Category Archives: Europe

Securing Trade and Transportation

The horrific bombings in Brussels on 22 March – and the attacks in Paris and Ankara that preceded them – make it very clear the security situation in Europe will remain unpredictable and fragile for some time to come. In responding to these threats, some nations have enacted measures to restrict the transportation of goods and people. Many more nations will do the same.

While terrorism will undoubtedly cost the global community many lives, barriers to free movement will also present severe economic consequences in billions of dollars in lost trade and development opportunities. In this way, the battle against terrorism is not just defined by suicide bombs and drone strikes, but also by the need to manage the flow of people and goods, and maintain economic growth.

Image Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/
Image Source: http://www.independent.co.uk/

The current situation demands politicians pursue the resolution of the conflict in a humanitarian and civilized manner. Threats must be addressed and neutralized, locally and regionally, in Europe and at the source. While there are short-term measures to be taken, we will, however, be at war for some time to come. The challenge will be to reconcile the security of borders with the need to minimize damage to economic growth for the duration of the conflict and enhance the resilience of the European trade system against disruption in the future.

Setting the Stage for Conflict

Uncontrolled immigration is a challenge for the European Union (EU).  Latest indications are that the million or so refugees and immigrants that have come to the continent in the past year have included terrorists as well as economic migrants. Though there is a clear need to differentiate between those that need help from those arriving with ulterior motives, the EU’s failure to act in unison leaves member nations no choice but to take unilateral measures to secure their populations. These measures take the form of border controls which will remain in place until the security improves, the stream of migrants abates and the EU adopts a clear immigration and asylum policy. Such a policy would allow an immigrant or refugee, legally allowed into one country, to legally travel to another EU country for pleasure or work.

Until then, trade will suffer. Cross-border commuters and trucks loaded with goods are already spending hours and days at crossings, costing millions of Euros every week.  With freedom of movement of both people and goods –  two of the four foundational freedoms of the EU – threatened, the EU must find methods to keep the borders controlled while letting bona fide European citizens and trade to flow unhindered. This is no small task and will require clear policies as well as some on-the-ground technical solutions.

Looking for Answers

Critical to the security of free trade is the construction of transportation corridors where pre-screened vehicles conducting cross-border travel have separate, dedicated lanes at the border for secure and unhindered continuous movement. These transportation corridors will enable Europe to create stable networks that protect its core industrial base and trade corridors. Such corridors could be created by the centralized management of transportation information regarding the goods being moved and the personnel transporting them.  Using existing technology, manufacturers, traders, and transportation companies could register their trucks with a central organization which would check the vehicle’s license plate against an encrypted registry. Today, police in some countries already scan license plates to search for known criminals; when a ‘hit’ occurs, the suspect is apprehended or followed.

With this registry in place, “accepted” vehicles then enter a virtual or physically secure pathway where their movement is monitored by GPS and national authorities can feel confident allowing them to pass unhindered across borders. In many places in Europe, limited access toll-roads already exist. Investment would be required on the part of nations to monitor flows in key corridors with cameras. Many transportation firms already follow their trucks with GPS systems, allowing for tracking of movements outside the supervised, segregated corridors.

Valuable information necessary for transportation security is already being collected by private corporations. Governments should implement similar technology in order to create virtual secure lanes of travel. Image Source: www.cshtransport.com
Valuable information necessary for transportation security is already being collected by private corporations. Governments should implement similar technology in order to create virtual secure lanes of travel. Image Source: www.cshtransport.com

All this information is already readily available. Transportation firms already have an abundance of additional data available such as the waybill, driver identity and other relevant documentation which can be biometrically linked to the driver, then stored and shared system-wide. The collection and integration of this information with automated camera systems that can match specific trucks against a planned itinerary in a secure pathway will allow national governments to supervise cross-border traffic with little hindrance, be alerted to unscheduled detours and other anomalies en route.

