Europe in a changing security environment

Security is the most common indicator of the state of international relations, their system and the effectiveness of foreign policy. The qualitative changes in the security environment in the early XXI century have led to the emergence of a new generation of threats to national, regional and global security. The changes in the processes of birth, development and scale of conflicts today request for a new and more in-depth review of Europe’s place within the global security environment. The EU today is more unprotected than ever because asymmetries in social and cultural development, living standards, security, perspectives for development, technology and communications are giving rise to a new generation of asymmetric violence that we are unfortunately witnessed. The failure to control or prevent this wave of violence means that the current paradigm is morally obsolete and the future, the security and the prosperity of European nations will be determined by the decisions we take today.The post-Cold War situation is characterized by speeding up the process of opening the borders and is linked to the internal and external aspects of security paradigm. Many people came to know the freedom and prosperity thanks to trade and investment flows, technological developments and democratization. Others have perceived globalization as an obstacle and failure. These trends also extended the scope of activity of non-governmental organizations by giving them the opportunity to participate in international relations. Moreover, they have led to increased European dependence and hence vulnerability in relation to interconnected infrastructure in transport, energy, information technology and other areas.

The rise of nationalism and populism in Europe and the consequences for international relations

Although the renaissance of nationalism and populism is not a new phenomenon for the Old Continent, its manifestations this time are related not only to economic indicators, but also to social dissatisfaction with the so-called “refugee wave”, terrorism and the radical Islamisation of Christian Europe. The obvious inability, in otherwise economically viable neoliberal system, to address these problems favors the development and lasting establishment of extreme nationalism in democratic Europe. Today, the continent, according to the definition of Financial Times, is a peaceful and prosperous place at a fundamental level.[1] The big masses that predetermine the continent’s political processes do not starve and lead a decent way of life. However, this does not prevent “the chilling echo”[2] of nationalism from the 1920s and the 1930s from being felt on the territories of national countries. Along with this process, a key problem for the European Union’s foreign policy as well as its existence has proved to be a surprising wave of Euroscepticism. In countries such as Great Britain, Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands, etc., these moods are increasingly taking over the already imposed concept of consolidated Europe. In the modern global world, mistrust in the future of the European Union is the last thing that Member States need. In 2007, a Eurobarometer survey shows that 52% of European citizens are looking with positiveness at the European Union. Today, only 31% share this opinion.[3]

An articulation of these attitudes became the UK citizen’s decision from June 2016 to exit the Union, leading to the unprecedented phenomenon of Brexit. This exit is a clear negative signal about the future of the world’s most powerful economic union.[4] According to the International Monetary Fund, Brexit will have severe economic consequences both for Britain and the European Union. Along with the collapse of the British pound, the loss of tens of thousands of jobs[5], London is likely to lose its status as an international financial centre, since, upon exit from the European Union, the companies based in Britain may lose their licenses to provide financial services to the rest of the European Union and banks can leave London.[6] According to forecasts, the damage by 2030 will be between 1.5 and 9.5% of GDP compared to the values of staying in the EU. In addition to the consequences for international economic relations, there will be an impact on other areas of life. Serious changes in education, social affairs and free movement of people and goods are becoming increasingly relevant. With regard to subsequent political changes within Europe’s borders, Brexit also raises risks of diplomatic disputes and conflicts. For example, Spain could be tempted to close its border with Gibraltar, adjacent to Andalusia territory with an area of 6 square kilometres, on which more than 30,000 British people live at present. In the north-western part of Europe, Brexit can lead to the establishment of a border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, which will make the daily movement of thousands of people more difficult.[7]

For the European Union, Britain’s exit could have the snowball effect and lead to a series of disintegration cycles. Member States such as Poland and Hungary, as well as opposition parties in France, Italy and the Netherlands, can take similar actions which will lead to the end of the idea of “the European United Community”, leading back to the days of Napoleon I and Giuseppe Mazzini.[8] According to a number of researchers, the targeted destabilization of the old continent is a well-reconciled geopolitical move from other international relations. A “domino effect” gives rise to the next perfect threat which further creates external political tensions in EU.

