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Opinion. Societal security scholar: coordination is no longer enough for societal security in the Baltic region!

During the Baltic Leadership Programme Alumni conference in Riga in November 2018, PA Secure sat down with Dr Magnus Ekengren, Professor of Political Science at the Swedish Defence University and visiting professor at the College of Europe, Bruges, Belgium to talk about societal security in the Baltic Sea region. During the interview, he answered questions about present and future of cooperation in this field in the Baltic Sea region. Dr Ekengren outlined his suggestions on the role of Policy Area Secure in the EUSBSR and challenged traditional views on “voluntary” coordination. Dr Ekengren also answered the “10 million EUR” question and gave his definition of the common societal security culture. Below is the short summary of our conversation.

PA Secure: Professor, what is the societal security landscape in the BSR today? 

Dr Ekengren: Threats to societal security have for a long time been transboundary, that means that they cross geographical, administrative and legal boundaries. That also means that they cannot be handled by any individual nation-state alone. As an answer the Baltic Sea states have developed intergovernmental cooperation for regional risk mapping, practical coordination and networks for preparedness. Today we live in a changed security landscape. The challenge is that a transboundary crisis in the region can spread instantaneously between our increasingly interconnected societies. This has made intergovernmental coordination insufficient in many sectors.  A cyber incident, critical infrastructure disruption or infectious disease in one state can spread immediately to neighbours with devastating effects. This makes voluntary regional coordination – which often takes time and results in uncertain compliance – inefficient.
To manage today’s threats there is a need for binding minimum levels of security, obligations to alert neighbours, joint capacities and operations, and common communications and safety systems. Intergovernmental coordination is no longer enough for the Baltic region’s societal security. The problem is that governments hesitate to delegate the necessary competencies and means to international organisations for effective transboundary societal security. The challenge for the leadership and expertise of the European Union (EU), the CBSS, the Nordic cooperation, and the UN is to convince member states of the need to take the step from voluntary based cooperation to a more integrative approach.

PA Secure: Considering the “3 NOs” rule in the EUSBSR (no new legislation, no new funding, no new institutions), how can PA Secure contribute to such an integrative approach?

Dr Ekengren: The EU has internally taken important steps in delivering results in this integrative direction that can inspire also the EU’s Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) and its PA Secure. Some EU examples:

Terrorism and violent extremism
There is within Europol now a counter-terrorist Centre and intelligence system for the mapping of terrorist financing. The aim of EU Internet Forum is to remove terrorist content online before it reaches internet users. The EUSBSR and PA Secure could work as a pilot area for testing more harmonized law in the field and increased sharing of intelligence. The EUSBSR could establish counter-terrorist guidelines that can be implemented through national action plans.

 Organised crime
The EU’s action extends from crime prevention to law enforcement and is based on tools such as legislative measures harmonizing rules concerning offences in relation to a criminal organization. The EU has a common definition of organised crime and the goal that this crime should be formulated in the same way in all member states. To address trafficking in human beings the EU has put in place a comprehensive, gender-specific and victim-centred legal and policy framework. The Commission has proposed new rules for tougher action against criminals responsible for child sexual abuse and trafficking, as well as better assistance for victims. The EU’s responses to cyber crimes include cross-border cyber-investigations and legislative measures. There is a European Cybercrime Centre within Europol. The EUSBSR could work more closely with the on-going EU policies and agencies, including the European Public Prosecutor’s Office for the prevention of organized crime and the prosecution of criminal cases affecting the EU budget.

Information and cyber security
The EU supports the strengthening of Europe’s systems for cyber resilience. The European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) is responsible for prevention in the field of IT-security and helps to draft EU policy and law on network and information security. The Union has also established a network for cooperation on cybersecurity incidents. The EUSBSR and its member states should promote the raising of the EU’s minimum levels of national cybersecurity to avoid that attackers target the ”weakest link” in the chain of common European nets.

Threats to energy supply
One goal of the EU’s Energy Union is to safeguard Europe’s electricity supply through efficient production and an internal market for energy. The EUSBSR could support a stronger role for EU rules and the EU-Commission in the sector to avoid today’s fragmented market and to secure energy supply.

