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Interview with Professor Adrian Pop: “The EU has a long way to go in order to capitalize on the vast opportunities provided by the coronavirus pandemic for strengthening its position as a global player”
In an unstable geopolitical environment, with the international landscape marked by growing tensions, the reformation process of the European Union after Brexit cannot ignore the way the Member States seek to relate themselves to the security and defence dimension. While confronted with multiple threats and crises, the EU has managed to come in support of the member states that were significantly affected and confronted with domestic tensions and turmoil.

Adrian Pop, Professor of International Relations with the Faculty of Political Sciences at the National University of Political Science and Public Administration, offered an insight into the prospects of crises management in relation to the challenges to EU Security and Defence, in the interview he gave to Geostrategic Pulse Magazine.

Geostrategic Pulse: Professor Adrian Pop, crises management is crucial to ensuring the resilience of the EU. The ability to respond to domestic and foreign threats and challenges represents a major dimension of the EU’s strive to play a significant global role. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you assess the EU's preparedness and readiness to respond to new challenges and threats?

Adrian Pop: The COVID-19 pandemic crisis has confirmed the need for policies which are centred on strengthening EU resilience. Cultivating a forward-looking approach, capable of anticipating threats and challenges is in tune with the current European Commission focus on facilitating the green, digital, and fair transitions, as evinced by the setting up of four tightly inter-connected Vice-Presidencies: one for the European Green Deal; one for a Europe fit to the Digital Age; one for an Economy that Works for the People; and another one for Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight. Strategic foresight is expected to help us better understand these transitions and actively shape the world we want to leave in. The underlying logic of these EU institutional novelties is based on the need to develop a sustainable strategy as a tool to address not only the unresolved problems accumulated over the previous decades, but above all as a condition to face the arising new problems, related to the many unfolding and inter-related crises ahead of us. One may consider demographic changes (linked both to the aging of population, the birth rate drops of several European countries and the subsequent shortage of workforce), social changes (including the many transformations requiring a new understanding of the welfare state), geopolitical changes (which point to the redistribution of global power relations and the role played by Europe), technological changes, climatic and environmental crises, changes in the labor and energy markets. Each of these changes represents an important challenge and none of them can be dismissed as secondary. The problem behind the afore-mentioned changes (and many others that could not be mentioned) is that they are all maturing at the same time. That is why, a comprehensive long-term strategy is badly needed. The 2020 Strategic Foresight Report, the first annual Strategic Foresight Report of the European Commission, is the initial step in the right direction, providing a structural analysis of the EU’s resilience along four dimensions: (i) social and economic; (ii) geopolitical; (iii) green; and (iv) digital. Building on in-house resources (especially the Joint Research Centre, the European Commission’s science and knowledge service), external expertise and cooperation with Member States, other key stakeholders and citizens, the current Commission is intent to expand its strategic foresight capacities to assess risks and opportunities and to promote early warning and situational awareness.

To what extent have the current European mechanisms enabled cooperation, coordination and a rapid response? Have the actions taken by the EU contributed to reducing the consequences of the economic and social crises in the Member States?

After an uneasy start, the EU and its Member States pulled together to deal with the crisis. Initial competition for scarce medical resources and unilateral actions by Member States in the single market and Schengen Area quickly evolved into improved cooperation and coordination, facilitated by the European Commission. The EU devised innovative solutions and demonstrated its resilience capacities. EU manufacturers and 3D printing companies swiftly adapted their production lines to produce facemasks, ventilators and hand sanitizers. The Commission established the first-ever common strategic reserve of medical equipment as part of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism (rescEU) and helped facilitate more than 350 flights to bring stranded EU citizens back home. After initial border restrictions resulting in supply bottlenecks, the Commission implemented and coordinated the green lanes allowing freight transport to move unhindered. Distance learning was established to compensate for closed schools and universities. Companies and administrations shifted to teleworking where possible. Consumers turned to e-commerce and home deliveries. Member States put in place safety nets to protect firms and workers during the confinement measures. Between April and May 2020, the Commission adopted a safety net package and issued country-specific recommendations under the European Semester that applied maximum flexibility to accommodate this extraordinary situation. It also put forward a coordinated strategy to lift confinement measures and a comprehensive recovery plan. Therefore, the pandemic has also underlined Europe’s capacity to act in the face of adversity.

Faced with an unprecedented health crisis and as a consequence of their unpreparedness, several governments in the Northern hemisphere in particular have implemented exceptional crisis management measures. More than 3 billion people have been subjected to partial or total lockdown. The sudden, rapid slowdown of the global economy, disruption of production and supply chains, political turmoil, unemployment, job insecurity and eruptive social climate leading to violent protests are just some of the repercussions of the exceptional crisis measures taken in the previous months, which we are currently experiencing. Mass lockdown is a strategy that will probably not be repeated; health strategies that will range from localized lockdowns to a “live and let die” approach will be promoted instead. National crisis management units should therefore integrate wider economic and social measures into their action plans.

On a global level, what measures has the EU adopted to help vulnerable regions and communities?

The EU has launched its ”Team Europe” package to support partner countries in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences. Combining financial resources of almost 36 billion euros from the EU, its Member States, and financial institutions, in particular the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), the package has been primarily directed towards those regions and communities which were affected by the pandemic the most.

What can you tell us about the EU’s Security Strategy (2020-2025)? What is its main paradigm, and how does it ensure the cohesion of the new security ecosystem?

The distinctiveness of the EU Security Union Strategy, covering the period 2020-2025, is its comprehensive approach to security as well as its focus on the EU added value in this sector. It defines strategic priorities and the corresponding actions to address security risks in both the physical and digital domains in an integrated manner, concentrating on where the EU can make the difference. It underlines the need for an EU with a critical mass of industry, technology production and supply chain resilience. Conceiving security as a shared responsibility, it lays the foundations for a security ecosystem that covers the whole European society. It is at the same time an early detection, prevention and rapid response to crises strategy, a performance-driven strategy, targeting concrete results, and a whole-of-society strategy, linking key players in both the public and private sectors in a common endeavour.

To what extent has the EU succeeded to strengthen, during this period, its position as a global player? On a medium and long term, can the humanitarian aid provided by the EU create the necessary premises for an increase in the diplomatic and economic relations with countries in Africa and Asia?

Humanitarian crises have steadily increased in complexity and severity in recent years. Conflict remained the main driver of humanitarian needs, while natural disasters and the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated emergency aid. A significant proportion of this went on supporting conflict-affected populations inside Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries and regions. The EU has also continued to be a leading donor in other parts of the world, with Africa continuing to account for a large share of funding. The EU Civil Protection Mechanism (rescEU) for international assistance was activated several times. However, the EU has a long way to go in order to capitalize on the vast opportunities provided by the coronavirus pandemic for strengthening its position as a global player.

Prevention, preparedness and global response to crises, especially on a regional and global level, require close coordination with United Nations and World Bank, among other relevant bodies. What can you tell us in this respect?

Large-scale humanitarian crises are very likely in Africa, India and neighbouring countries, as well as in South America. The danger of additional (climate, agricultural, political or military) crises in certain states or regions is also high. Global solidarity is likely to be a challenge due to the perceived need to dedicate resources to rebuild at home and deal with the consequences of these crises. Therefore, the EU should lead the way in promoting multilateralism within relevant organizations in the UN system, building on success stories of the past, such as the adoption of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were tangible manifestations of the capacity of the international community to formulate visions of a brighter future.

The EU is facing complex and, to some extent unprecedented, challenges. That given, to what extent is and will the Union be able to focus on its neighbourhood and enlargement priorities/ objectives?

The effort put on tackling these challenges in order for the EU to emerge stronger and more resilient from the current coronavirus crisis will likely divert some energy required for implementing both its neighbourhood and enlargement priorities. However, as it is testified by the recent Communication on the EU Enlargement Policy and the 2020 Enlargement Package, the Commission is intent to continue keeping the enlargement objectives on its agenda.

The increased use of online instruments to ensure the continuation of activities during the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized the pressing issue of internet security. How is this challenge tackled by the new European security strategy?  

Digital infrastructures are an increasingly crucial segment of critical infrastructures, on the protection of which our way of life depends. The EU Security Union Strategy provides a thorough framework for reflection on how our digital dependency and the increased exposure to cyber-attacks and cybercrime activities are affecting our world. The Network and Information Systems Directive, which is the main European cybersecurity legislation, is currently under review. Making sure that the existing EU rules against cybercrime are thoroughly implemented, the European Commission has also put forward a strategy for a more effective fight against child sexual abuse online, and is intent to explore measures meant to counter identity theft and to enhance law enforcement capacity in digital investigations. Moreover, the Commission has also identified the need for a Joint Cyber Unit as a platform for structured and coordinated cooperation.

NB. Adrian Pop is Professor of International Relations with the Faculty of Political Sciences at the National University of Political Science and Public Administration (NUPSPA) in Bucharest, a Ph.D. supervisor of theses in Political Science at the Doctoral School of NUPSA, Chair of the Romania Node of The Millennium Project, and Director of the Centre for Regional and Global Studies within the Romanian Scientific Society for Interdisciplinary Research. He has participated as coordinator or member in numerous research projects under the aegis of various international organizations, institutions, institutes, research centres and foundations in Europe and America, including the European Union (European Social Fund), the European Commission (DG for Education and Culture), the International Organization for Migration, the European Parliament.