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Insecure Europe

MADRID – For the last five years, Europe has been shaken by financial and economic convulsions that have wreaked havoc on many of its citizens’ livelihoods. The good news is that progress is finally being made in redeveloping the European Union’s economic and monetary architecture, which should help to bring about a return to growth. But EU leaders’ focus on internal problems has caused them largely to neglect external policies, particularly in the area of security. As 2014 begins, economic insecurity is giving way to worries about the EU’s strategic position.

There were expectations that the European Council’s December meeting would signal a return to a more outward-looking approach, especially on security matters. Unfortunately, these hopes were quickly dashed. Indeed, the disparate assortment of initiatives that were agreed at the meeting, though interesting, lack the needed breadth and scope, and will have to be integrated within a weak and outdated strategic framework.

The flawed nature of the current European Security Strategy – drafted in 2003, with a token revision in 2008 – reflects the circumstances surrounding its conception. The ESS was developed in the aftermath of the Iraq war, amid heated debate over a proposed European constitution, in a hasty and reactive process hijacked by those who sought to position Europe as a counterweight – or even a rival power – to the United States.

Making matters worse, the geopolitical environment has changed fundamentally in the decade since the ESS was ratified, owing to economic rebalancing toward Asia, the upheavals in the Arab world, the revival of Russian assertiveness, and the rise of isolationist tendencies in the US. As a result, the ESS does not capture the reality of today’s world – a fact that is obvious from its opening declaration that “Europe has never been so prosperous.”