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'An EU security force could have helped Syria'

22 Jul 2013, 09:15

Published: 22 Jul 2013 09:15 GMT+02:00

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The debate about Sweden’s defence has intensified lately. Despite our lack of membership, Sweden recently hosted a Nato conference to discuss strategic issues. Sweden’s Supreme Commander Sverker Göransson made his view clear that Sweden’s ability to defend itself will successively degrade if we do not take part in Nato’s rapid response forces.

When Russian fighter jets flew over Sweden at Easter, our planes stood still in their hangars, while Nato responded within the blink of an eye. It became obvious that Sweden is not capable of handling that type of defence threat. Yet, as a non-member of Nato, Sweden cannot rely on Nato action or assume that Nato will come to our defence, which the treaty alliance’s Secretary General Anders Fogh-Rasmussen made very clear to us at the start of the year.

That is reason enough for the government to immediately order a review of how Sweden can make preparations to join Nato.

Within the EU, meanwhile, such a review is looking at increased coordination of the member countries’ defence resources. Prime ministers and heads of government across the union will be expected to make decisions in this matter later this year. More and more people have begun to realize that the EU must strengthen its cooperation in several areas, in order to remain a strong actor in an ever-more globalized world.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has very clearly said there is a need for a future political union with an elected union president and a seat for the EU on the UN Security Council. French President Francois Holland has proposed a new strategy to coordinate foreign and defence policy, which includes a common union defence. Sweden’s former Supreme Commander Håkan Syrén has said that in the next ten years, member states should come to the agreement to dedicate a fourth of their national defence budgets to a common defence.

Last autumn, eleven EU foreign ministers presented a joint report in which they argued that European cooperation has to become more in depth in order to meet the challenges ahead in a globalized world. They outlined the benefits of strengthened military cooperation.

In the long term, they want to create a common European defence. It is regrettable that we do not find the name of Sweden’s foreign minister among this group of eleven visionaries. I ask myself the question why?

I am convinced that a strong common defence is decisive in strengthening the EU’s military and global security role in the future. Our 28 member states cooperating more in depth and complementing each other would lead to a more responsible defence budget and a more effective defence policy.

Despite no EU country today feeling that they are at direct military threat, a large share of their defence budgets does goes to maintaining and upgrading equipment. If countries instead specialize and the EU has a clear division of military responsibilities between its members – pooling and sharing in military parlance – all countries would get more bang for their buck, as well as being able to prioritize in a more rational way with an eye on effectiveness.

The EU should also, in the long term, build up its leadership potential in order to be able to take on international missions independently of Nato’s engagements. This would considerably strengthen the common foreign and security policy.

The discussions concerning the EU must continue and a substantial contribution to that debate is found in Birger Möller’s new book What is the EU and What Can It Be? I agree with him that it is time for Swedish politicians to lift their gaze and start pondering our role in Europe and our role in the world, and what it will look like the years to come. The world is changing, globalization poses great challenges both for our country and our continent.

If we are serious about belonging to the core of Europe, it’s high time for the next step in strengthening EU cooperation. It is the only way we can take part in shaping the EU of tomorrow, and in that way strengthen our influence and our role in the world.

The EU already has a shared foreign administration, the European External Action Service (EEAS), which today mostly focuses on peace-keeping missions as well as trying to share the union’s values regarding human rights, an independent judiciary, and democracy.

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The war in Syria, however, is a sad testament to how the EU today cannot do anything concrete to intervene and put a stop to the mass slaughter that is taking place. I argue that we must change this in the years to come, so that the EU takes greater responsibility for peace and security in the world than it does today.

In order to achieve this, the EU must have a shared stance on security and foreign intervention, and that demands more in depth cooperation about what we want out from our foreign and security policy.

It is clear that the European Parliament elections next year will be make-or-break the future of the EU. We must realize that the time of the sovereign national state is over. We have to dare to admit that Sweden is dependent on the rest of Europe and that we have everything to gain from more in depth cooperation, also when it comes to security and defence.

I am convinced that a more in depth cooperation with our Nordic and European friends will guarantee both security and an effective defence.

Swedish Liberal Party MEP Cecilia Wikström.

This op-ed was originally published in Swedish in the Upsala Nya Tidning newspaper.

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