Threats to transport and infrastructure
The Union is responsible for safe sea transports and emissions monitoring (CO2 and oil) and issues recommendations for air safety. The Union is also working on a common program for the protection of critical infrastructure. The EUSBSR should contribute to the work of establishing European minimum levels of air traffic safety (which were missing during the ash cloud crisis in 2010 that caused chaos in the traffic over Europe).

Health security
The EU has developed the common law in the area of health security, e.g. obligation to inform other member states in case of health threats and risk of the spread of infectious disease and epidemics. The Commission is responsible for surveillance systems for epidemics and pandemics. The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC. Based in Solna/Stockholm) coordinates the EU member states’ operations in transboundary pandemics. The EUSBSR should work closely with ECDC and its member states could help to promote the strengthening of the legal basis of this cooperation and a more efficient division of labour between the Centre and the member states. To strengthen cross-sectorial coordination, the EUSBSR could be closer associated with the Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) within the European Commission. It could also establish links to the EU’s Integrated Political Crisis Response Arrangements (IPCR) for political strategic coordination in Brussels.

PA Secure: Many people in the Baltic Sea Region are not aware of the positive results of international cooperation on societal security (except, perhaps, the recent forest fires).  How can we change this situation?

Dr Ekengren: The forest fires in Sweden in 2018 showed that the EU’s assistance is crucial for efficient crisis management in today’s new security landscape characterised by transboundary threats such as climate change. The Union’s action was the single largest European civil protection operation for forest fires in terms of deployment of staff. Over 360 fire-fighting personnel, 7 planes, 6 helicopters and 67 vehicles were mobilized through the European Civil Protection Mechanism. The EU’s help raised the Swedish public’s awareness of the need for more EU cooperation in general and security and safety resources in particular. There is now an urgent need to conduct continuous awareness raising campaigns. We need to avoid a situation when positive results of international cooperation are only recognised during and after a major crisis has taken place.  It should no longer be accepted that a crisis of this magnitude has to happen before the governments are ready to give the international organisation (EU) the powers and means it needs for effective crisis management. To avoid future losses of lives and property, and secure democratic and societal values, we should prepare international capacities before the next big crisis!  The new RescEU project is a step in the right direction in its proposal of EU owned and financed resources in the form of aeroplanes etc.

PA Secure: If you had 10 million EUR to finance a project on societal security – what would you spend your money on?

Dr Ekengren: One way forward to avoid today’s political, ad-hoc, and crisis-driven creation of international/Baltic societal security capacities is to let research and practical expertise lead the way in the building of effective resources before the crisis.  If I had 10 million EUR to finance a project on societal security I should use it for research that deepens our understanding of new transboundary threats and explains how we should build international capacities to meet these. Research that can help our leaders to go from a reactive to a proactive approach in the field.
Of particular interest would be to investigate to what extent crisis management in Europe and the Baltic Sea region should be conducted collectively or as isolated efforts. What is the most effective balance between central EU/International institutions and resources and national/regional, local ones?  Where, when, and how does EU/CBSS cooperation provide the most added value for member states and European security? There is a need for analytical tools for evaluating in relation to what threats, in which forms, and in which policy sectors and phases of crisis management EU/CBSS cooperation is most effective and legitimate.

PA Secure: What does “common societal security culture” mean to you? Is it important? How can we achieve it?

Dr Ekengren: A stronger emphasis on societal security through European solidarity, effective supranational solutions, and macro-regional cooperation can help the EU to regain the world leadership in building security. To point out the necessity of cooperation for effective societal security is not least of great importance at a time when the Union and international cooperation is strongly questioned in many countries. Perhaps in the future a new societal security community can be defined as: “Societal security community is a group of people that is integrated to the point where it is taken for granted that the members of that community will assist each other in the protection of the democratic institutions and the civilian population – the vital functions of their governments and societies”. It is in the light of such a community EUSBSR, CBSS and other international institutions now need to develop solidarity and capacities together with the rest of Europe.

Disclaimer: the views, information, or opinions expressed in the interviews published on  are solely those of the individuals interviewed and do not necessarily represent those of the PA Secure, the CBSS Secretariat and its employees.