Limits and challenges to European internal security cooperation

So far, we have argued that the notion of internal security remains contested and may legitimate overly forceful responses to regular police and criminal justice issues. At the same time, the distinction between internal and external security may be less one of functional substance and territorial scope, as there is an entrenched discourse on the need to fight asymmetric threats across borders and in a comprehensive manner. Instead, it may be more useful to look at the different actor-sets that relate to these security discourses in their own way. Thus, one may discern a transnational field of police and criminal justice authorities as well as interior ministries, which engage with each other on a transnational level, and mostly work in parallel to, rather than directly with, traditional external security actors. Building on this perspective, we illustrated that this transnational field has a long history, reaching all the way to the beginning of the twentieth century. European institutional arrangements shadowed these growing professional networks and practices for ‘high policing’ issues. After the Second World War, the Council of Europe served as the first focal point, providing a legal framework for international police and criminal justice cooperation as well as a regime for the protection of human rights. The end of the Cold War, increased personal mobility and a more fragmented regional environment in Europe boosted the importance and salience of this transnational internal security cooperation. The European Union, in particular, took on an increasingly central role since the mid- to late 1990s, as it forged a link between the abolition of internal border controls in the Schengen Zone and the creation of a common ‘Area of Freedom, Security and Justice’. This overarching political development was spurred on by repeated terrorist attacks and political debates over irregular migration between 2000 and the late 2010s.

The resulting rich tapestry of networks and institutional frameworks for internal security cooperation does not necessarily translate into positive policy outcomes. First, the revelations by Edward Snowden showed how security agencies can evade established formal institutional limitations and accountability structures. Long-standing links between security agencies and security professionals, often relying heavily on new technologies for data gathering and surveillance, have evolved into a non-transparent transnational web of exchanges (Bauman et al., 2014). Security services may, thus, exchange data sets on citizens between each other that each single service could not legally collect by itself. Executive and administrative actors can also resort to the international level in order to evade domestic scrutiny or present national decision-making structures with pre-set policy choices. During the 1990s and 2000s, many European interior ministries sought to advance harsher migration controls through transnational forums, which fell beyond the view and control of national parliaments and courts (Guiraudon, 2000). As outlined above, the growing constitutionalisation of EU internal security policy has partially rectified this procedural imbalance, but has not necessarily led to more liberal policy outcomes (Trauner and Ripoll Servent, 2016). The increasing involvement of non-European countries in the provision of internal security and border control for the EU adds a further layer of complexity and controversy. In any case, the persistence of multiple informal and non-transparent forums for operational internal security cooperation remains a serious challenge to central norms of democratic legitimacy and accountability (den Boer et al., 2008). This especially applies to harder aspects of internal security provision and the cooperation of intelligence services. Here, the European level has not (yet) been able to develop full-fledged oversight and control processes that could be compared to the domestic institutional checks and balances of European liberal democracies.

Second, it is not clear that the proliferation of international cooperation venues is effective and efficient. For sensitive security cooperation and intelligence sharing, it might help to have multiple professional networks and forums that may be tailored to specific needs. For instance, the European states that were most affected by the threat from IS have good reasons to focus on mutual cooperation without involving all other EU member states, who may lack the respective intelligence capacities or simply have little direct need to track large numbers of suspects. Yet, if one seeks a reliable level of protection and information sharing against transnationally mobile threats and suspects, it may be necessary to create more centralised and formalised frameworks for cooperation (Bures, 2012). In other words, one ‘weak link’ may be enough to critically undermine the cooperation chain between security authorities, be they at national or transnational level. It is for this reason that the EU has been building up shared databases for border control and agencies such as EUROPOL that should allow for a common threat perception and joint action.

