A talk was held on Tuesday night at the Rui Cunha Foundation, outlining the current geopolitical and security challenges facing the European Union.
Presented by Victor Angelo, a former special representative of the UN and Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, the talk covered the difficulties in a number of regions in close proximity to the European member states, including Russia, the Middle East, the Maghreb and the Sahel.
“Can we be an optimist after so many crises [affecting the European Union] and after so many have not been resolved?” he asked attendees at the talk.
According to the speaker, the biggest security threat facing the European Union at present is its giant neighbor to the east, Russia, which is believed to have interfered in democratic elections, spread disinformation and propaganda, and is the source of a number of cyber attacks.
Angelo stressed the EU’s position that it “will not recognize Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea nor accept the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.”
He also warned that Russia could replicate its tactics in Ukraine in the Baltic states in a bid to extends its influence there. Although Angelo believes the fear of Balkan state officials is “exaggerated”, he admits that there is a real concern for the countries involved.
“The relationship with Russia has to be [approached through] a peaceful settlement of disputes and a respect for the national sovereignty of EU member states. We must say that that kind of annexation [in Crimea] is unacceptable and must be resolved. We must also be able to establish strong relations with states of the former [Soviet Union] and those states do not need to ask Russia’s permission to establish relations with Brussels.”
Although Russia is intent on “undermining the European project”, Angelo argued that China has an interest in bolstering it – partly because of its trade interests in Europe, but also because it divides the attention of its antagonistic neighbor, Russia.
Angelo also highlighted EU concerns with Turkey in his presentation. Though it was not explicitly mentioned in yesterday’s talk, the underlying tension in EU-Turkey relations involves the issue of migrants. Under the terms of a controversial 2016 deal, Turkey is holding back tens of thousands of migrants that might otherwise cross into Europe. This therefore presents a geopolitical vulnerability for the European Union.
Other potential security threats originate in the Maghreb and the Sahel regions of northern Africa, which are increasingly becoming a source of terrorism and large numbers of migrants. Though these lands are separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea, they are still relatively close to the southern periphery – and soft underbelly – of the European Union.