Securing Europe’s Future: Address to 38th Annual MacGill Summer School 2018

Mairead McGuinness702 views

Securing Europe’s Future

A stronger, more cohesive Europe in a turbulent world

Address to 38th Annual MacGill Summer School 2018

Mairead McGuinness MEP
First Vice-President
European Parliament


Ladies and Gentlemen,

I’m pleased to be here at the MacGill Summer School addressing the topic of a stronger, more cohesive Europe in a turbulent world.

There is much internal turbulence in the EU, matched by external turbulence and division, and a dangerous retreat from the institutions and methods of global governance and diplomacy. There are deep divisions in societies both within and outside the EU, as exemplified by a rise in political parties with simple and appealing solutions to very complex problems.

Any debate about the future of Europe must address the issue of security and defence, and the premise of my remarks is that Ireland needs to have that conversation and allow for a mature debate, which does not descend into accusations of our sons and daughters being conscripted into an EU army – heading to war.

Security and defence is about ensuring that we maintain peace and provide protection to citizens.

The motto of the current Austrian Presidency of the EU is ‘A Europe that Protects’.

That motto is echoed by the Juncker Commission in its ‘Security Union’ agenda.

In 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker, then a candidate for the presidency of the European Commission; said “combating cross border crime and terrorism is a common European responsibility. We need to crack down on organised crime, such as human trafficking, smuggling and cybercrime. We must tackle corruption; and we must fight terrorism and counter radicalisation- all the while guaranteeing fundamental rights and values, including procedural rights and the protection of personal data.”

As Commission President, Mr Juncker has maintained security as a top priority.

The Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy enables the EU to take a leading role in peacekeeping operations, conflict prevention and in the strengthening of international security. It is an integral part of the EU’s comprehensive approach to crisis management, drawing on civilian and military assets.

The security agenda is a very broad one and is about member states collaborating collectively… without prejudice to the specific character of security and defence policy of individual states.

Given the enhanced focus on security and defence issues, Fine Gael MEPs produced a discussion document, ‘Ireland and the EU: Defending our Common European Home’ in an effort to provide food for thought and debate on our place in the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy evolution.

It might be too much to expect the CSDP (Common Security and Defence Policy) to gain the same traction and debate as the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), but we believe an informed debate is important and we hope our document can be the basis for discussion and reflection.

Food security is also important and cannot be allowed to slip from the radar. Climate change and weather patterns such as heat waves, droughts, floods all have an impact.

And energy security is also an issue.

We need to have the right balance between policy priorities and be prepared to fund them appropriately.

Security and defence is part of the debate on the future of the EU. Its prominence has risen on the EU political agenda for many reasons – not least, against a background of terrorist attacks in Manchester, London, Paris, Barcelona, Brussels, Nice and Berlin.

Citizens are concerned about security.

A Eurobarometer study in June 2017 found:

  • Europeans consider challenges to the internal security of the EU as important, particularly terrorism (95%) and organised crime (93%) cybercrime (87%).
  • In Ireland, 96% think that terrorism is an important challenge to the internal security of the EU, followed by cybercrime 68% and the EU’s external borders 59%.
  • Irish people are above the EU average (51%) as 59% of Irish people think the EU’s external borders represent a challenge to security.

There is a growing view that the EU must take ownership and control of its own security and defence needs – not least because those whom we have come to rely on in the past, not least the US, are less reliable.

Brexit has also played a part in strengthening the focus on security and defence. The UK – a significant player in terms of security and defence – has been reluctant for the EU to cooperate in this field, preferring to operate via NATO or on a bilateral or multilateral basis, outside EU structures.

With Brexit on the horizon, the EU is doing more work in this area, no longer dealing with a reluctant UK.

But Brexit may also impact on our security in the EU and in the UK.

There are warnings from the UK side that the EU should not gamble with the security of the region by refusing to yield to Britain’s demands for post-Brexit police and counter-terrorism cooperation.

The UK wants to retain the status quo when it comes to access to the European Arrest Warrant and the European Criminal Records Information System. The EU does want close cooperation with the UK in this area and finding a way to do this post-Brexit poses challenges.

Geo-political landscape and challenges

There are also significant changes to the geo-political landscape. The recent NATO summit was dramatic as US President Donald Trump ratcheted up the pressure on NATO members to increase spending on defence.

The Trump approach to many big challenges, of undermining the global rules-based order of which the EU forms a key part, is a cause for concern.

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 – to solve problems, address challenges, resolve conflicts and promote EU values.

In trade, too, Trump has undermined the WTO and threatened his allies. At the WTO, the US has been vetoing the appointment of new judges to the organisation’s Appellate Body, slowing down the handling of trade disputes, and potentially halting it altogether. When the next judge retires in September, the Appellate Body will no longer be quorate.