Yet, the further centralisation and institutionalisation of internal security at a supranational level cannot be the only answer, either. The preservation of national sovereignty in internal security affairs is not just a legacy of the past, but also reflects the deeper differences between democratic publics that are also concerned with symbolic or subjective aspects of internal security. Most notably, since 2014, the migration crisis has illustrated how the mobilisation of national identities and diverging threat perceptions overstretched all European mechanisms of negotiation and crisis management. Transnational policy forums, or ‘integration by stealth’, thus reach their limits when faced with open contention in national democratic publics (Borzel and Risse, 2018; Hegemann and Kahl, 2018). Further obstacles arise when supposed threats to internal security are also looked at from the perspective of social or welfare policies. This not only relates to legitimate differences in problem-framing, say of the causes of crime or violent radicalisation, but also to the use of financial resources, which largely remain tied to the nation-state. Substantial investments in community cohesion, crime prevention and social integration - which many observers continue to see as the most effective and important contribution to long-term internal security (Savage et al., 2008) - can only be made through taxation. This power of taxation and corresponding democratic accountability have yet to be successfully transferred to international organisations.

On an abstract level, one could argue that we are in an interim historical period and that a further politicisation of internal security at the European level will provide a way out of these dilemmas, leading to an integrated polity or, at least, a transnational internal security community. Further politicisation and debate might bring more transparency and enable public deliberation on the question of which security tasks should reasonably and legitimately be transferred to the European level. Yet, a growing politicisation might also provide incentives to pursue excessive security measures that target minorities and undermine civil liberties, or deepen and entrench political conflicts between different European countries and, thereby, make further cooperation more difficult. This was exemplified in the debates over the distribution of refugees across European countries or the lead-up to the Brexit referendum. In sum, we should be wary of adding ever more threat conceptions to the political debate and underlining the importance of European internal security cooperation. But instead of retreating to professional (and largely hidden) venues, the political management of identity conflicts and possible de-securitisation of societal threat perceptions could offer a more constructive way forward, which would also provide room to uphold shared European fundamental rights.


  • 1 Treaty on the European Union (TEU) as well as the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).
  • 2 Chapter V TFEU, Art. 67-89.
  • 3 Art. 4 (2) TEU.

Further reading

Andreas, Peter, and Nadelman, Ethan (2006), Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University' Press.

Bigo, Didier, Guild, Elsbeth, Carrera, Sergio, and Walker, Rob M. (eds) (2010), Europe’s 21st Century Challenge: Delivering Liberty. Farnham: Ashgate.

Bossong, Raphael, and Rhinard, Mark (eds) (2016), Theorizing Internal Security in the European Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kaunert, Christian, Léonard, Sara, and Pawlak, Patryk (eds) (2012), European Homeland Security: A European Strategy in the Making? London: Routledge.


Centre for European Policies Studies, Rights and Security Section: Council of Europe:

European Parliament, Committee for Civil Liberties justice and Home Affairs: www.europarl.europa. eu/committees/en/libe/home.html



Amoore, Louise, and de Goede, Marieke (eds) (2008), Risk and the War on Terror. London: Routledge.

Andreas, Peter, and Nadelmann, Ethan (2006), Policing the Globe: Criminalization and Crime Control in International Relations. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

.Aradau, Claudia, and van Munster, Rens (2007), ‘Governing Terrorism Through Risk: Taking Precautions, (Un)Knowing the Future’, European Journal of International Relations, 13 (1), 89-115.

Argomaniz, Javier (2011), The EU and Counter-Terrorism: Politics, Polity and Policies after 9/11. London: Routledge.

Argomaniz, Javier (2009), ‘When the EU Is the ‘‘Norm-Taker’’: The Passenger Name Records Agreement and the EU’s Internalization of US Border Security Norms' Journal of European Integration, 31 (1), 119-136.

Bauman, Zygmunt, Bigo, Didier, Esteves, Paulo, Guild, Elspeth, Jabri, Vivienne, Lyon, David, and Walker, R. B.J. (2014), ‘After Snowden: Rethinking the Impact of Surveillance’, International Political Sociology, 8 (2), 121-144.

Bigo, Didier (2006), ‘Internal and External Aspects of Security’, European Security, 15 (4), 385-404.

Bigo, Didier (2014), ‘The (In-)Securitization Practices of Three Universes of EU Border Control: Military/Navy - Border Guards/Police - Database Analysts’, Security Dialogue, 45 (3), 209-225.

Borzel, Tanja, and Risse, Thomas (2018), ‘From the Euro to the Schengen Crisis: European Integration Theories, Politicization, and Identity Politics’, Journal of European Public Policy, 25 (1), 83-108.

