Sophia as a Showcase for the Bridging of External and Internal Security?

Anne Ingemann Johansen

1 January 2017


In a globalised world, few security issues can be addressed by a single actor or through the use of a single instrument. Instead, they tend to simultaneously touch upon multiple policy domains forcing us to critically reflect upon how the actions of one actor or instrument might relate to, affect, or interfere with those of another. In this way, they challenge traditional distinctions between external and internal security as well as the military and civilian domain. In the case of the EU, these divides are particularly prominent as it is not only a question of coordination between different actors and policy fields but also of distinct legal frameworks that stipulate an often complex division of competence between national and EU level actors. This adds a vertical dimension to the traditional challenges associated with the bridging of external and internal security.

In spite hereof, the EU has come to realise that some level of bridging is necessary in order for it to be able to deal with the complexity of many contemporary security issues. As a consequence, the bridging of external and internal security has emerged as a key priority. This was perhaps most notably exemplified by the Council’s adoption of the 2011 road map for “Strengthening Ties between CSDP and JHA”, which identified 27 lines of action to be taken in order to strengthen ties between Common Security and Defence Policy and Justice and Home Affairs actors.

While the road map has been followed by annual progress reports on implementation and joint Council (CFSP-JHA) and committee (PSC-COSI) meetings, the actual level of “bridging” taking place has so far been limited. As is often the case in Brussels, and perhaps with politics more generally, putting something into writing does not necessarily make it translate into action. The added value of the newly introduced joint meetings remains questionable. Firstly, the legal framework does not foresee double Council formations with decision-making powers. As a consequence, the outcome of joint CFSP-JHA meetings is informal and all follow-up activities have to go through the normal (that is, separate) Council formations, which creates an extra layer of complexity and buttresses the divide between external and internal security. Secondly, meeting agendas tend to be too broad and the high number of attendees (with two representatives from each Member State) makes it difficult to discuss, let alone agree on, anything specific. In the case of the two preparatory bodies of the Political and Security Committee (PSC) and the Standing Committee on Internal Security (COSI), matters are further complicated by the clash of two different committee cultures. Whereas PSC ambassadors are Brussels-based and meet on a regular basis, COSI is composed of different configurations of representatives from Ministries of Interior, who are capital-based. In effect, PSC meetings are not subjected to translation as all ambassadors are expected to be fluent in French and English. This is not the case with COSI, where representatives instead typically speak in their native tongue. While this may not appear as an aggravating issue, it does pose a problem as it has proven difficult to find rooms sufficiently big and well-equipped (for instance, with earplugs for translation) to accommodate all participants.

Similar issues have hampered the level of bridging taking place in the planning and implementation of operational activities where legal frameworks and distinct bureaucratic structures have also given rise to sectorial perspectives and approaches, that is, a clear divide between external and internal security. Recent developments, however, suggest that the migration crisis has triggered a process where central actors in the CSDP structures as well as in the JHA agencies (such as EUROPOL and FRONTEX) have come up with innovative and informal bridging strategies in order to address operational challenges.

With the launch of the EU’s naval operation in the Central Mediterranean (EUNAVFOR MED Operation Sophia), CSDP actors for the first time found themselves operating in the same theatre of action as two other central, but internal, EU security actors, namely EUROPOL and FRONTEX. As a consequence, the three actors have been forced to engage in de-confliction activities in order to reduce the risk of collision and ensure an efficient use of assets as well as to reflect upon possibilities for cooperation and the exchange of information.

In carrying out the mandate to disrupt and dismantle the business model of migrant smuggling networks, Sophia has also had to undertake responsibilities that fall beyond traditional military tasks, such as large scale search and rescue (SAR) activities. In order to prepare for this, there was close cooperation between the CSDP structures (most notably the European External Action Service’s Crisis Management and Planning Directorate (CMPD) and the European Union Military Staff (EUMS) and Frontex in the initial planning phase where Frontex provided expertise and advice on SAR techniques and the legal aspects associated with disembarkation. There is also close cooperation between the two actors in the area of operation where Sophia and Frontex’s Operation Triton coordinate their activities and share information and expertise through liaison officers. For instance, Triton allows Sophia’s ships to stay out on the seas through a longer period of time by disembarking some of the people originally rescued by Sophia. In return, Sophia provides protection to Triton by staying in close proximity and making sure that it can come to Triton’s rescue in the event that smugglers open fire in order to reclaim seized vessels as was the case several times in 2015. Sophia is also the first CSDP operation to have an explicit reference to EUROPOL in its mandate, and a memorandum of understanding was subsequently signed between the Operation Commander of Sophia and the Director of Europol in order to facilitate mutual coordination of activities and the exchange of knowledge.

While these developments signal important steps towards realising the ambition of bridging the divide between external and internal security, they are, however, tentative – and it should give food for thought that many of the bridging activities accounted for above would not have been initiated if it had not been for a number of key individuals who decided to think beyond the existing structures. The same level of creativity and commitment to the ambition of bridging external and internal security has yet to manifest itself at the political level.


About the Author

Anne Ingemann Johansen

Anne Ingemann Johansen is a PhD fellow at the Department of Social Sciences and Business at Roskilde University in Denmark.

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