Tag Archives: European Union

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 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.

Flashpoint Europe: The Refugee Crisis and the Fate of the Union

It’s been a rough year for European unity, and it’s not getting any better. The sudden flood of refugees from the Middle East and Africa is straining the unity of European Project more than any crisis in recent memory. The member states are divided and unable to agree on a common solution. Militarized borders are being reopened, refugee camps are being hastily erected, and armies are mobilizing, all echoing nightmares of an Old Europe and a time long thought to be in the past. The EU is at a pivotal moment: a crossroads which may determine the fate of the entire European project.

The refugee crisis has amplified the serious disagreements amongst Europeans about the roles of national sovereignty and cultural identity in the future of the European Union. According to estimates from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), nearly 200,000 refugees have arrived in Europe just in 2015, with over a million total asylum seekers estimated to be residing in the EU by the end of the year. With most of the refugees fleeing the embattled nations of Syria, Libya, and Iraq, there is a palpable fear in Europe that the influx of such a large number of Muslims will result in a spread of radicalism and a weakening of perceived national identities, spurred by the spread of homegrown terrorism already on the rise on the continent.

In fairness, individual states are taking action because the European Union is not.

There are two sides that have taken diametrically opposed moral stances on the issue: One side,  comprised mostly of the EU-founding member nations of Western Europe, are citing humanitarian moral obligations and wish to see a pan-European solution to absorb the refugees and distribute them fairly throughout Europe. The second, comprised of the newer Eastern European members of the EU, are resisting allowing migrants to remain in their countries. These states, located on the periphery of the EU, are concerned about the political and economic shock that would come should the refugees stay, and are fearful of the perceived threat to their respective national identities if they absorb thousands of Arab Muslims.

Emergence of a Crisis

This summer, Italy cancelled the European Commission-funded Operation Mare Nostrum, an extensive maritime operation to provide safety for refugees coming into Europe from the Middle East. Without Italian ships dedicated to their rescue, many refugees are avoiding the perils of traveling on makeshift boats run by smugglers in favor of joining the already innumerable masses of Syrians and Iraqis escaping into Europe by the longer land route through Turkey. As a result, the western Balkans are receiving an ever increasing number of refugees as the Hungarian-Serbian border was seen as the main entry point through which they can travel to the more prosperous regions of the EU.

Routes utilized by refugees bring them first to the peripheral states, many of which are least prepared to properly process asylum seekers. Image Source: www.ibtimes.com
Routes utilized by refugees bring them first to the peripheral states, many of which are least prepared to properly process asylum seekers. Image Source: www.ibtimes.com

Hungary has since made clear its severest objections to the presence of refugees within its borders and has loudly criticized fellow EU members for disregarding their own rules regarding asylum seekers. The Dublin Regulation requires the first EU country in which a refugee enters to register them for asylum and to provide humanitarian assistance. This arrangement leaves Greece and Italy, the main points of entry by land and sea respectively, to provide these essential services to the bulk of the refugees. Italy is already hosting over 170,000 mostly North African refugees, and the vast majority of those traveling into the EU via Turkey should have remained in Greece. Greece however, has been overwhelmed and unable to support them. The European periphery, plagued already by high unemployment, unstable economies, and troubled governments, is in a precarious position and needs immediate relief from the rest of Europe even without the overwhelming presence of so many refugees.

The uncontrollable movement of refugees through the poorer regions of Europe has called into question the very notion of a border-less EU. The Schengen Area provides border checks only upon entry into member states, and allows free travel without passports between signatory states. In response to the deluge of migrants, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, and the Netherlands have re-instituted border controls, with various other European nations considering similar actions. Hungary not only built a wall along the Serbian border, but is also considering (or already erecting) a fence on borders with EU members Croatia and Romania. As European states build walls between themselves, the idea of a border-less Europe is quite literally disappearing.

The ideal of borderless travel is directly tied to the Four Freedoms that serve as the foundation of the European Experiment
The ideal of borderless travel is directly tied to the Four Freedoms that serve as the foundation of the European Union.

