Describing Europe as a peace project is one of the most common answers I hear when I ask continental Europeans what the purpose of the EU is.
But this is another example of how EU thinking is often still rooted in a 1950s and 1960s vision of Europe and a Europe-centric view of the world.
Tony Blair pointed out very clearly at the weekend (BBC, "Andrew Marr show", 24 June) that it's not longer a peace project but about power. He's right - as I have previously blogged, Europe's main competitors in the world (such United States, Japan, Canada, South Korea and the BRIC countries) are nation states.
The EU cannot continue to avoid the question of how European power and influence can be projected positively but decisively in the world. The ability to broker peace and engage in post-conflict reconstruction are important but not sufficient assets.
Ít's one of the questions which - as I recently wrote- the EU is distracted from answering by the failure to resolve the Eurozone crisis.
What could this mean in practice for EU policies?
Security is the most pressing issue facing the EU. This has three strands i.e. defence, the threat of terrorism and organised crime and energy security, of which the first is most pressing.
Defence - the idea that EU should put up or shut up i.e. work through NATO – the proven option - or create a fully fledged EU equivalent (with a similar command structure, proper resources etc). But “do nothing” – undermining NATO by ill co-ordinated, ill resourced gestures, creating an economically prosperous but militarily vulnerable/dependent EU, and lack of will to take military action (only UK and France have the real will to take military action at the times when, regrettably, it is sometimes necessary - is too dangerous. In any event, as a first step EU Member States should make commitments to spend more on defence (a set % of GDP, higher than now), commit to joining NATO and remove barriers to contributing to military action where needed as opposed to just peace keeping and post conflict reconstruction (i.e. resurrecting the so-called “defence convergence criteria”).
Terrorism and organised crime - Of course all countries should strengthen their own border controls but the EU should create a well-resourced border police for EU borders to support countries with difficulties in policing the EU border. It should also simplify extradition restrictions for terrorism/organised crime offences, should have a rapid reaction homeland security group not just to share intelligence on terrorism/organised crime offences but to act on it when needed in a co-ordinated way, again to support countries with difficulties in responding to internal threats.
Energy security – the need for a well co-ordinated policy to maintain energy security is clear. This has implications for external policy (towards countries which are our suppliers), liberalisation of energy markets, trade policy (again towards countries which are our suppliers), development of energy networks (so that energy can flow), maintaining supply capacity (in case of crises) and energy efficiency (to reduce external energy dependence and the economic growth/energy demand growth link).