Looking deeper within: Renewing the EU Internal Security Strategy

The European Union’s Internal Security Strategy outlines how the EU seeks to address transnational crime and security challenges, which include terrorism and organised crime. The Strategy was agreed by the European Council (heads of government of each EU Member State) for the period 2010-2014, and it is now being refreshed. This is an opportunity to imagine new ways to address these challenges.

A strategy born of fear

The Standing Committee on Operational Cooperation on Internal Security (known as ‘COSI’ from the French, Comité permanent de sécurité intérieure) faces difficult choices in drafting the text of the updated Strategy. COSI is comprised of officials from Member State interior ministries and European Commission representatives. They are working in a political environment dominated by fear of the outsider (see also Around Europe 352 on fear and conflict). In June 2014 heads of government meeting at the European Council set strategic guidelines for the work of the European Commission that prioritised concerns about migration and ‘foreign fighters’ (the phenomenon of EU citizens travelling to fight in Syria).

Image Credit: Quaker Council for European Affairs

Image Credit: Quaker Council for European Affairs

To agree the revised Internal Security Strategy, COSI will draft text to be agreed by the Justice and Home Affairs Council (interior ministers from the 28 Member States) at a meeting planned for December 2014. COSI originates from a proposal of the Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU in 2002: it was part of the EU’s response to cross-border threats that followed the 11 September 2001 attacks. Similarly, it was the London bombings in 2005 that led to a review of EU internal security cooperation, which in turn strengthened calls for an internal security strategy.

Preventing terrorism

As the new Internal Security Strategy is developed, officials and ministers should avoid being driven by news headlines, but rather focus their efforts on addressing underlying causes of organised crime and terrorism and those conditions which make their occurrence more likely. These conditions often involve a complex range of factors including social and political injustice, such as being part of a group that experiences discrimination.

In the case of terrorism, reactive policy-making can itself generate fear, curtail civil liberties, and contribute to a cycle of violence. Policy-makers should ensure the protection of human rights and avoid relying too heavily on policing and ‘last line’ counter-terrorism. The European Parliament has added weight to this argument in its motion on the Internal Security Strategy (September 2013), which called for EU policy to be less repressive and more preventative. The motion called for further proposals to prevent violent radicalisation of individuals and other measures including freezing the assets of terrorism suspects.  Successful counter-terrorism policy prevents radicalisation of citizens by involving social services, educators, community groups, and families – alongside delicate policing.

Re-imaging responses to organised crime

Image Credit: Apostolos, Creative Commons.

Image Credit: Apostolos, Creative Commons.

In renewing the Internal Security Strategy, COSI should give much greater regard to reducing the demand for organised crime – including human and drug trafficking – that comes from within the EU. The prioritisation of border management capabilities is a reflection of the way policy-makers understand organised crime – as a mainly external threat. Policy should address the underlying factors that encourage sexual exploitation and end the expensive criminalisation of people who suffer from drug dependency.

As Europeans, we should reflect more deeply on our own weaknesses, and resist giving disproportionate attention to our fear of the ‘other’. There is value in improving policing and border controls, but effective public health, education, and social policies offer more significant opportunities to safeguard European citizens.

One further step

An effective Internal Security Strategy relies upon European criminal justice systems that are also prepared to face the challenge of re-imagining their responses to organised crime and terrorism. Purely retributive forms of justice often discount victims’ needs, in favour of depersonalised adjudication processes that also do little to support the recovery of the wider community or the rehabilitation of the offender. Restorative justice approaches will not always be possible. However, where successful, former gang members and terrorism sympathisers have re-entered society and helped others to avoid becoming involved in crime.

The interconnected nature of our global community means that fear-based, reactive, and retributive policy will only reduce security. At QCEA, we would encourage Member State interior ministers meeting in December at the Justice and Home Affairs Council to reject fear, in favour of an inclusive and restorative approach to security.

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  1. Pingback: Rejecting violence and embracing our neighbours | The QCEA Blog

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