Disunity in Action

The refugee crisis has reignited the debates about what it means to be European. While the more prosperous Western European states have been receiving large numbers of Muslim and Asian immigrants for decades, the former Warsaw Pact nations of Eastern Europe have not. France and Germany, for example, have been the destinations of millions of migrants that have been assimilated to their respective cultures to varying degrees (although not without difficulty). The Eastern European members of the EU, however, are still nearly homogeneous, each comprised almost entirely of self-identified white Christian Europeans with no significant recent history of non-European migration.

The different national perceptions of identity politics between West and East is the crux of the problem. On 3 September, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán explicitly labelled the refugees a threat to Europe’s Christian identity, “We shouldn’t forget that the people who are coming here grew up in a different religion and represent a completely different culture… this is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity… is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?”  The prime minister sees multicultural France, with its large North African population, and Germany with its sizable Kurdish and Turkish minorities, as a warning to his fellow Eastern Europeans about what could happen if the refugees were allowed to stay. “We don’t want to be like them” he almost seems to say.

While it has led the charge in encouraging other members to accept refugees, even Germany has found itself forced to implement new controls. Image Source: www.livemint.com
While it has led the charge in encouraging other members to accept refugees, even Germany has found itself forced to implement new controls. Image Source: www.livemint.com

In fairness, individual states are taking action because the European Union is not. The EU has been slow to come to a consensus about how to handle the refugee crisis, resulting in member states taking action into their own hands, rather than relying on the cumbersome EU political process. After months of indecision, on 22 September the EU voted to institute a quota system that would distribute 120,000 refugees among member states. Framing the issue as a matter of national sovereignty, Hungary, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Romania voted against the plan. As of 24 September, however, only Slovakia has refused to comply outright, threatening to sue the EU in court. Slovak prime minster Robert Fico was defiant, “As long as I am prime minister, mandatory quotas will not be implemented on Slovak territory.”

Nation-states erecting walls and barbed wire fences echo a not-so-distant, unpleasant past.

Eastern Europe is by no means united in response to the crisis. Croatia, which opened its borders to migrants on 16 September in response to Hungary’s completion of its fence along the Serbian border, closed them just two days later. In an almost schizophrenic reaction, Croatia began busing migrants to the (as of yet) unfenced Hungarian border. Responding to this action, Hungary’s foreign minister, Peter Szijjarto stated, “Instead of honestly making provision for the immigrants, it sent them straight to Hungary. What kind of European solidarity is this?” Szijjarto captured the sentiment of disunity and made perhaps the most poignant comment regarding the issue, “Rather than respecting the laws in place in the E.U., they are encouraging the masses to break the law, because illegally crossing a border is breaking the law.” Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović bluntly replied, “We forced them (Hungary) by sending people up there, and we’ll keep doing it”. Croatia seems content with letting migrants in, as long as it can pass them off to Hungary. Unity indeed.

Crisis = Opportunity

This is the defining moment for the European Project. The refugee crisis could be the wake-up call Europe needs to recommit to the ideals of the European Union, else it could be the driving force behind its dissolution. Western Europeans need to take care to ensure the substantial inclusion of a very nervous and frustrated East, concerned that in any major decision, national sovereignty will simply be pushed aside by another round of majority voting in which a unified West will always win. This is not a sustainable state for the future of the continent.

Nation-states erecting walls and barbed wire fences echo a not-so-distant, unpleasant past buried just barely beneath the surface: a Europe divided against itself. Europeans must seize this moment to forge a real union or they will soon find the idea of a singular Europe relegated to a footnote of history. It is in these moments of doubt and discord that Europeans must remember one simple fact: that Europe will always be its best as one, rather than divided against itself.

NickAvilaLT Nick Avila is a U.S. Naval Officer and Olmsted Scholar in Belgrade, Serbia. He received his B.A. in History with a focus on American Diplomacy from Amherst College in 2008. He is an MH-60S helicopter pilot by trade and has military experience from two deployments in the western Pacific to include operations in Guam, Japan, and Australia. The views expressed here are his own and not those of the US Navy or the George and Carol Olmsted Foundation.