The Way Forward for Secure Transportation

None of these ideas are revolutionary; a model already exists for successful integration of this type of transportation data.  In the aviation sector, nations control registered movements within their borders and hand over verified movement to the next country as aircraft depart their airspace. Airline passengers that frequently cross borders can undergo a one-time intense background check and vetting process. These individual passengers, properly identified and documented, are then able to cross borders at airports based on biometric characteristics.

Clearly, this is a complex big-data exercise with some significant cost. Yet, if it can be done for aircraft, there is nothing preventing its implementation for ground-based freight and passenger traffic except the political willpower to execute.  It is time to extend this system-based approach to road-based border checkpoints. This transportation gap in the security matrix cannot be neglected any further.

Trade and free movement of goods and workers are critical interests for the security of all nations in Europe.  Currently, implementation of the appropriate measures to protect these interests are being lost in debates as politicians ride a wave of arguments tending towards protectionism and exclusion of immigrants. The authority to regulate interstate commerce resides with the governments of the European Union. For that reason, it is imperative that in the mire of political discourse, the need to build the critical infrastructure with the appropriate and available technology to restore trade and commerce receive ample attention and a unified response. Only by including transportation security in a complete threat analysis can we do justice to the complex task of intelligently and resiliently securing commerce and economies against terrorism.

Rein Westra Rein Westra is a former CEO in the public transit sector, and currently engaged in the development of web-enabled logistics IT services.  He is CEO of the The Hague Policy Group, an advisory firm focused on public policy  and strategy in trade and transportation, with particular concern for economic development and security.

The Brussels Moment

The bombings in Brussels this morning feel like a watershed moment in the history of what we can no longer deny is a war. In Paris they attacked Europe’s social life and its values as a collection of western democracies. France, and to a lesser degree, Belgium had to respond but neither were significantly disrupted. The attacks on Brussels airport and its metro system are another matter altogether. They differ from the Paris attacks not in the heart wrenching pain and anger they cause, but in the nature of the target and in the response they demand.

In Brussels they attacked the transportation system. Not just any transportation system but the one at the heart of institutional Europe and indeed, at the core of its fundamental freedom. In doing so, the enemy has also disrupted Europe’s governance, its political alliances, and the economic structures that underpin it. NATO, the European Union, the European Parliament, and many others all revolve around Brussels. These must be defended and we urge Europe’s leaders in the coming days to consider difficult decisions about the use of European power with wisdom and foresight but also with stoicism and boldness.

There will be many questions and intense differences about the proper response but leaders must resist the urge to consider national solutions. In the run up to this tragedy there have been too many fractures resulting from pressure. The refugee crisis, Russian adventurism, and the financial collapse of the southern states, were all met with national responses. To do so again at this moment will doom the European experiment because none of the member states possess the financial or military power to defend it alone. Whatever the outcome, Europe must coalesce around a course of action or face the dire consequences of disunity.

The impacts go far beyond the continent.  America needs Europe to be stable and secure.   The United States must not “lead from behind”, fail to live up to its defense commitments, or ignore another red line. These are the reasons the situation in the Middle East is spreading into European cities in the first place. Like Europe, America must also be bold and stoic. It is time to face the fact that neither money nor airstrikes will solve the problem nor can it be ignored.

Lino Miani

Lino Miani is a retired US Army Special Forces officer, author of The Sulu Arms Market, and CEO of Navisio Global LLC 

The Sky is Not Falling on the European Union

This is a difficult time to be an optimist in Brussels. It is even more challenging to advocate for a positive look at European affairs. And it becomes almost impossible to talk about collective hopes for a more united Europe in the future. Many will say such optimism belongs to another epoch. Now, the dominant discourse is one that announces a new catastrophe every week. Like Chicken Little, these so-called realists shout, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

As a contrarian, I want to maintain faith in the European project. And be inspired by a forward-looking approach. The best way to build a prosperous and safe future for all of us in Europe is through a united endeavor.  I say it whilst realizing the European Union is at present facing two major crises. They crowd everything else off the agenda, giving strong arguments to pessimists and those who are against continuing the Union. I mean a possible Brexit and the realities of mass migrations.

