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EUISS 2.0: back to the future

20 December 2012

Founded in January 2002, the EUISS celebrated its tenth anniversary last spring. Throughout the past decade, the Institute has been an integral part of the “system” created by the Amsterdam and Nice treaties, flanking the work of the High Representative for CFSP and supporting the fledgling ESDP with relevant analyses and events as well as dissemination of core documents and in-depth research. The time has now come for the EUISS to speed up its process of adaptation to the new institutional setting in which it is called to operate, to recalibrate its activities and publications to suit the new environment, and to make itself more visible on the EU map in order to prove its added value and original function. EUISS 2.0 will be the name of the game, thus opening a new stage in the Institute’s development after the first decade of activity within WEU (1991-2001) and the second one as an EU agency (EUISS 1.0). Already in the coming year, the EUISS will seek to strengthen its profile as a provider of expertise and strategic analysis to its stakeholders and as a hub of networking activities and debate with think tanks from across Europe and beyond. The number and the spectrum of European think tanks dealing with the Union’s external action have significantly grown over the past few years, fostering public debate and often challenging official policies. In this context, the Institute aims to turn its main distinctive feature (being an EU agency funded by the 27) into an asset and to become an interface between EU institutions and member states, on the one hand, and the wider world of experts, analysts and interested parties dealing with international affairs and security-related issues, on the other.

To this end, the EUISS needs to become more flexible, responsive and relevant. This will entail a degree of internal reorganisation, aimed at reinforcing its ability to anticipate (and react to) events and developments and liaising with other EU institutions and bodies, while enacting a collegial, dynamic and transparent mode of operation. This will imply: (1) enhancing interoperability and access, i.a. by opening an “antenna” in Brussels (inside the Residence Palace) and organising events on the spot, as many national think tanks have done lately; (2) streamlining publications, i.a. by delivering briefer, easily readable pieces of analysis for short-term consumption while also aiming at producing studies and materials with a longer shelf life, possibly including a Yearbook; (3) adapting events (conferences, seminars, briefings) to the need to favour exchanges of views and better communication between EU policy-makers (also from the capitals) and experts from both inside and outside Europe; and (4) more generally, “doing better with less”, as the EUISS will not request any nominal increase of its budget for 2013 – a marginal decrease is instead on the cards, in line with the general mood across the Union. Thematically, the “S” – for “security” – in the acronym is broad enough a concept to encompass more classical approaches (as related to CSDP in all its aspects) as well as less conventional ones.

Needless to say, special attention will be paid to all our neighbours: the Balkans, where the “Europeanisation” process - almost ten years after the Thessaloniki Declaration - has not delivered all the expected or desired results; the MENA region, where the initial enthusiasm for the Arab “spring” is now overshadowed by questions over the direction taken by the “awakening”; and the Eastern neighbourhood, where progress on human rights and democratisation appears to be stalling. But also sub-Saharan Africa, with its unique mix of recurrent challenges and unfolding success stories, will be an area of focus, as will the rising Asia-Pacific region where our American allies seem to be “pivoting”. This will not mean neglecting horizontal and strategic issues that cut across geographical as well as functional domains – from the nexus between energy and security (especially in light of new technological developments in the fields of shale gas and “tight” oil) to the so-called “global commons”; from access to key natural resources to the need to build resilience into systems and policies. Our world is increasingly dependent on “worldwide webs” that create a peculiar tension between competition and interdependence, widening the spectrum of players and stakeholders while spreading (and possibly weakening) command and control. The Institute will monitor and explore this still relatively uncharted territory: its involvement in both the ESPAS (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System) inter-institutional project coordinated by BEPA for the European Commission and the European Global Strategy initiative launched by Sweden, Poland, Italy and Spain further testifies to its lasting engagement in strategic thinking. Yet 2013 is likely to be, first and foremost, the year of European defence.

The special meeting of the European Council planned for the late autumn will indeed represent a unique opportunity to focus the minds of EU decision-makers on a policy area that, in light also of the on-going budgetary austerity, needs both bold decisions and agreed visions. Here, too, Europe needs to “do better with less”, i.e. to save and spend jointly rather than slash separately. The EDA blueprint for “pooling and sharing” military capabilities has already identified possible areas of closer cooperation across national borders – but the crisis is making it more difficult to agree precisely on what to pool and how to share. The Institute will offer its contribution in terms of possible options for horizon 2025, highlighting the steps to take and the traps to avoid in order to get there. This will also be a way to be true and pay tribute to its WEU roots in a changing and challenging political and institutional context.

Article first published in 'Europe Diplomacy & Defence', No. 571, 20 December 2012.