The European separatist threat

According to theorists and experts in the field of international relations, since the “February revolution” in 2014, Ukraine’s territorial decay process has catalyzed many frozen territorial disputes in Europe so far.[9] The referendum in Britain gives an additional powerful boost to current separatist events, expressing the threat of Catalonia. The Catalonia itself has a very high degree of autonomy guaranteed by the constitution, the evidence of which is also the presence of a nationalist government.[10] From the time of general Franco, the region enjoys broad cultural and political autonomy with its own regional parliament. However, for many citizens, this is not enough. They want their own country – mainly for economic reasons. The Catalans think that the Spanish state is robbing the rich Catalonia. For international relations, however, the more important question is related to the possible consequences of a successful development of the separatist process. For example, it would be unreasonable for economic and political separatism in Spain to be analyzed outside the energy context. In recent years, Spain has had the ambitions to become a factor in Europe’s energy independence from Russia. The construction of the Midcat pipeline, which passes through the Catalan Pyrenees to connect with the French gas pipeline system, can reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas up to 40%.[11] It is obvious that the separation of Catalonia in an independent state outside the European Union would stop or at least slow down the project. This will inevitably reflect with a negative impact on strategic European projects for diversifying energy sources and reducing energy dependence on Russia.

However, the threat of a division of national countries in Europe is far from spreading on the Pyrenean Peninsula alone. The risk of escalation and spread of the effects of this process lies in other parts of the continent. In the short term, the biggest risk in the coming months comes from Italy, as there is no clear predictability who will precisely manage the country. A further factor is the status of the South Tyrol region, which, in the sense of Catalonia, has received more political and linguistic autonomy in the past.[12] The well-being region even has the right to hold a large part of the state’s revenue for itself. Italy’s economic problems, with which the northern tyrols do not want be addressed, and the rising wave of separatist moods in Europe, are increasing the risk of future breakthrough. Another risk factor concerning the situation in the British Islands is the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, which is very likely to end with a possible success for the separatists, as the conflict remains unresolved for 20 years. This is not the only challenge for Britain. The issue of Scotland’s independence is becoming increasingly up-to-date, after Brexit, which does not accept the exit of UK from the Union.[13] There is a risk of similar developments in Belgium. According to researchers, the Belgian State may disappear because the Flanders region is claiming independence. In the last parliamentary elections the nationalist party “New Flemish Alliance” became the biggest political force in Flanders. It is of paramount importance for international relations to address the risk of the Belgian divide, as it will render unclear the status of Brussels, where the headquarters of the European Union and NATO are located.

The problems associated with the tendency of breakthroughs are also present in Eastern Europe. Unlike Western Europe, in the Eastern counterpart, separatist moods are not based so much on economic subdues, but more on ethnicity and history. Within the EU, the aspirations of independence in Central Romania, predominantly populated by a Hungarian minority (Transylvania), as well as in East Latvia, predominantly populated by ethnic Russians, can be noted.[14] In relation to the Balkan Peninsula, the region has always been a scene of severe confrontation during the centuries (a well-known concept of “gunpowder barrel”). The trend of separatism has intensified in the break-up of Yugoslavia, with the last event being the breakthrough of the mainly Albanian populated Kosovo from Serbia. To date, the highest risk of disintegration is in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where there is no homogeneous society. The country is divided by ethnic and religious principle of Orthodox Serbs, Bosniaks Muslims and Catholic Croats. The peace and integrity of the country are safeguarded on the basis of exceptional efforts and compromises. Other forms of threat of separatism can be sought in the Autonomous Community of Vojvodina in Serbia, populated by a Hungarian minority, as well as in Macedonia where there is a significant Albanian minority.