Challenging the Unity of the European Union

With the UK spinning further away from common approaches and policies, arguments for integration and joint responses have indeed become more fragile. In effect, such arguments are practically inaudible because many leaders prefer to focus their attention on their own national agendas. The silence of most of them on the affairs of the European Union is deafening.

The UK´s position has brought a lot of uncertainty to the table. At this stage, nobody can predict the outcome of their referendum. It is also difficult to forecast the consequences of a Brexit for the future of the European Union.

Nevertheless, the European Union would survive a Brexit. Why? Because the UK and the other member states have already learned to go their own separate ways in many areas – the Euro, Schengen, labour laws, justice, and internal security, just to mention a few.  Perhaps the biggest worry is what a Brexit would do to the British themselves, to the status of Scotland, as well as to their tiny neighbor to the west, Ireland.

Brexit or not, the European Union shouldn´t be too worried.

The larger question is about immigration. Can the European Union survive a continued and expanding mass migration crisis? Many believe it cannot. We keep hearing that without a solution to the current migratory flows, the European Union will soon collapse. There is a good degree of exaggeration in the air. The soothsayers of disaster easily capture the headlines. Obviously, the mass arrival of refugees and migrants does pose major challenges and it is essential to recognize this. It is a situation well out of control. Furthermore, this crisis shakes the key foundations of the Union, its values and the role of Europe in the international arena.

More importantly, the migration issue touches the core of a vital dimension of European states—the question of national identity. The people of Europe have shown that they are ready to give away a good number of their sovereign prerogatives, accepting that Brussels can deal with them. This has been the case in a wide range of areas related to economic management, budgets, agriculture, trade, environment, justice, development aid, external relations and other important matters.

Yet, they are not at all prepared to abdicate or dilute their national features, language and everything else that creates a people´s identity. Nor should they. Europe is a complex mosaic of languages, cultures, nationalities and even prejudices. Yes, our views of our neighbours are still shaped by prejudices in significant ways. History and many wars have both divided us and created the diverse assortment we are today. Patriotism is still, and will continue to be for a good while longer, far stronger than pan-Europeanism.

Seeing the Glass “Half Full”

All this must be taken into account. Populists are effective in doing just this, trying to gain the political advantage in the process by exploiting feelings of nationalism. It’s all a little more complicated for an optimist.

This reality notwithstanding, let´s be clear about the present crisis. Let´s imagine we had to face the current migratory instabilities and frictions that the migrations have created in a past context of separate nation states. We can readily assume that some of us would already be at war with our neighbours. We would see coalitions of countries taking military action against others, trying to defend their borders and their own perceived national interests. We would be responding to the threats facing us with weapons drawn upon one another. In the past, this challenge would lead to armed conflict and chaos. We know that the long history of Europe has been written through a succession of wars. 

Discussions between Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Walter Hallstein about the Treaty establishing the ECSC. Photo credit: www.cvce.eu
Discussions between Jean Monnet, Konrad Adenauer and Walter Hallstein about the Treaty establishing the ECSC. Photo credit: www.cvce.eu

This all changed when the European Union was established. Now, disputes are taken to summits. Summits come and go, often without many concrete outcomes. But, sooner or later, they end up producing acceptable results of one sort or another. We have learned to take the right decisions at the eleventh hour, that´s true. But we have done so around a conference table and through diplomacy. That´s the kind of lesson we should keep in mind as we get closer to two more summits on the migration crisis: one with Turkey, on the 7th of March and one among the European Union leaders on the 17th.

Let´s keep talking and pushing for an agreement. From the cacophony of diverse European voices and the play of varied interests, action will follow. The most relevant contribution of the pessimists, Eurosceptics and  nay-sayers has been to create a greater sense of urgency. Now, the optimists among us have to state that there is only one answer to the big question on the table: Do we allow this challenge to destroy the hard-won political and economic achievements of the European Union or do we build on these successes to constructively address this crisis and, in the process, strengthen our union?

I am convinced that realism that will prevail. The European sky isn’t falling.

 Victor AngeloVictor Angelo is a Portuguese columnist based in Brussels and a former Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General.