He has imposed a 25% tariff on steel and 15% on aluminium imports to the US – initially but only temporarily exempting Canada, Mexico and the EU.

In response to Trump’s decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and to impose tariffs on steel and aluminium, Donald Tusk tweeted:

“Looking at latest decisions of @realDonaldTrump someone could even think: with friends like that who needs enemies. But frankly, EU should be grateful. Thanks to him we got rid of all illusions. We realise that if you need a helping hand, you will find one at the end of your arm.”

Threat of Russia

In the UK, there has been the Novichok poisoning of a former Russian agent and more recently an innocent member of the public.

Russian aggression in Georgia and Ukraine over the past years has been responded to by sanctions imposed by the EU.

The Baltic States are increasingly fearful for their security.

Our geography provides us with the luxury of distance from many of the immediate 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 more detached view of things.


The Austrian Presidency’s focus on ‘A Europe that protects’ is prioritising the fight against illegal migration.

The Austrian Government is determined to solve the migration question – focusing on securing the EU’s external border and strictly adhering to the rules on return.

Securing the external borders is a priority to stop illegal or economic migration and to protect against threats to the Schengen system and a return to internal borders in the EU.

The new Italian Government has demanded that other EU countries take the pressure off Italy and take action on returning people, who are economic migrants or are unsuccessful in their asylum applications, to their country of origin.

Despite the fact that the number of people coming into the EU has declined significantly, the issue of migration has not gone away.

The numbers arriving by sea last year, 2017, were less than half as many as the previous year.

Migration will continue to put pressure on the EU because of the political failure to find a solution which does not see one or two countries carrying the burden.

It is also a policy priority for funding, with plans to expand the border agency, Frontex.

Trust Fund for Africa

The EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa aims to assist in creating stability and addressing the root causes of irregular migration including open conflict, forced displacement, irregular migration, criminal activities and lawlessness, smuggling of migrants and trafficking in human beings, radicalisation and violent extremism.

The Trust Fund focuses on:

  • Economic development programmes addressing skills gaps, and improving employability through vocational training, and supporting job creation and self-employment opportunities with a focus on strengthening micro, small and medium size enterprises (MSMEs)
  • Strengthening resilience for improved food and nutrition security, in particular for the most vulnerable, as well as refugees and IDPs (internally displaced persons)
  • Improving migration governance and management, including addressing the drivers of irregular migration, effective return, readmission and reintegration, international protection and asylum, legal migration and mobility, and enhancing synergies between migration and development
  • Supporting improvements in overall governance, in particular by promoting conflict prevention, addressing human rights abuses and enforcing the rule of law.


Permanent Structured Cooperation – PESCO – allows for defence cooperation amongst those member states who wish to take part. It is opt-in, in terms of the framework – but also each individual project in PESCO requires member states to choose to participate.

Ireland has chosen to participate in two projects – which will help our Defence Forces get the best training, and help our island protect its seas.

  1. European Union Training Mission Competence Centre (EU TMCC) with Germany, Belgium, Czech Republic, Spain, France, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, Romania and Sweden
  2. Upgrade of Maritime Surveillance with Greece, Bulgaria, Spain, Croatia, Italy and Cyprus.

The EU has a fund for member states to coordinate, supplement and amplify national investments in defence research – to allow member states spend money more efficiently. This European Defence Fund is open to all member states.

Fine Gael discussion document

Our document entitled ‘Ireland and the EU: Defending our Common European Home’ outlines the complex threats facing Ireland including cyber security, international terrorism, people smuggling, energy security and organised crime.

The paper calls for closer cooperation with the EU on defence matters, where possible. Ireland should not only support the emerging European Defence Union, but also seek to shape it according to our needs and traditions.

We are very clear that we do not support the creation of an EU army.

We believe that Ireland can do more in collaboration with our EU partners in the area of security and defence.

We need an outcome to this debate 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. The document proposes a set of recommendations including:

  • Amending Ireland’s ‘triple lock’ system
  • Supporting the emerging EU Defence Union
  • Redefining neutrality
  • Developing a National Security Council
  • Creating a Central Intelligence Unit
  • Spending more on defence, both current and capital
  • Developing Ireland’s defence industry
  • Assessing the implications of Brexit for our security and defence policy
  • Continuing our strong commitment to peacekeeping and crisis management operations
  • Establishing a cohesive National Cyber Security Strategy

Our document provides the blueprint for Ireland to take a new approach to the security of our country and to harness the benefits of cooperating more closely with our EU partners.

Irish spending on defence is the lowest in the EU, at 0.3% of GDP, according to the World Bank.

Our Defence Forces deserve the best equipment, training and upgraded platforms.

In the European Parliament some months back, our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said, “A Europe worth building is a Europe worth defending.”

