The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels remind the West that we are in a globalised world where dangers such as climate change and terrorism are not limited by borders.
Terrorism is a global problem that requires a global concerted effort to make the world safe. Many ask why the European Union has not done more to protect its citizens while at the same time question the EU's legitimacy as a global actor: we want the help of the EU while in the same breath want to leave it.
One reason for this may be the expectation gap between what citizens think the EU's competence and power and the reality. The public do not know enough about the EU and rely on the media, who are perplexed by the complexity of it and don't explain the intricacies of the EU.
In the United Kingdom many Conservatives and all UKIP MP's want to leave the European Union and want to reduce it to a free trade area only. This would make fighting terrorism harder because global problems require global solutions in the form of supranational bodies whose objective is not diluted by national politics.
The current criticism of the European Union as a soft actor in terms of security can be explained by the Member State's lack of political will to upload and divulge their security concerns to the European Union and to receive a European solution. It is the national ministers who meet in the Justice and Home Affairs Committee of the Council of the European Union who make the decisions pertaining to security. The lack of progress in this area cannot be explained by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels but by the national governments desire to not engage fully with this policy area in the EU.
Despite the perceived lack of action, if the UK were to leave the EU they would not have a seat the decision making table. For those who claim the EU dictates the policy on security matters it should be understood there is no exclusive competence of the EU in the area of Justice and Home Affairs. Furthermore the UK is assumed to not be part of security decisions until it opts-in, allowing it maximum autonomy and speaking rights.
The EU has the competence to fight global terrorism and there have been policies adopted on cross-borer terrorism under Schengen Two and counter-terrorism as well as the Terrorism Directive to combat the illegal trafficking of firearms and explosives. Clearly more work needs to be done, including the provision and sharing of information.
The question remains open about whether the member states are willing to utilise the expertise and the knowledge of the European Institutions to help eradicate terrorism, or at the least ISIS. This has in part been answered by the recent action plan adopted by the JHA Council focusing on tracing terrorists through financial movements and preventing them from moving funds or other assets and disrupting the sources of revenue used by terrorist organisations, by targeting their capacity to raise funds.
While Interpol works with the Member States to fight terrorism, the EU has a bigger budget and existing instruments like the Common Security and Defence Policy that are exist to fight terrorism but need to be implemented.
National security is seen by many as an area of competence that makes a state sovereign, its ability to defend itself but in a globalised world action. It must be recognised however that a mere plan rid the world of this foe, action is needed.
As for Brexit, the citizens of the United Kingdom should be aware of the inner workings of the EU to make an informed decision on whether being part of the EU is beneficial to them. The media is not helping and voters need to review the EU's equivalent of a manifesto, the Commission, Parliament and Councils (both European Council and Council of the European Union's) websites. This will help to reduce the expectation gap between what the people think the EU is or ought to be doing and the reality, in the area of security for example.
The view of this author is that the EU is relevant for the UK and without the membership we lose the the benefit of knowledge sharing and collective action that could undermine efforts to fight global terrorism.