MacGill Summer School – Mairead McGuinness Calls For National Debate On Security And Defence
Brexit Impact on Common Security and Defence Policy not insignificant, she says
Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament has called for a national debate on EU security and defence policy which does not descend into accusations of Ireland’s sons and daughters being conscripted into an EU army and heading to war.
Addressing the MacGill Summer School (Tuesday 24th July) in Donegal on the topic of: Securing Europe’s Future, A stronger More Cohesive Europe in a Turbulent World, she said there is a focus on security and defence issues at EU level arising from recent terrorist threats, a shift in global alliances and Brexit.
“Citizens are concerned about security – with terrorism, organized crime and cybercrime top of the list – and Europe must respond to those fears,” she said.
“For many of these threats, no one member state acting alone can be effective, hence the renewed focus on efforts to strengthen common strategies and action.
“Securing the external border of the EU is now a priority amid fears that failure to do so will result in internal borders within the EU and a breakdown of the Schengen system.”
While the numbers of people coming into the EU has dramatically declined, the legacy of the significant migratory flows from 2015 remains and is impacting on the internal politics in the EU, with a rise in populist parties.
Security and defence is part of the current debate on the future of the EU and with the UK leaving it has become a more prominent policy issue.
However, in a wide ranging speech, Ms McGuinness warned that the future of Europe will not be determined by focusing on security and defence alone.
“Securing our external borders without a strong policy of support for development and investment on the African continent, will not make us more safe and secure,” she warned.
“That is why I welcome the Trust Fund for Africa established to assist countries to meet development challenges and provide opportunities for their populations, reducing the push factor in migration. Long term this is the only solution that can work,” she said.
The MEP warned against an over emphasis on security and defence at the expense of existing policy priorities – including cohesion and agriculture.
“We need to have the right balance between policy priorities. And we need to be prepared to fund them appropriately,” she said.
This is the greatest challenge, she said, as the EU struggles to agree a budget post 2020, taking account of the exit of the U.K. from the EU.
“Our geography provides us with the luxury of distance from many of the immediate fears and challenges that other EU member states face. An island on the periphery of Europe, far from Russia, far from the flows of people coming from Syria and Libya can take a detached view of things,” she said.
But we are not immune to the threats of cybercrime and cyber-attack, she warned. A Eurobarometer study from June last year showed that 96pc of people in Ireland think terrorism is an important challenge to the internal security of the EU, followed by cybercrime at 68pc.
“The future of Europe debate is focused not just on how to strengthen the EU itself but about how to strengthen that global rules-based order in which we operate â€“ to solve problems, address challenges, resolve conflicts and promote EU values,” she said.
Commenting on a discussion document produced by the four Fine Gael MEPs, Ms McGuinness said as a nation we should be able to discuss our position as a neutral country in a calm and reflective way.
“Our document is clear that we do not support the creation of an EU army, but we do need an outcome that meets our national objectives, reflecting our traditions, building on our strong record of peacekeeping and humanitarian support and working with other EU member states in a new spirit of cooperation, mutual respect and openness,” she said.
She said Irish spending on defence is the lowest in the EU, at 0.3pc of GDP, according to the World Bank.
“There is no question of overriding our sovereign wishes,” she said. “The value and significance of security and defence cooperation is rarely highlighted in our domestic political conversation. Yet our defence forces contribute in a very professional and enduring way in missions under the EU, as much as they do under the UN.
“It’s time for a national debate on security and defence which does not descend into accusations of Ireland’s sons and daughters being conscripted into an EU army and heading to war,” she said.
As Brexit looms, she said enhanced activity on security and defense is evident at EU level. However, as with other aspects of Brexit, the future of EU/UK cooperation on security remains unclear. Both sides know the value of close cooperation for the security of citizens. But with the EU as a third country, maintaining the status quo with access to all EU databases for the U.K. is a major sticking point.
Achieving a good outcome to this complex area will require an orderly, agreed Brexit – something which the EU is working towards but about which there is little certainty.