After the Austrian presidential elections and the Italian referendum there are mixed feelings around Europe. The public opinion praises the fact that the far-right lost an election – despite the fact that their approval rating is still very high meaning they are not going away soon – and some mourned the anti-establishment statement of the Italian people by voting no to the constitutional reforms. In the year of Brexit and the election of the controversial Donald Trump as ‘President of the United States’ (POTUS) the ongoing trend which is challenging the liberal order and the EU is seemingly still having the momentum. Next year’s elections in Italy, Czechia, Netherlands, and especially in France and Germany can showcase the state of the pro-European sentiments in these (important) countries.
Undoubtedly there is a sense of crisis among many regarding the state of the EU. Some are even drawing parallels with the last days of Rome. Nevertheless in the time when seemingly state sovereignty and neo-realist views of international relations are on the top again, the EU institutions and policy makers are showing encouraging efforts for unity. On the field of security & defence policy – which is one of the least supra-national element of EU decision making – the publication of the EU Global Strategy in June, the EP vote on European Defence Union on November 22nd  and the Commission’s European Defence Action Plan on November 30th , give positive lookout before the European Council meeting on December 15. However due to the build-up of the EU foreign policy system changes requires the political will of the member states as well, which makes it hard to achieve any substantial changes or improvements. Also the proposed initiatives of the EU institutions were mainly focusing on CSDP and hard power: the Defence Union with the utilization of the EU battle groups and the potential establishment of a CDSP HQ, while the Defence Action Plan focuses on the funding of research on EU defence capabilities. Due to the ambitious nature of the institutional proposals this paper would like to propose the pursuit of a more viable policy measure: the soft security approach.
Joseph S. Nye’s theory on soft-hard-smart power is widely referred in European and American foreign policy approaches, and as a result with this categorization the EU is well known as a normative power, using soft power measures in its foreign policy. The international political context raised the importance of hard power tools as well; nevertheless it is important not to lose focus on what we already have at hand. The EU as a master of soft power should continue to utilize its strengths on two policy fields: internal and external security.
The idea of economic prosperity bringing security is not a ground breaking new idea. The goal of the Marshall Plan and the European Coal and Steel Community was the same: to boost and integrate economies together and as a result through interdependence and deep cooperation peace shall be achieved. This is the essence of the European Union. The Treaties, the European Security Strategy and the new Global Strategy are all acknowledging and prioritizing the rule of law, multilateralism, trade and economic cooperation as key components of the international order. The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) also reflects these aspects: securing Europe’s borders through soft power measures. Despite all these efforts, the crises in Ukraine, Syria and Libya are showing the failures of both the Union of the Mediterranean and the Eastern Partnership. The EU need to invest more into state and democracy building in the countries and support the groups – e.g. civil society – that can be considered as the drivers of change and prosperity from a bottom-up approach. The EEAS can be utilized as a tool for a common voice in favor of the values stated in the Treaties to which all MS has subscribed to.
The surge of right-wing and radical Islam elements and the refugee crisis pointed out a widespread vulnerability against populism and manipulation and the problems of integration into a multicultural, ethnic society across Europe. The communication gap between the elites and the population is in a historical height. The lack of integrated response to attack on our common values is dangerous. An investment to the European Social Dimension to support the most vulnerable groups, as well an integrated exchange program on alternative conflict resolution methods and community experiences can provide a soft approach to a difficult problem.
This limited proposal only focuses on the soft, community dimension of EU security. In complementarity with the already mentioned hard EU proposals it is in line with the comprehensive approach (CA): the combination of political, civilian and military instruments. Despite the fact that the CA definition focuses only on external action, this paper argues that the coherent use of internal capabilities are also key in securing the EU and its neighborhood. The combination of the different instruments provides the textbook definition of a smart power. In order to maintain the Union in wake of the current internal and external challenges, the current EU and national leadership has to step up and pursue a smarter, deeper cooperation; otherwise the parallels with the Roman Empire will be more than adequate.
Laszlo Bugyi (25) a member of the Graduates of Democracy from Hungary, currently studying and working in Denmark at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU), Odense. This post has been created in collaboration with SDU’s SISLO – War & Welfare blog.
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