The Centrifugal forces: danger within

In this concerning environment, Europe, and in particular the European Union, faces perhaps the greatest challenge since its creation – the division. There are no immediate and specific material nature of classical threats, the centrifugal trends in the Union have been long to remain in the back term, explained with a temporary misunderstanding, conceived behind statistics on economic successes and opposed to the prospects of a bright future of European integration. But the reality is getting us more quickly. The division is affirmed as a slow but secure and progressive process. In combination with the additional negative consequences for the stability of the European Union and, therefore, for the security of the entire continent, it promises to be the main threat in the coming decade.

Where could we trace the roots of this divide actually? And when does it start? From centuries the civilization of the European continent is subject to differentiation in diversified groups on the principle of a wide range of criteria. For example, the differentiation of Europe, which is drinking wine and a Europe that prefers beer, or Europe of potatoes and Europe of olives still exists. Although at the beginning of the European Union, this inner-civilization divide had substantial relevance, and cultural aspects then relinquish over the significance of historical events. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the beginning of the democratic processes in the eastern countries, the European Union is facing the challenge of turning the recent ideological opponents into allies and, in consequence, in members. So, even with the cancellation of the Cold war and the disappearing of the global division between the East and the West, the cultural, political and historical prerequisites prevail.[15] It is incorporated into the EU structure itself and represents the main line of division in the Union.

Particularly up-to-date, this division has become clear again with the return to the idea of Multi-speed Europe. Although the mechanism of enhanced cooperation itself is part of the Treaties for quite some time, the initiative led by the Heads of Germany, France, Italy and Spain to reborn the idea of Europe, this time not at two, but at several speeds has caused the dissatisfaction of some of the “Eastern” states. The Visegrad Group expressed its doubts about the appropriateness of such a step and called for equality between the members. The most active in this respect is the President of Poland Andrzej Duda, who says that “Europe at several speeds” presented as the only way to store the Union, will in fact lead to its disintegration. Questions remain as to whether this idea is not just a way of formalizing the division in the EU, while its members finally condemn themselves as better and worse. Last but not least, if we suppose that the primary objective of the membership of the former Eastern bloc was that its members finally felt equal with their western neighbours, wouldn’t this compromise the meaning of the membership?[16]

In fact, the countries of the Visegrad Group can also be perceived as a projection of the Union’s division of centre and periphery. In opposition to the so-called “core” of the European Union, they are against the excessive strengthening of the role of the Commission and are supportive of maintaining the intergovernmental approach. Looking at integration processes with moderate point of view, they are often found in opposition on issues related to social and environmental policies.[17] The most significant impact on the relations with the other members was made by their position on the migrant issue. The possibility of imposing sanctions on Poland because of the constitutional reform carried out in the country only makes things worse. Finally, the four countries are skeptical about the euro area and strongly declare their unwillingness to accept the common currency.

In this regard, there is also another clear line of differentiation among members of the European Union, namely the euro area. In Euro-Europe, the key role of decision-making is undoubtedly business of Germany as the major source of funds. In this financial Europe, pragmatism, a German-wise one, always prevails, replacing the usual beautiful phrases of European integration. We have, in particular and in the context of a global financial crisis, witnessed, when it became clear that Greece is at the threshold of a full financial crackdown, and countries like Spain, Portugal and Italy are on the same path. This critical situation has shown that when (German) money is concerned, Germany is not ready to take over the role of the Messiah. Even then, aid has been given, but only once the concerned countries have pledged solid reforms.[18] So as a part of the Member States’ refusal to put their currency policies on external dependence, the euro area will remain a key factor of division over the next decade.

