Committee on Security and Defence
The Future of Peace: With new and complex threats arising that destabilise the region and force thousands into migration, displacement and statelessness, what should be Europe’s strategy for ensuring peace, stability and security at its borders?
The Topic in Depth
written by Noel Lessinger (LU)
“The objective of the European Union in the field of external border protection is to safeguard the freedom of movement within the Schengen area, an area without internal borders, and to ensure efficient monitoring of people who cross both external Schengen borders, as well as the EU's external borders with countries that are not part of the Schengen area”. - Anja Radjenovic from the Member’s Research Service of the European Parliament.
Since the 2015 migration influx, management of the EU’s external borders has been particularly challenged by the amount of uncontrolled migrants and asylum seekers entering the EU, leading to the temporary reintroduction of internal border controls.
However the migration crisis is not the only threat to stability at the EU’s external border: Finland and the Baltic countries traditionally look to the east with a level of caution; the protests in Belarus against a dictator supported by Russia have caused an influx of political refugees to Poland and Lithuania; the Ukrainian crisis has been going on for years; and Turkey is increasingly drifting away from possible EU membership. These are just a few examples of factors of instability at the EU’s external border and potential threats to the EU’s internal stability.
Most Europeans under the age of 30 do not know anymore what it is like having to go through passport control because they are used to the freedom of movement between countries in the Schengen Area. Before the pandemic, the grounds most-used for countries to reinstate border controls were “secondary movements,” “risks related to terrorists and organised crime,” and “situation at the external borders”. Such risks can be conflicts, other forms of violence, or persecution in the EU’s neighbourhood, for instance in Syria and Libya.
As a result of these conflicts, millions of people are forced to flee their home country, becoming refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) or even stateless people. According to the European Commission, at the end of 2019 there were 79.5 million people in need of protection and assistance as a consequence of forced displacement. This is the equivalent of 1 person becoming displaced every 2 seconds. These forcibly displaced people who are trying to make their way to Europe often end up at the EU’s external borders, in countries like Ukraine, Turkey, Serbia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. People are seeking asylum in Europe for various reasons, such as socio-political factors, demographic and economic factors, and even environmental factors (people fleeing natural disasters.
Closing borders has a cost: according to the European Commission, due to border controls, cross-border commuters and other travellers would lose €1.3 and €5.2 billion per year in terms of time lost, to which is added the costs for conducting the systematic border checks . In addition, past measures to close internal EU borders have disrupted the functioning of the Schengen area. The refugee crisis of 2015 exposed deficiencies in the external border system and in responding with the significant amount of asylum seekers, and as a result, EU citizens' trust has been reduced in the EU's ability to tackle them, generating economic, social and political costs.
A lot of critique has come from those Member States that are most affected by the situation at the external border, such as Spain, Italy and Greece in the South or Hungary, Slovakia and Poland in the East. Being located at the EU’s external borders also means being responsible to process asylum applications, as laid down in the Dublin III Regulation, for which the Commission has recently presented a new plan.
This ‘strategic autonomy’ is the key word in the new Commission’s foreign policy. However the new concept has also drawn a lot of criticism and has shown that many Member States do not see eye-to-eye on these issues. The debates are about the US’ criticism of the EU, the geographical and functional level of ambition in pursuing strategic autonomy and capacity building. Thus the way towards a more stable region cannot be implemented before all EU leaders have agreed on what strategic autonomy actually means.
created by Ola Kowalewska (PL)
Food for Thought
What role should the EU play in addressing the question of refugees, forcibly displaced people and stateless people?
How can the EU maintain its fundamental freedoms while addressing secondary movements and terror related risks?
What balance should the EU and its Member States strike between aligning themselves with the US and its other NATO allies, and pursuing strategic autonomy?
What should “strategic autonomy” mean?
Factsheet by the European Commission giving an overview on forced displacement, refugees and asylum seekers https://ec.europa.eu/echo/what-we-do/humanitarian-aid/refugees-and-internally-displaced-persons_en
Overview of what the European Commission does in terms of Migration and forced displacement https://ec.europa.eu/international-partnerships/topics/migration-and-forced-displacement_en
The European External Action Service explaining why strategic autonomy is important https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/89865/why-european-strategic-autonomy-matters_en
Briefing by the European Parliament on the protection of the EU’s external borders https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/BRIE/2018/630316/EPRS_BRI(2018)630316_EN.pdf
The Council summarising what the EU already does to strengthen its external borders https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/strengthening-external-borders/
Article explaining the problems of open borders within the Schengen Area and fighting terrorism https://www.voanews.com/europe/will-border-security-solve-europes-terror-threat
Article picking up the accusations launched against Frontex https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/30261/frontex-protecting-the-eu-s-external-borders-at-any-cost
Report by the Institute on Statelessness and Inclusion https://files.institutesi.org/from_Syria_to_Europe.pdf
Article by Atlantic Council summarising the debate on EU’s strategic autonomy and what the EU already does in terms of military cooperation https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/new-atlanticist/what-european-strategic-autonomy-requires-smarter-talk-more-action/
Think Tank opinion on the EU’s strategic autonomy https://carnegieeurope.eu/2021/03/08/eu-s-strategic-autonomy-trap-pub-83955