Bossong, Raphael (2013), The Evolution of EU Counter-terrorism: European Security Policy after 9/11. London: Routledge.

Bossong, Raphael, and Hegemann, Hendrik (2015), ‘Introduction: European Civil Security Governance -Towards a New Comprehensive Policy Space?’, in Raphael Bossong and Hendrik Hegemann (eds), European Civil Security Governance: Cooperation and Diversity in Crisis and Disaster Management. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 1-23.

Brodeur, Jean-Paul (2007), ‘High and Low-Policing in Post-9/11 Times’, Policing, 1 (1), 25-37.

Bures, Oldrich (2012), ‘Informal Counterterrorism Arrangements in Europe: Beauty by Variety or Duplicity by Abundance?’, Cooperation and Conflict, 74 (4), 495-518.

Buzan, Barry (1991), People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Buzan, Barry (2006), ‘Will the ‘‘Global War on Terrorism” Be the New Cold War?’, International Affairs, 82 (6), 1101-1118.

Buzan, Barry, Waever, Ole, and Wilde, Jaap de (1998), Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.

Carrera, Sergio, and Guild, Elspeth (2016), ‘EU-Turkey Plan for Handling Refugees Is Fraught with Legal and Procedural Challenges’, CEPS Commentary. Available at: (accessed: 22 October 2018).

Deflem, Mathieu (2002), Policing World Society: Historical Foundations of International Police Cooperation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Den Boer, Monika, Hillenbrand, Claudia, and Nblke, Andreas (2008), ‘Legitimacy Under Pressure: The European Web of Counter-Terrorism Networks’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 46 (1), 101-124.

De Nevers, Renee (2007), ‘NATO’s International Security Role in the Terrorist Era’, International Security, 31 (4), 34-66.

Dunn Cavelty, Myriam, and Kristensen, Kristian Seby (eds) (2008), Securing the ‘Homeland’: Critical Infrastructure, Risk and (Insecurity. London: Routledge.

Ehrhart, Hans-Georg, Hegemann, Hendrik, and Kahl, Martin (2014) ‘Towards Security' Governance as a Critical Tool: A Conceptual Outline’, European Security, 23 (2), 145-162.

Eriksson, Johan, and Rhinard, Mark (2009), ‘The Internal-External Security Nexus: Notes on an Emerging Research Agenda’, Cooperation and Conflict, 44 (3), 243-267.

European Commission (2009), ‘The Commission Proposes Granting 494 Million Euros to Italy to Help Cope with the Aftermath of the Abruzzo Earthquake’, Press Release IP/09/1185, 23 July 2009, European Commission, Brussels. Available at: en.htm?locale=en (accessed: 10 April 2018).

European Commission (2010). ‘The EU Internal Security Strategy in .Action. Five Steps towards a More Secure Europe’, Memo COM/2010/673 final, 22 November 2010, European Commission, Brussels. Available at: 10DC0673&from=en (accessed: 22 October 2018).

European Commission (2015) ‘European Agenda on Security’, Communication COM/2015/185 final, 28 April 2015, European Commission, Strasbourg. Available at: default/files/european-agenda-security.pdf (accessed: 22 October 2018).

European Commission (2016) ‘Delivering on the European Agenda on Security to Fight against Terrorism and Pave the Way Towards an Effective and Genuine Security Union', Communication COM/2016/230 final, 20 April 2016, European Commission, Brussels. Available at: https://ec. legislative-documents/docs/20160420/communication_eas_progress_since_april_2015_en.pdf (accessed: 22 October 2018).

European Commission (2017a). Special Eurobarometer 464b: Europeans’ Attitudes towards Security. Brussels: European Commission.

European Commission (2017b) Standard Eurobarometer 88: Autumn 2017: Public Opinion in the European Union. Brussels: European Commission.

Farrall, Stephen D., Jackson, Jonathan, and Gray, Emily (2009), Social Order and the Fear of Crime in Contemporary Times. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Furedi, Frank(2005), Culture of Fear: Risk-Taking and the Morality of Low Expectation. London: Continuum.

Garland, David (2001), Culture of Control: Crime and Social Order in Contemporary Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Guiraudon, Virginie (2000), ‘European Integration and Migration Policy: Vertical Policy-Making as Venue Shopping’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 38 (2), 251-271.