It is undoubtedly that a major challenge for the European Union over the last few years turned to be the migrant crisis. The impact that it inflicted has created unprecedented internal contradictions and exacerbated some old disputes. The first victims, Greece and Italy, have become responsible for taking over the entire migrant flow. This has, of course, proved to be extremely unrealistic, even with the Union’s financial assistance. This resulted in a revision of the existing legal framework. The Dublin Regulation was modified giving the start of the so-called “quota system”. It has, in turn, proved to be extremely unpopular among some members. As it has already been said, the Visegrad Group has strongly opposed it, with the most eloquent reaction coming from Hungary. Prime Minister Viktor Orban did not stick to the common European solution and, referring to the fundamental principle of border protection in international law, took measures to lift a wall against the migrants.[19]

So, for a short time, the problem of illegal migration has come out of its purely financial aspects. The concerns of the countries, that have experienced the biggest impacts from the migration flows, about maintaining the security of their citizens, have been justified by the series of attacks and vandal actions, as well as the increase in the terrorist threat. Thus, the EU has identified a new kind of tensions due to increased uncertainty, increasing cultural and religious contrasts within societies. And this will certainly not make Europe more united.

All these processes related to the increased foreign presence among Europeans were quite naturally followed by the introduction of nationalists and far-right ideologies using migrants as a key element in their electoral rhetoric. The nationalist ideas traditionally referred to as the “vice” of Central and Eastern Europe, suddenly start to appear also in the West. Thus far-right parties have achieved unseen from decades success in a series of elections: in France, Marin Lupine of the National Front has remained a step away from becoming the new president of the Republic; in Austria, the Freedom Party ranked third in the parliamentary elections, making it a suitable coalition partner for the new government; in the German parliamentary elections, the “Alternative for Germany” party won for the first time from decades enough seats in parliament to be again in third place.[20] Feeling confronted with an external threat, many Europeans prefer to seek support in their national societies, which also leads to a lack of interest in common European affairs. When we add this to the apparent failure of effective management of the situation at EU level, the rise of Euroscepticism is fully understandable and the instability of the Union increases only further.

However, the progress of nationalism has unexpectedly emerged and has gained even more dangerous dimensions. Separatism has been identified as the leading contrast of more than half-century efforts of integration and unity. Although the Catalonia crisis has been managed after a long ignorance, the points of potential secession on the continent are quite many. Scotland endured the challenge from 2014, but the forecast of the results of a possible future referendum are not good. The referendum in Milan and Venice on increasing autonomy at present can look completely innocent, but if the Catalan saga taught us something, it is that such situation should not be underestimated. Not in a time when Europe comes back to ideas that were forgotten for centuries.

In this line of thoughts, we are coming to the most significant crisis for the European Union. Separative and nationalist trends, this time at Community level, led to the precedent of Brexit. Asked for a referendum on their country’s membership in the EU, a little more than half of the British people have expressed a desire to quit the Union, thus creating a wave of an internal opposition at several levels. The vote not only questioned the legitimacy of today’s forms of democracy, but also seriously harm the reputation of the European Union.

Despite the problematic membership of Britain since its accession, nobody had assumed, after so concessions and mutual compromises, such development. Whether the results of the referendum are a product of a conscious choice of a society with increasing right-wing, a protest vote against the policies of a particular government or of populist tendencies that have come out of control, the future will show. As well as whether the British will ultimately regret their choice against the background of the current difficulty of both sides to find an mutually acceptable solution. In the meantime, we are about to see whether the precedent will be repeated and the compromised unity of the bloc will take a new blow (such as the darkest forecasts) or, on the contrary, Brexit will have a cohesive effect on the remaining members.

Against the background of all the challenges to the European Union that have been mentioned so far, we must elaborate and make it clear that there are still initiatives for its cohesion. A new start-up period in European integration processes appears to occur with the new French President, Emmanuel Macron, who, during his campaign, promised to submit the necessary renewed spirit to the Union. Indeed, on the basis of this ambitious task, Emmanuel Macron proposed a series of reforms to “rebuild” the EU.

