Europe Must Battle for the 'Public Goods'

"European Voice", 2-8 June 2005 (Vol. 11, No. 21, p. 9)



The European Security Strategy, adopted in December 2003, is the first strategic document ever of the EU: a milestone, not only for the CFSP/ESDP, but for external action as a whole. Its success is however not guaranteed: the choices made must be translated into specific policies, and those must be effectively and efficiently implemented in order to realise the vision of the EU as a powerful international actor put forward in the Strategy. In all events, the Strategy cannot be ignored, even if those opposed to a strong international role for the EU would prefer to lock it into the dusty drawer of unachievable European ambitions - and present the key to NATO for safekeeping. Choices have been rubberstamped by the unanimous heads of State and government; Member States, EU officials and other actors constantly refer to the Strategy - an initiative based on the Strategy can difficultly be refused.


I submit that the Strategy can be the conceptual basis for a comprehensive approach that integrates all dimensions of external action, including the politico-military or 'hard' security field, under the same agenda of 'effective multilateralism' or global governance. This agenda can be operationalized by translating it into the core public goods to which every individual on this earth is entitled:


The keyword in a policy based on the provision of the core public goods is integration. Because the core public goods can only be fully enjoyed if one has access to them all, action must be undertaken simultaneously and in a coordinated fashion in all fields of external policy, putting to use all instruments, including trade, development, environmental policy, police, intelligence and legal cooperation, diplomacy, and security and defence.


Such a policy emphasizes structural conflict prevention. This presents a formidable challenge: it implies dealing with more issues, at an earlier stage, before they become security threats. Effective prevention demands a proactive stance, aiming to change circumstances that induce instability and conflict. A policy oriented on public goods will thus in fact be quite intrusive. But as it is in their very nature that pursuing public goods is in the mutual interest of all, it is at the same time a very positive approach, contrary to other, threat-based strategies. 'For whom' rather than 'against whom' is the question that determines policy. The sincere pursuit of public goods will bring greatly enhanced legitimacy.


A public goods-oriented policy implies multilateralism: an intricate web of States, regimes, treaties and organizations, i.e. multi-level governance, implicating all levels of authority in a coordinated effort to improve people's access to the core public goods. Although in the spirit of human security the individual is taken as point of reference, the State remains a primary partner, for no effective arrangements can be made with weak and failed States. Third States must be seen as partners for cooperation rather than as mere subjects of EU policies; the aim is to influence rather than to coerce, to use the carrot rather than the stick. There will be cases where the use of force is inevitable, for not all actors are amenable to preventive initiatives and security threats will arise. But in the framework of multilateralism, the use of force can only be a measure of last resort to be mandated by the Security Council. In those cases, the legitimacy acquired through the pursuit of public goods can be capitalized upon.


Promoting everyone's access to the basic public goods can thus constitute the essence of a distinctive European approach emphasizing long-term stabilisation and conflict prevention.



Prof. Dr. Sven Biscop is senior research fellow in the Royal Institute for International Relations (IRRI-KIIB) in Brussels and professor of European security at Ghent University.


His book, The European Security Strategy - A Global Agenda for Positive Power, was published by Ashgate (Aldershot, 2005, 166 pp., ISBN 0 7546 4469 3),