilities and capacities in order to strengthen the EU's resilience against the threats and challenges it's facing.

Given the long list of these threats and challenges, it should be welcomed that the commission has developed a holistic, cross-cutting framework for addressing them both in the physical world and the digital one. In the contemporary world, this is essential.

Going forward, it will be crucial that the implementation of the different SUS work streams be coordinated effectively within the Commission.

The overall responsibility will be with Schinas, but addressing challenges such as hybrid threats, organised crime, cybersecurity, disinformation, and the resilience of critical infrastructure will also require inputs from multiple other member of the College of Commissioners, including the EU's foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell.

The relationship of the SUS to existing EU strategies should also be clarified.

Like most EU strategies, the SUS doesn't explain how it relates to existing strategic documents, of which the Union has many.

Given that it seeks to overcome dichotomies such as the one between internal and external security, the commission should explain how the SUS ties up, especially with the 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS), which lays out the Union's overall foreign and security policy vision.

At the moment, the EUGS is mentioned only in a footnote.

Finally, given that the SUS seeks to facilitate the development of capabilities and capacities, the commission should also clarify how it relates (if at all) to other initiatives in this area, namely the European Defence Fund (EDF) and Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO).

The EDF and PESCO are geared more towards the defence aspect of cooperation, and the latter is also a member state-driven initiative, as opposed to a commission one.

However, there is overlap between the two and the SUS, particularly between SUS priorities on cybersecurity and hybrid threats and several PESCO projects.

The EU should therefore explore the possibility of creating synergies between them.

Author bio

Niklas Nováky is a research officer on EU foreign, security and defence policy at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, the official think tank of the European People's Party.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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