The security operation at Kabul Airport is a good example of the EU’s importance for Finland’s policies.
In Afghanistan attention has been drawn to the lack of European cooperation, or to the fact that little has been said about cooperation. European countries have been present in different ways, but separately. The EU has been missing from the picture.
The EU is not visible because it is not being looked at. Another reason is that the EU is being obscured. It is difficult to see the EU behind national flags.
Understandably, states and their governments desperately need their own successes, both domestically and internationally – examples of how they can make a difference and work for their citizens.
There are many things that the actions of one country do not bite, such as the climate crisis or large-scale refugees. There is therefore a use for smaller operations: their good results are preferably recorded as their own merits, even if the results are based on cooperation.
This is not new. At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Member States first thought of themselves and only later woke up to the need for coordination, requests for assistance and the role of the EU in, for example, vaccine procurement.
Also hidden is the civil protection mechanism, which coordinates assistance for large-scale wildfires, for example. The news comes from telling us from which countries fire equipment and personnel have been sent, not about the mechanism behind the aid. Whether the civil protection mechanism would have an even more polar name.
In Afghanistan, the EU is a major donor of humanitarian aid and has its own representation in Kabul. The Union has also had a police operation in Afghanistan for several years.
All of this has been evaluated and criticized in many ways. Self-criticism is a big part of the essence of the EU. It is important to assess the Union’s role in the world, and it is worth asking, for example, after the EU’s battlegroups: why have they not been used, even though the battlegroups have been on standby for 15 years?
EU there is much to be developed in operational capacity, but we must not forget what already exists. In recent days, the Finnish debate has wondered about the invisibility of the Union and called for stronger action from the EU.
At the same time, the security operation launched by Finland at Kabul Airport is a good example of the EU’s importance for Finland’s policies. The operation is based on the law on the provision and receipt of international assistance. The law was enacted because Finland in the EU is committed to providing military assistance to other member states upon request, and this was to be made possible by legislation.
The EU requested evacuation assistance from its Member States in Afghanistan. During the Ambassadors’ Day, the President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö indicated that the request showed the weakness or inaction of the EU. Rather, it was a reminder and a call for mutual help and cooperation, also in a way that suits Finland.
Instead of talking in general terms that the EU should be stronger or have the potential to act more effectively, Finnish decision-makers should say exactly where they see the problems and how they would solve them.
Why, for example, are the EU’s joint battle groups not working? Is there no funding for joint action, or are the ways of using battlegroups planned so precisely in advance that there are no real situations that fit into the plans? Is foreign policy decision-making too difficult at all? What could be done about it?
If Finland wants to promote a stronger EU, how are we going to act in practice? Is Finland ready to move towards, for example, joint financing or more efficient decision-making, and who could it become its partners here?
European Union needs a leader, but the leader does not have to be the German Chancellor, the President of France or the President of the Commission. A single Member State – or a few together – can and must do things successfully.
Both initiative and perseverance are needed to strengthen the EU’s external action. However, it is important to identify at the outset what the EU is already doing and how it is working.
The author is a research director at the University of Tampere.
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