Ana Gomes: EU member states have failed to protect citizens

Written by Rajnish Singh on 24 March 2016 in Interviews
Interviews

EU leaders have not been up to the job of delivering a European security strategy, says Ana Gomes.

Ana Gomes does not mince her words. She bluntly says that "member states, despite their rhetoric, have not been up to the job of delivering a European security strategy, and they have failed us."

Gomes believes that the internal and external security needs are firmly interlinked. The member for the Parliament's sub-committee on security and defence believes the risks and challenges Europe now faces have multiplied in recent years. They are now at the point, she says, "where no individual member state can face them alone."

What is needed, according to the Portuguese S&D deputy, is "an articulated European strategy," something that is currently lacking. According to the former diplomat, Europe only gets serious about defence through Nato and in response to request from our US allies.


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"What we need now is leadership and enlightenment to see how the two elements of internal and external security are interwoven."

A reflection of this lack of leadership has been seen in the EU's inability to deal with the current refugee crisis, "which, of course, is linked to the failure of the EU - along with other global players - to work together to help avoid wars."

Gomes argues that, had the EU and other international powers become involved diplomatically and politically right from the beginning of the war, "even in terms of allowing a humanitarian corridor or no-fly zones to be created, things would not have been as bad as they are now, with Syria now firmly established as a base for Daesh/Isis and other Jihadi groups."

The MEP now fears that Libya will also implode, like Syria. For years, Gomes has warned the Parliament about the growing political instability in the country. With Jihadi and Daesh/Isis already taking advantage of the political chaos in the country, she lays the blame squarely with the EU for taking their eye off the ball.

She says; "It is Europe that is responsible for the current situation. This is not because of the military action taken by the French and the British. Rather it is because of the omission in acting afterwards in a Europe-led coordinated manner, which was essential both for Libya's - and our - security."

"This would have prevented the militia from taking over and allowing the country to become awash with weapons, which obviously and inevitably will be used by criminal gangs and terrorists."

According to Gomes, the EU seems to be ignoring the proxy war that is taking place in the country. "We are in denial, and we face an almost Syrian situation. Libya is even closer geographically to the mainland of Europe."

She is adamant that having European boots on the ground in the country is not the answer, under its present conditions, "military intervention will make matters even worse.”"

However, she does not exclude a European country sending troops in reaction to a terrorist attack on mainland Europe if linked to one of the groups in Libya.

She says that she believes that the EU should have learnt lessons from its involvement in the Balkans. "The EU should have invested more in the governance of Libya, including unifying its security forces. Instead EU border officials were sent when the country didn't even have a central government."

Another security area where member states have failed to work effectively has been in sharing intelligence on terrorist groups. "When I visited Iraq at the time of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, everybody told me that Europe was in denial and that European fighters from Jihadi groups would return and carry out terrorist attacks."

However, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks when member states pledged to share intelligence, exchange information and allowing interoperability between police databases, Europe's security services failed to stop the second wave of the Paris terrorist attacks. "Nothing had been done and that was exposed."

"Therefore, it's not just in the field of external security and defence that Europe is failing us, but also in terms of internal security too." For Gomes the two are now firmly interlinked, "especially in a world that is globalised and connected via the internet."

The Portuguese deputy highlighted how cyber warfare now poses a major security threat to Europe's critical infrastructure that could be ruined by a cyber attack, similar to the attack suffered by the Ukraine in December. Then, a major power outage wiped out sensitive control systems for parts of the national power grid.

Gomes also blames the EU's economic and financial policies for undermining European security. These, she says, "have resulted in blind cuts in security and defence budgets, which in turn have created badly-equipped forces," made worse by, "a culture of European countries not working together, but instead allowing rivalries to persist."

Another aspect of economic policy she criticises is how member states, bowing to financial pressures, have privatised key strategic industries. Using the example of her own country, forced by EU economic troika rules during the financial crisis, privatised the energy sector and ports, which were then sold into foreign ownership.

With 28 different armies, navies and air forces, the veteran defence expert highlights how duplication and the lack of efficiency in European armed forces are also proving a barrier to a more secure Europe.

She criticises governments for not having the "political will or understanding" of what can be achieved by working together at a European level, "particularly where huge investments are required for the building up of capabilities, R&D and synergies between civil and military research."

With EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini chief planning to launch her new global security strategy in June, Gomes hopes the paper will be clearly define exactly what Europe's interests are, as well as emphasising the need to protect them.

"Our interests lie in a rules-based world, where the EU, not member states, should make a difference in helping solve conflicts, rather than allowing them to get worse."

With defence and security also playing a key role in the current Brexit debate, Gomes strongly believes that, "Britain will be weaker and will be in a worse position to deal with all sorts of threats, including terrorist attacks, if it does not stay in the EU."

She added, "In my opinion, British citizens will have a lot to lose if the UK leaves the EU, precisely at the time when security and defence considerations are being taken seriously by the EU. This is particularly important in relation to terrorism, organised crime, and people smuggling, which are transnational in nature."

She strongly believes the UK could actually play a positive role in European defence if it decides to stay in part of the EU, "where it can be a leader in organising Europe's defence if it has a less negative and suspicious approach towards the EU."

Despite being a diplomat working in the 1980s when the world was dealing with the cold war and facing nuclear Armageddon, Gomes firmly believes that; "The world we are living in is definitely more chaotic and disorganised. We are much more vulnerable as technological innovations reach the hands of state and non-state actors, which have a clear intent not to ignore the basic rules of international law and human rights."

Ultimately for Gomes, the aim is to be more secure. "We need capabilities in security and defence, including intelligence and new hardware, but where investment is done in a strategic manner at a European level."

 

About the author

Rajnish Singh is commissioning editor of the Parliament Magazine

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