Hegemann, Hendrik, and Kahl, Martin (2018), ‘Security Governance and the Limits of Depoliticisation: EU Policies to Protect Critical Infrastructures and Prevent Radicalization’, Journal of International Relations and Development, 21 (3), 552-579.

Herschinger, Eva, Jachtenfuchs, Markus, and Kraft-Kasack, Christiane (2011), ‘Scratching the Heart of the Artichoke? How International Institutions and the European Union Constrain the Monopoly of Force’, European Political Science Review, 3 (3), 445-468.

Huysmans, Jef (2004), ‘A Foucaultian View on Spill-Over: Freedom and Security in the EU’, Journal of International Relations and Development, 7 (3), 284-318.

Huysmans, Jef (2006), The Politics of Insecurity: Fear, Migration and Asylum in the EU. London: Routledge.

Jakobi, Anja (2013), Com mon Goods ¿r Evils: The Formation of Global Crime Governance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Jeandesboz, Julien (2016), ‘Justifying Control: EU Border Security and the Shifting Boundaries of Political Arrangement’, in Raphael Bossong and Helena Carrapico (eds), EU Borders and Shifting Internal Security: Technology, Externalization and Accountability. Cham: Springer, pp. 221-238.

Kaunert, Christian, Léonard, Sarah, and Pawlak, Patryk (eds) (2012), European Homeland Security: A European Strategy in the Making? .Abingdon: Routledge.

Knill, Christoph, and Lehmkuhl, Dirk (2002), ‘Private Actors and the State: Internationalization and Changing Patterns of Governance’, Governance, 15 (1), 41-63.

Loader, Ian, and Walker, Neil (2007), Civilizing Security. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Monar, Jorg (2001), ‘The Dynamics of Justice and Home Affairs: Laboratories, Driving Forces and Costs’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 39 (4), 747-764.

Mueller, John, and Stewart, Mark G. (2011), Terror, Security and Money: Balancing the Risks, Benefits and Costs of Homeland Security. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Neal, Andrew (2009), ‘Securitization and Risk at the EU Border: The Origins of Frontex’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 47 (2), 333-356.

Pinotti, Paolo (2015), ‘The Causes and Consequences of Organised Crime: Preliminary Evidence across Countries’, The Economic Journal, 125 (586), 158-174.

Savage, Joanne, Bennett, Richard R., and Danner, Mona (2008), ‘Economic Assistance and Crime: A Cross-National Investigation', Europeanjoumal of Criminology, 5 (2), 217-238.

Sperling, James, and Webber, Mark (2014), ‘Security Governance in Europe: A Return to System’, European Security, 23 (2), 126-144.

Thym, Daniel (2016), ‘“Citizens” and “Foreigners” in EU Law: Migration Law and Its Cosmopolitan Outlook’, European Law Journal, 22 (3), 296-316.

Trauner, Florian, and Ripoll Servent, Ariadna (2016), ‘The Communitarization of the Area of Freedom, Security andjustice: Why Institutional Change Does Not Translate into Policy Change’, Journal of Common Market Studies, 54 (6), 1417-1432.

Van der Vleuten, Erik, and Lagendijk, Vincent (2009), ‘Europe’s Electrical Vulnerability Geography: Historical Interpretations of the 2006 “European Blackout'”, Tensions of Europe/Inventing Europe Working Paper. Eindhoven: Technische Universiteit Eindhoven.

Vorsina, Margarita, Manning, Matthew, Fleming, Christopher, Ambrey, Cristopher, and Smith, Cristine (2017), ‘The Welfare Cost of Terrorism’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 29 (6), 1066-1086.

Wasver, Ole, Buzan, Barry, Kelstrup, Morten, and Lemaitre, Pierre (1993), Identity, Migration and the New Security Agenda in Europe. London: Pinter.

Waldron, Jeremy (2003), ‘Security and Liberty: The Image of Balance’, The Journal of Political Philosophy, 11 (2), 191-210.

Wuchte, Thomas, and Knani, Mehdi (2013), ‘Countering Violent Extremism and Radicalization that Lead to Terrorism: The OSCE’s Unique Regional Blueprint', Journal EXIT-Deutschland, 2, 76-86.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >