Security is the EU issue for 2017

Safe: A memorial in a German market for the 12 killed when a truck ploughed into them. Events such as this are behind a bid for a European security plan — and possibly a defence plan. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Safe: A memorial in a German market for the 12 killed when a truck ploughed into them. Events such as this are behind a bid for a European security plan — and possibly a defence plan. Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Calls are growing in Europe for the tightening of border controls in the aftermath of December’s terror attack in Germany. With the latest incident capping off a year of high-profile atrocities around the continent, security issues will be a dominant political theme in European politics in 2017, especially with key elections in France and Germany, which have borne much of the brunt of this year’s attacks.

The increasing demands for tighter border controls, with much of Europe still on high security alert, follow the revelations that the presumed perpetrator of the German attack, 24-year-old Tunisian Anis Amri, travelled more than 800km to Italy via France after committing his atrocity — despite the fact that he was Europe’s most wanted criminal at the time and the target of an intensive manhunt.

Core security issues aside, the reason the border control issue is so politically charged is that Eurosceptic parties are championing this throughout the European Union. For instance, French far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen and former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party Nigel Farage — the self-styled “Mr Brexit” and confidant of United States president-elect Donald Trump — have demanded that Brussels must end the Schengen agreement that permits passport-free travel across most EU states.

The forthcoming, scheduled elections in Europe, and the possibility of other “snap polls” in 2017, including in Italy, where Eurosceptical parties are also gaining popularity, the continent’s leaders will now be under intense political pressure intensify security measures at the EU and national levels.

At the heart of this is a growing sense that Europe needs to have a more co-ordinated, pan-continental approach, in much the same way that US security has been organised post-September 11 2001 by the department for homeland security. The current subnational, let alone continental, fragmentation on information and intelligence sharing is highlighted by the split among Germany’s law enforcement authorities, which are constitutionally vested in the country’s 16 states.

EU security policy has come under intensified focus not just with recent terror attacks on the continent but also with the ongoing migration crisis.

European Council president Donald Tusk has said in recent weeks that “people expect that the EU ... will again be a guarantor of stability, security and protection”.

With calls from several leading politicians for a 21st-century European-style pact for security, this highlights that a carefully crafted package of measures, including greater EU intelligence co-operation and strengthening Europe’s border force, could secure high-level political traction in 2017.

Indeed, given current disagreements in Europe on the wisdom of wider, grand integration initiatives, including in economics and finance, security issues are one of the few areas in which there is significant consensus among the member states and Brussels on the continent’s best way forward, post-Brexit (the UK’s withdrawal from the EU).

Hence, another reason there is likely to be movement on this agenda in coming months is to emphasise the resilience and integrity of the continuing EU project, which celebrates in 2017 the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, one of its founding treaties.

Moreover, on a related theme, Brussels also now senses a window of opportunity to push forward a proposed European defence action plan that advocates greater military co-operation between the EU member states.

This is being driven by Russian assertiveness post-Crimea, plus the threat of Trump to scale down the US security commitment to Nato, and his campaign rhetoric that Washington should not defend European allies that are perceived not to be paying their fair share of contributions to the military alliance.

And Brexit could now also eliminate a long-standing obstacle to greater European co-operation, given that successive British governments have been opposed to greater defence integration at the EU level.

Andrew Hammond is an associate at the Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy at the London School of Economics

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