Far away or close to home: crisis management in Europe

Monday, 4. May 2009     0 comment(s)
Tuulia Nieminen

Crises are a field where many international organisations feel particularly well-suited to act in. Some, such as humanitarian aid organisations, exist solely for that purpose; others jump at almost any crisis. The EU seems to belong to the latter category: on the external relations front, the past ten years have been characterised by crisis management operations more than by anything else (enlargement falling into a category of its own). The upcoming Swedish EU presidency is including crisis management in its programme, too, though not just the external operations we are used to.

A clear shift seems to be taking place: crises in which the Union’s help is now seen as most needed are increasingly internal rather than external. The Union should act on all crises inside its borders, but make “pick and choose” policy outside its borders, suggest some analysts and policy-makers.

Internal crisis management, an embryo since southern European forest fires in 2007, is a central crisis management issue on the agenda of the Swedish EU presidency. This certainly would be a step forward in the integration process: member states letting other member states and “Brussels” interfere at a moment when they are at their most vulnerable. Would we be willing to let Brussels take charge in a food hygiene scare? Or at the time of a pandemic? How far reaching could the crisis management be? Information-sharing surely is acceptable, but how about joint resources? Many Europeans are satisfied with their national crisis management structures, so even though there are clear advantages of shared management of cross-border crises, it is not self-evident that everybody would see the change as one for the better. The external crisis management has been a safe option in the sense that there has not been even a theoretical possibility that the operations would touch the lives of large numbers of Europeans directly. Internal crisis management would potentially be the exact opposite. Are we ready for that?

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