The European Union as a Security Actor: Security Provision through Enlargement

By Stefanova, Boyka | World Affairs, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

The European Union as a Security Actor: Security Provision through Enlargement


Stefanova, Boyka, World Affairs


It cannot be repeated often enough: the raison d'etre of the European project is to maintain stability, peace, and prosperity in Europe.

--Erik Holm (1)

The history of the European Union (EU) represents an intriguing security paradox. European integration was born out of the destruction of World War II. Its main rationale was to prevent the recurrence of conflict and devastation in Western Europe, although such objectives were never explicitly stated. Throughout the period of the cold war, regional integration unfolded as an evolutionary process of expansion across an increasing number of issue areas and participating countries. It successfully performed security functions without a formally defined security purpose. The true success of European integration was measured in economic growth, social welfare, and positive security dynamics among former adversaries in the regional system. The geopolitical position of Western Europe was significantly reinforced.

During the post--cold war era, under conditions of decreased direct military threats, the European Union (EU) (2) for the first time formulated a security interest, developed decision-making procedures, and created an institutionalized security domain. It continued to increase its stake in European security by extending an area of freedom, security, and justice in Europe. (3) The continued consolidation of the security position of the union throughout the 1990s was closely related to the historic reunification of the European continent and the democratization of Eastern Europe. By 1996, ten Central and East European countries (CEECs) had applied for EU membership. Enlargement to the east became the true modus operandi of integration--a meeting place of its goals for institutional expansion, the democratic transformation of Eastern Europe, and the stabilization of the entire regional system. The eastward enlargement has been a complex multidimensional process comprised of three elements: (1) accession of the countries from Central and Eastern Europe (now complete) and continued geographic expansion; (2) long-term integration strategy toward the Western Balkans; and (3) gradual development of a European Neighborhood Policy contributing to the democratization, openness, and political stabilization of countries in the periphery of the "Wider Europe." (4)

Academic and public policy research has sought intuitively to elucidate the security implications of European integration. There is a consensus in the literature that the European Union is a nontraditional security actor. A number of authors regard it as the most important security institution in Europe. The EU has its own identity features, these authors argue. It attracts countries from the periphery. It participates in security creation for the whole of Europe, both independently and jointly with NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Security, therefore, has become indivisible from the EU's integrative dynamics. (5) The security role of the union develops at three levels: an institutionalized security domain, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP); an "external anchor" for the periphery; and direct military capacity. (6) According to Anders Bjurner, EU enlargement should be regarded as "perhaps the most important security-producing process taking place in Europe today." (7)

At the same time, a variety of studies contend that the EU is not a meaningful security actor as, historically, security has been only an implicit integration objective and remains underdeveloped. The union continues to depend on NATO's security umbrella and is at best one of several institutions relevant to European security. (8) Moreover, studies on the evolution of European order in the post-cold war era argue that EU integration cannot bring about the ultimate unification of Europe, as its enlargement mechanism creates new divisions vis-a-vis nonmembers in the wider periphery. …

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The European Union as a Security Actor: Security Provision through Enlargement
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