It’s a recurring experience in the history of European integration: member Countries’ heads of government and State, united in collective leadership within the European Council of the European Union, lag behind in terms of decisions on urgent issues, thereby constantly depending on the evolution of the crises, which could have been avoided with reasonable, timely resolve. When problems are no longer manageable, facing them causes serious difficulties to all involved parties. It was the case of the recent economic crisis, and today with the tragic experience of the refugee crisis, which sent shock waves through a number of member States directly involved, driving the EU on the threshold of a collapse.
Also in the areas of foreign policy and security, whose topical relevance – owing to the refugee crisis and to the tragic terror attacks in Paris past November – is once again of primary importance, European politics is blatantly absent.
Migratory pressures and terrorism have their origin especially – but not only – in wars outside of Europe. After the scourge of war had been driven out of the Old Continent through internal integration and unification, now it returns from outside, and the EU is not adequately prepared.
The end of the Soviet Union had nourished false hopes that the spark of war had been eradicated completely.
The fact that Russia, under Putin’s leadership and his aggressive, nationalist policy, has threatened its neighbours, with initiatives in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine that posed a threat to European peace, was an unpleasant surprise from which the European Union has not yet recovered.
The fact that the civil war in Syria could have an impact on the European Union was equally unexpected. European capitals have acted as if there could be no direct consequences, although the lesson could have been learnt from the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
In any case, today it is more than clear that Europe as a whole cannot stay out of conflicts that pose a direct threat to the stability, values and interests of the Union. Moreover, these threats are neither accidental nor occasional threats.
The new threats are also linked to the new role the European Union has assumed in international relations. Foreign policy and security are due to gain increasing importance in the future.
On the one side, EU borders have become vulnerable owing to not-yet-completed geographic expansion. The protection of external borders is a prerequisite for the development, openness and freedom of movement at internal level. On the other hand, the EU’s growth in power, that stems from its own integration and unification policy, increases its regional and global political responsibility. It is necessary to meet up to such a responsibility, both in terms of solidarity with bordering Countries – notably in Africa – worn out by hunger, oppression and war, and for its own interests. However, such action requires a substantial agreement, constitutionally laid down among the Member States that need to transfer yet another portion of their sovereignty, and the related responsibilities, to the EU.
The backbone of foreign policy – encompassing common security and defence – was first laid down with the Maastrich Treaty (1993). Significant progress was made especially with the Lisbon Treaty (2009), coupled by improved coordination and communication among member Countries. Periodical meetings of committees, to which in times of crisis can be transferred decision-making powers, were equally tabled, while coordination between the political and military realms became systematic. It was decided to appoint a High Commissioner for Foreign Affairs and Security that chairs the Council of Foreign Minister (the position is currently held by Federica Mogherini, Italy).
But we are still far from a supranational political institution with military capabilities and integrated armed forces.
What until now was agreed and put into practice, coupled by institutional agreements in the area of foreign policy, defence and security, continues lacking adequate perspective. As in other areas of European politics, common foreign policy and security will be developed only in response to the imperatives dictated by challenges and crises, thus it risks lagging behind in terms of what is necessary today in order to be prepared tomorrow. We can only hope and expect that sooner or later, under the pressure of events, will be overcome also the resistance to the transfer of sovereignty, thereby paving the way to veritable European foreign and security policy.