No More Cherry-Picking: The EU’s Internal and External Security Arms Should Streamline Operations

27. Juni 2019   ·   Roderick Parkes

Due to a growing overlap, the civilian missions of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy fear being eclipsed by EU home affairs agencies. Agencies should start to share work with the missions because, due to their geographical range, third country involvement, and advanced cooperation with military actors, they are key boosters of the EU’s global footprint.

20 years ago, the EU began developing security capabilities. It created home affairs agencies like Europol and Frontex for problems at home, and a Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) for problems abroad. In 2015, the EU was hit by a terrorism and migration crisis that was notable not only due to its scale, but also its complexity. The crisis demonstrated that the EU could no longer treat its internal security problems separately from the external: Conflicts abroad, in spots like Syria, Libya and Iraq, were fueling instability at home in Europe.

In the wake of the crisis, the EU’s internal and external security arms began muscling up. But they did so largely in isolation from each other, despite the fact that internal and external security problems were merging. As a consequence, the relationship between home affairs agencies and CSDP missions is now characterized by overlap, competition, and expedience. The EU’s range of operational deployment is shrinking precisely when it should be expanding and diversifying.

Civilian CSDP to be eclipsed by the home affairs agencies?

CSDP has recently been subject to an ambitious restructuring process. EU foreign ministers signed a Political Compact, for instance, which reasserted the relevance of the CSDP toolbox to crises in Africa and Eurasia. But this revamp could now be nipped in the bud. The EU’s home affairs agencies are developing their own suite of international policies, covering everything from long-term governance reform in Libya to acute crisis-management in the Balkans. Compared to CSDP, the agencies are better funded, and quicker to deploy.

The EU distinguishes between ‘civilian’ and ‘military’ missions, and it is civilian CSDP missions which fear being eclipsed by the agencies. Europol, the police agency, has been given new powers to fight international smuggling and terrorist networks. Its ability to share information with foreign agencies has broadened. Eurojust, the EU agency for judicial cooperation, has successfully widened its international network of prosecutors and promotes judicial standards abroad. Like Europol, it has gained important new operational powers. As for Frontex, legislators have tasked the Warsaw-based agency with building, almost from scratch, a European border corps of 10,000 personnel. And the outgoing European Parliament, in one of its final acts, lifted the geographical restrictions on where Frontex might use these guards, allowing the agency to deploy to any country which signs a status agreement. Frontex has just dispatched a team of border guards to Albania in its first foreign executive operation. 

Member States should not encourage geographic and conceptual overlap

The EU’s home affairs agencies are pushing assertively abroad, into the EU’s arc of eastern and southern neighbors. Besides carrying out operations like the one in Albania, the agencies have lately started running their own programs in northern Africa, with names such as ‘EU4bordersecurity’ and ‘EU4drugsmonitoring’. They have also helped carry out a CSDP-style civilian mission: Frontex and Europol have been heavily involved in the Commission-funded EU Border Assistance Mission (EUBAM) in Moldova and Ukraine.

Meanwhile, CSDP planners, in a bid to prove their relevance, have begun gravitating back towards Europe in a defensive pattern. For years, CSDP planners peppered Africa and Eurasia with missions and operations. But recently, their focus has narrowed to the EU’s arc of neighbors, as they seek to restrict the passage of irregular migrants and contraband to the EU. Most recently, they have been discussing creating a border management mission in the West of Ukraine. EU member states unwittingly encourage this geographic overlap. Governments are tired of the demands on their personnel and resources from both CSDP planners and home affairs agencies. They increasingly call for a “return on investment”: They want to show their citizens that their resources are being used to tackle the most salient issues – the Ukrainian car thieves and Georgian house-breakers who cross the EU’s eastern border, or the numbers of irregular migrants arriving on the EU’s southern shores.

The two security arms need to coordinate properly

The EU’s two security arms, though converging on the same places and the same tasks, have done little to coordinate their methods and strategies. CSDP planners are, for instance, currently codifying their methodology for border management and counterterrorism (CT). But the agencies are carrying out their own strategies for these areas and believe these should bind CSDP missions too; Frontex has adopted a capability-development strategy which will increasingly define EU-wide training and procurement decisions, in turn affecting the resources available to CSDP missions.

Where the two do work hand in hand, it is often out of expedience. Planners on both sides look at each other’s capabilities and cherry-pick. This is particularly true of how the agencies treat CSDP military capabilities. Take Europol: The police agency does not have the same expeditionary culture as its fellow agency Frontex, so it does not compete on the ground with CSDP missions in Africa and Eastern Europe. But Europol still takes an expedient view of CSDP assets. If Europol had its way, it would probably seed the Sahel with military CSDP missions. Their purpose would not be the usual stabilization and reform tasks – but rather harvesting information for Europol headquarters. This is because Europol, rather than sending its officials overseas, builds up information hubs in its Hague headquarters in a bid to attract foreign authorities such as the FBI or NYPD. CSDP deployments can feed Europol with intelligence and battlefield information that it might not otherwise get its hands on.

Sharing work and making better use of existing capabilities

Across the world, demand for operational expertise is on the rise thanks to irregular migration flows, crime, and terrorist attacks. Tricky powers like Russia and China are currently filling that void, as the US pulls back from bodies like the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Russia in particular is using military assets to deal with borders, crime, and terrorism, reversing attempts at civilianization in Africa and Central Asia. The EU’s two operational arms are too busy wrestling each other to respond to the demand.

Progress in this field does not require the EU to reinvent the wheel: It simply means making better use of existing capabilities. In a recent paper for the EU Institute for Security Studies, I identified ways for the home affairs agencies to share work with CSDP missions. This would involve merging their work or agreeing on a division of labor depending on the nature of the problem. The study showed that, if the EU wants to increase its global footprint and multiply its capabilities, civilian CSDP will be the key booster.

Civilian CSDP has, for one thing, a considerable geographic range. Indeed, were it not for the possibility of cooperation with CSDP, it is unlikely Frontex would today be considering activities in the far-off Philippines. For another, civilian CSDP has well-oiled mechanisms for involving third countries in its missions. Contrast this with Frontex, which does not cater for contingents of third countries (besides the actual host country) to deploy with it. And, thirdly, civilian CSDP missions have an advanced methodology for cooperating with military actors, something which agencies like Frontex and Europol lack.

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Roderick Parkes

Dr. Roderick Parkes (@RoderickParkes) is a Senior Analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) and the author of the recent report Healthy Boundaries: Remedies for Europe’s Cross-border Disorder.