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Limits and challenges to European internal security cooperation
So far, we have argued that the notion of internal security remains contested and may legitimate overly forceful responses to regular police and criminal justice issues. At the same time, the distinction between internal and external security may be less one of functional substance and territorial scope, as there is an entrenched discourse on the need to fight asymmetric threats across borders and in a comprehensive manner. Instead, it may be more useful to look at the different actor-sets that relate to these security discourses in their own way. Thus, one may discern a transnational field of police and criminal justice authorities as well as interior ministries, which engage with each other on a transnational level, and mostly work in parallel to, rather than directly with, traditional external security actors. Building on this perspective, we illustrated that this transnational field has a long history, reaching all the way to the beginning of the twentieth century. European institutional arrangements shadowed these growing professional networks and practices for ‘high policing’ issues. After the Second World War, the Council of Europe served as the first focal point, providing a legal framework for international police and criminal justice cooperation as well as a regime for the protection of human rights. The end of the Cold War, increased personal mobility and a more fragmented regional environment in Europe boosted the importance and salience of this transnational internal security cooperation. The European Union, in particular, took on an increasingly central role since the mid- to late 1990s, as it forged a link between the abolition of internal border controls in the Schengen Zone and the creation of a common ‘Area of Freedom, Security and Justice’. This overarching political development was spurred on by repeated terrorist attacks and political debates over irregular migration between 2000 and the late 2010s.
The resulting rich tapestry of networks and institutional frameworks for internal security cooperation does not necessarily translate into positive policy outcomes. First, the revelations by Edward Snowden showed how security agencies can evade established formal institutional limitations and accountability structures. Long-standing links between security agencies and security professionals, often relying heavily on new technologies for data gathering and surveillance, have evolved into a non-transparent transnational web of exchanges (Bauman et al., 2014). Security services may, thus, exchange data sets on citizens between each other that each single service could not legally collect by itself. Executive and administrative actors can also resort to the international level in order to evade domestic scrutiny or present national decision-making structures with pre-set policy choices. During the 1990s and 2000s, many European interior ministries sought to advance harsher migration controls through transnational forums, which fell beyond the view and control of national parliaments and courts (Guiraudon, 2000). As outlined above, the growing constitutionalisation of EU internal security policy has partially rectified this procedural imbalance, but has not necessarily led to more liberal policy outcomes (Trauner and Ripoll Servent, 2016). The increasing involvement of non-European countries in the provision of internal security and border control for the EU adds a further layer of complexity and controversy. In any case, the persistence of multiple informal and non-transparent forums for operational internal security cooperation remains a serious challenge to central norms of democratic legitimacy and accountability (den Boer et al., 2008). This especially applies to harder aspects of internal security provision and the cooperation of intelligence services. Here, the European level has not (yet) been able to develop full-fledged oversight and control processes that could be compared to the domestic institutional checks and balances of European liberal democracies.
Second, it is not clear that the proliferation of international cooperation venues is effective and efficient. For sensitive security cooperation and intelligence sharing, it might help to have multiple professional networks and forums that may be tailored to specific needs. For instance, the European states that were most affected by the threat from IS have good reasons to focus on mutual cooperation without involving all other EU member states, who may lack the respective intelligence capacities or simply have little direct need to track large numbers of suspects. Yet, if one seeks a reliable level of protection and information sharing against transnationally mobile threats and suspects, it may be necessary to create more centralised and formalised frameworks for cooperation (Bures, 2012). In other words, one ‘weak link’ may be enough to critically undermine the cooperation chain between security authorities, be they at national or transnational level. It is for this reason that the EU has been building up shared databases for border control and agencies such as EUROPOL that should allow for a common threat perception and joint action.
Yet, the further centralisation and institutionalisation of internal security at a supranational level cannot be the only answer, either. The preservation of national sovereignty in internal security affairs is not just a legacy of the past, but also reflects the deeper differences between democratic publics that are also concerned with symbolic or subjective aspects of internal security. Most notably, since 2014, the migration crisis has illustrated how the mobilisation of national identities and diverging threat perceptions overstretched all European mechanisms of negotiation and crisis management. Transnational policy forums, or ‘integration by stealth’, thus reach their limits when faced with open contention in national democratic publics (Borzel and Risse, 2018; Hegemann and Kahl, 2018). Further obstacles arise when supposed threats to internal security are also looked at from the perspective of social or welfare policies. This not only relates to legitimate differences in problem-framing, say of the causes of crime or violent radicalisation, but also to the use of financial resources, which largely remain tied to the nation-state. Substantial investments in community cohesion, crime prevention and social integration - which many observers continue to see as the most effective and important contribution to long-term internal security (Savage et al., 2008) - can only be made through taxation. This power of taxation and corresponding democratic accountability have yet to be successfully transferred to international organisations.
On an abstract level, one could argue that we are in an interim historical period and that a further politicisation of internal security at the European level will provide a way out of these dilemmas, leading to an integrated polity or, at least, a transnational internal security community. Further politicisation and debate might bring more transparency and enable public deliberation on the question of which security tasks should reasonably and legitimately be transferred to the European level. Yet, a growing politicisation might also provide incentives to pursue excessive security measures that target minorities and undermine civil liberties, or deepen and entrench political conflicts between different European countries and, thereby, make further cooperation more difficult. This was exemplified in the debates over the distribution of refugees across European countries or the lead-up to the Brexit referendum. In sum, we should be wary of adding ever more threat conceptions to the political debate and underlining the importance of European internal security cooperation. But instead of retreating to professional (and largely hidden) venues, the political management of identity conflicts and possible de-securitisation of societal threat perceptions could offer a more constructive way forward, which would also provide room to uphold shared European fundamental rights.
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