The 21st century threats from cyber terrorism, cyber attacks, international terrorism, uncontrolled mass migration, natural disasters, and drug and human trafficking require the engagement of all EU member states.

Ireland also has a proud history of military neutrality, participation in UN peacekeeping operations, EU Common Security and Defence Policy operations and non-membership of NATO. And we participate in PESCO in ways that are consistent with those traditions.

It’s time to reflect on the level of absolute and relative funding necessary to sustain Ireland’s engagements at home and abroad. The EU’s ability to provide joint planning and procurement, the pooling and sharing of equipment and joint maintenance programmes can be of significant benefit to our Defence Forces.

EU action in security and defence is simply about working together, where it is beneficial for individual member states and the whole Union.

There is no question of overriding our sovereign wishes.

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.

And despite a low level of debate about security and defence policy, the European Movement Ireland’s 2018 poll on Ireland in the EU found that 59% agreed that Ireland should be part of increased EU defence and security cooperation, with 33% disagreeing and 8% don’t knows.

In this respect, the public may be ahead of the politicians.


In our discussion document, we call for a reflection on our understanding of neutrality, mindful that other non-aligned member states, Sweden and Finland are now seeking more defence integration among Nordic countries. They also strongly support the EU’s security and defence agenda.

We ask if the term ‘independent Non-Nuclear Defence’ may be a more apt description of our position. That is, we are open to active engagement in international security operations, but we are non-aligned militarily.

Triple Lock

This refers to the need for a UN authorisation, a government decision and a Dáil vote before Irish troops can be deployed on peacekeeping missions.

The UN authorisation (self-imposed) means that a permanent member of the UN Security Council can ultimately veto a decision of government and the Dáil in the deployment of peacekeepers.

We propose a number of possible modifications, including changing the UN authorisation part of the triple lock to ‘UN authorisation or EU Council decision’.

An example of where we were impeded by the UN authorisation arose in the case of the EU peacekeeping mission to FYR Macedonia (FYRM) in 2003, when the UN could not agree to authorisation.

Religion and Foreign Policy

And finally, a word about religion in foreign policy – and my role as Vice-President with responsibility for dialogue with religious and non-confessional organisations as set out in Article 17 of the TFEU.

Religion is very much back on the agenda at the European Commission and the EU’s External Action Service – both in words and actions on the ground.

The attacks of September 11 demonstrated to the world the need to pay attention to the potency of religion as a force in global affairs.

The US found out to its cost the error of paying insufficient attention to religion as a force in world affairs and monitoring the emerging trends. Efforts from the mid-seventies to study the phenomenon of the religious schools in Iran were dismissed by the CIA as “sociology” with no bearing on global politics. The subsequent emergence of a Shi’a Islamic state at the end of the 1970s therefore caught them completely off-guard.

In her book ‘The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs’, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote:

“To lead internationally, American policy-makers must learn as much as possible about religion, and then incorporate that knowledge in their strategies.”

Over the past decade references to religious issues have multiplied in the President’s annual National Security Strategy.

The EU did not seriously consider religion and its implications for foreign and security policy until relatively recently.

Religion remains a very potent force. Repeated surveys have demonstrated that religious sentiment is a growing phenomenon and over two thirds of the world’s population identify as religious. For many of these people, religion is a strong source of their own identity – frequently one which surpasses national or ethnic identity. Such a powerful identifier can be used to rally people around precise causes or actions, with effects that are potentially both positive and negative.

The EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, ensures that the EU works closely with the United Nations, the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Arab League and the African Union to combat violent extremism and tackle the causes of Islamic radicalisation.

Studies show that religion and religious identity are on the rise globally.

Religious actors are more and more seen as potential partners in dealing with challenges from climate change to corruption.


A strong more cohesive Europe in a more turbulent world will not be built on a strong security and defence policy alone – nor can it be built without it.

There are many internal issues to be resolved between member states on the way forward for the EU27.

A Europe that tries to seal its external border and look inwards will fail. That is why the focus on assistance for our neighbours on the African continent is important and must be strengthened – it is in our interests to reduce the push factors on migration. But Europe should also be leading this work as a defender of human rights and because it is the right thing to do.

What must not happen is that the focus on security and defence policy comes at the expense of other EU policy areas – like cohesion and agriculture.

This would be unhelpful in framing a proper policy balance to secure the future of Europe and would lead to conflicts within the EU itself.

Which brings me to the question of money and the future of the EU budget post-2020, when/(if) the UK has left the EU.

New policy areas or increased focus on such will require new budgetary resources.

Thus far, there are some member states, including Ireland, willing to contribute more to the EU budget to fund common policies; and others who are less willing.

This debate will continue over the coming months. It should be resolved before elections to the European Parliament in May of next year, but it requires a change of mind and an opening of the purse strings in some member states.