Against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the Schuman declaration, we publish a series on the EU’s future. Our Young Professionals Advisors reflect on the current state of the EU and propose a way forward to overcome the crisis. Read their view on how the EU should manoeuvre through the upcoming economic crisis. Today we are publishing the last piece of the series:
The world has entered a volatile and unstable new phase. Scientists are convinced that the danger of COVID-19 will have a long and lasting impact on our lives. The global economy is headed for a nose dive that may rival the Great Depression. Not only will the crisis lead to rising unemployment and economic hardship, it will also affect the political climate, potentially resulting in unrest and conflict.
The geopolitical rivalry between the US and China increases as their economies become more and more self-centered and unilateral in times of global instability. Europe is hit hard by the virus; it is stirring conflict between the Eurozone’s North and South. In addition, an ‘arc of instability’ is stretching from the EU’s eastern borders down to the Mediterranean basin.
Europe is at war – an information war, which requires a defence strategy
The pandemic underlines how intensive the information warfare has become and sheds light on negative narratives that reach large audiences in unprecedented ways. The capabilities of mastering public opinion have been cultivated over many years and constitute an integral part of a new strategy for ‘hybrid’ or ‘non-linear’ warfare by governments or groups intent on destabilising western democracies.This strategy uses one or more of the following – military, criminal, intelligence, business, diplomatic, media, cyber and political – techniques to undermine our political system. The EU has reacted with its first-ever EU level publicity and analysis of disinformation narratives: the recent action plan of the External Action Service StratCom Team aims to educate and inform society about these attacks on truth and information.
But liberal values and democracy are not only attacked from outside the EU. They are also undermined from within. According to statista ( https://www.statista.com/topics/5833/fake-news-in-europe/), over two-thirds of Europeans encounter fake news at least once a week. The publishing and sharing of fake news has become easier and social media plays a huge part in this. The New York Times, Aljazeera English, and Arte have reported extensively on so called Troll Factories using social media to spread misinformation and propaganda.
As a response to the challenge we advocate for an institutional framework that allocates the necessary resources to build resilience across multiple lines of defences: In offline and online media and campaigns to educate and regain the public trust. If the EU continuously fails to reach out to its citizens, other actors will fill the information void with their narratives and undermine our political and value system.
Aligning military capabilities for civic aid and health security
The degree to which the EU is prepared for a pandemic has to change profoundly. The nature of security risks is changing. The lack of state-level continuity and contingency plans has been evident across all member countries and must be prioritized.
The EU must design a resilient civic action program, including also the capacities and resources of a military force. This ensures better coordination in future and would also help in the allocation of medical equipment, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) or patients to all EU member states (For example, Italian and French intensive care patients have been picked up by German Air Force planes and helicopters for treatment). This example shows how successful coordination of resources between European states helps and leads to greater solidarity.
A well developed infrastructure for civic action, for example the Movement Coordination Centre Europe, is important and must be expanded. The European Defence Fund and its improved military coordination with Member States is a first step in the right direction. However the EU has to do more: deepening its coordination and introducing new policies, such as a permanent military headquarter could go a long way in creating a EU that is more secure and resilient, particularly during a period of environmental, health, security or economic crisis.
A matter of health security
We witnessed how authorities in Europe struggled to come up with a united European response to COVID-19. A biological attack in future may cause chaos on a massive scale. The COVID-19 health crisis showcased how viruses may be hard to detect, if such a weakness may be turned to security vulnerability in the future.
Whilst satellites detect military facilities and intelligence services monitor chemical capabilities of state and non-state actors, biology is ubiquitous. Therefore, expansion of biological and medical intelligence should be considered to detect manipulation or weaponization of a virus, its causes, treatment and responses.
Cybersecurity and Autonomous Weapons
The discussion around technology and cybersecurity is closely linked to the discussion on sovereignty of nation states. President Macron made it clear at the Munich Security Conference last year that technology is no longer seen as politically neutral. “If we don’t build our own champions in all areas – digital, artificial intelligence – our choices will be dictated by others.”
The era of autonomous weapons lies ahead of us and poses novel cybersecurity risks. Paul Scharre, CNAS senior fellow and author of the book “Army of None”, points to threats such as hacking, enemy behavioral manipulation, unexpected interactions with the environment, or simple malfunctions or software errors as reasons for large numbers of autonomous weapons may turning on friendly forces. More than 30 nations already have autonomous weapons for situations in which the speed of engagement is too fast for humans to respond to. Europe took up a leading role in the regulatory efforts and is struggling: Attempts to regulate lethal autonomous weapon systems (LAWs), often dubbed as “killer robots”, ended in a stalemate as UN talks in November 2019 produced few results.
With the new health crisis, attention lies with the solution of other, more urgent problems for now. But especially in times of an increasingly digitized society, cyber security and resilience strategies, represent a power instrument to keep (digital infrastructure) secure. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cyber attacks directed at its staff, and email scams targeting the public at large.
EU neighbourhood in shambles
The outlook on EU foreign policy is not too rosy: the EU needs to urgently restart its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) program in order to stabilize neighbouring hotbeds, namely in Africa and in the Meditarrenean. With war-torn economies, weak preparedness and weak capacity to control health outbreaks, these are ticking time bombs for the security and stability in Europe. Through the European Neighbourhood Policy the EU must engage with peacebuilding efforts to ensure stability as well as civic and economic prosperity in these regions. The recent policy of complacency has created a dangerous status quo which has to be proactively addressed.
The EU over the last few years has continuously been stuck in reactive mode, adapting to the financial crisis, the migration crisis, Brexit and now the Corona Crisis. Though all externally started (apart from Brexit) it has thus become difficult for EU leaders to catch up and take a more proactive strategic role.
In the last decade, we have seen EU security policy moving from emergency to complacency, relying too much on American protection. Although we have been caught flat footed with COVID-19, the EU must review and scrutinize past efforts to establish a better working mechanism and promote the unity of effort. New economic challenges and disruptive technology should not undermine commitments for security and plans for military alignment. Instead, we think, the EU should put its knowledge and skills to work together towards creating a future that proves resilience and stability and makes use of technology as much as possible, governed and regulated by EU rules on privacy, protecting individuals and coordinated data collection where it makes sense.
Authors: Dyria Alloussi, Elif Dilmen, Dinand Drankier, Jens-Daniel Florian, Albert Guasch, Robert Grecu, Armando Guçe, Andranik Hovhannisyan, Mihkel Kaevats, Felix Klein, Raphael Kohler, Justinas Lingevicius, Karl Luis Neumann, Anna Penninger, Raiko Puustusma, Silja Raunio, Mihály Szabó, Eshgin Tanriverdi, Kalina Trendafilova.
About the YPAs: We are a group of 36 United Europe Alumni from 20 countries. We consider ourselves a task force for United Europe promoting young leadership from various regions in Europe. We represent diverse and young European voices on the EU’s most pressing issues. We aim to restore trust in the European project among the youth and citizens of Europe. We are a network that promotes professional exchange between young Europeans and gives impulses for a more European way of thinking. We promote plurality and want to generate new ideas for smart analysis of EU policies.