The French President’s proposals include a diverse range of changes in many spheres. Firstly, he recommends the establishment of a special budget for the euro area managed by the European Finance Minister and a separate parliament. According to Macron in the field of security and defence, the establishment of common military units with its own budget should be promoted, as well as a European Intelligence Service should be established. At institutional level, the president said that the number of Commissioners in the EC should be reduced by introducing a rotation system, and the vacancies of British MEPs should be reallocated at the next elections for Parliament through the establishment of transnational lists. Macron also talked about measures to eliminate social dumping and achieve social equality of Member States; introducing a minimum wage for the European Union; changes in the common economic policy and the energy sector to enhance the competitiveness of the Union and more effective taxation.[21]

For the moment, the French ideas remain only on theoretical basis, as a crucial role for their development in practice will be, of course, Germany. However, while it deals with its own internal political crisis, stagnation in Europe can only be deepened. Whether it will be in line with the French vision or a whole new approach, EU recovery measures must be adopted before the damage becomes irreparable. In the meantime, the disagreements in the Union are inevitably reflected in its international prestige. And given the dynamism of international relations, it simply cannot afford to be a secondary player. Defending its international influence against the traditional global powers – the United States and Russia, and also against emerging ones such as China, the EU must counteract any possibility of marginalization in the international sphere by improving and building on its unity, both politically and economically. The common positions are those that will not only help its voice to be heard, but will also contribute to the future resolution of the most pressing issues globally, such as security in the MENA region, terrorism and so on.

Led by the century old idea of the United Europe, European countries face many challenges and are overcoming many conflicts so that we are witnessing the unity of the continent, embodied by the European Union. Today, however, almost reached, this unity is being threatened. In order to give an adequate response to the crisis, a number of answers must be found to a wide range of issues such as: how can the gap after Brexit be filled, what are the ways to consolidate the political appearance of an economic in its essence project and many others. And while the ideal for the United States of Europe remains so utopic, the disintegration must be countered, before it becomes a threat to Europe’s security, as well as to the whole world.


In conclusion, it can be summarized that the combination and overlay of threats leading in the same direction – lasting and targeted destabilization of the European Union as an subject in the international relations will take its peak in 2018. The migration crisis, Islamisation, the rise of nationalism and the “domino” effect of separatism trend are interlinked threats aimed at possible geopolitical shifts at the centers of power level in the international relations system.

Taking into account that, historically, the development of the EU has always been guided by several economically developed countries acting as an “engine”, for example, French and German governance is the most significant in terms of establishing a common currency, while the instruments of France and Britain are focusing on the development of foreign policy, as well as security. One of these “motors” leaves the EU, the other two, are experiencing a rise in the right nationalist parties and movements that succeed even to get seats in the governance. In fact, the biggest threat to the EU or at least the most significant is not coming from the outside, but from the inside because a structure built on a voluntary basis cannot be held by coercion. If the coercive still exists, this means that the initial values are now completely changed or missing.

[1] Financial Times, Eurozone manufacturing conditions at 6.5-year high,

[2] Palmer, J., The rise of far right parties across Europe is a chilling echo of the 1930, The Guardian

[3] Rood, J., A crisis of confidence in the European Union? , Clingendael Report 2017

[4] Ленард, М., Brexit: Външно-политически последици, 24.06.2016 г.

[5] We are going to face a massive employment crisis after Brexit, Independent, 13 July 2017,

[6] The Guardian, Gloomy Brexit forecasts for UK are coming true, says IMF

[7] Agence France Presse,  Пет практически последици за британците от Брекзит , 25.06.2016 г.

[8] Макдугъл, У. – „Ще оцелее ли Обединена Европа през ХХІ век? “, сп. Геополитика , 01.05.2007 г.

[9] Стефанов, Н – „Европа на сепаратизма“ , сп.“Геополитика“ 27.01.2016

[10] Minder, R. – “ Spain Sets Stage to Take Control of Catalonia in Independence Fight ” , The New York times

[11] Miguel Arias Cañete- “ Strategic gas pipeline Midcat will be ready by 2020 “ – “Catanews”

[12] Хаселбах, Х. – „Не са само каталунците“ , „Deutche Welle” , 01.10.2017

[13] Leary, E. – “ Scotland’s Sturgeon postpones second independence vote until after Brexit “ , “Reuters”

[14] Ellyatt, H.- “If Catalonia goes independent, these places could be next” , “CNBC” 06.10.2017