Monday, December 04, 2017

Europe at Sea - a documentary portrait of the EU’s security policy vision

One of the EU referendum narrative threads voiced concern at the rapid emergence of a European super-state that sought to wipe out the supposed principle of subsidiarity* in an increasing number of sectors: financial, economic, trade, foreign policy, and defence.

Europe at Sea is a new hour long documentary that explores some of the major pressures on the European Union and the European landmass.

The film introduces Zygmunt Bauman’s notion of ‘liquid modernity’ with global citizens increasingly choosing their own flow through the work, home and values, freed from the traditional cultural/national patterns of old. This is seen as one of the drivers for the increasing level of migration around the world that is also provoked by conflict, climate and economic pressures.
“Small could be beautiful but it is not effective. Are British people no better off? It’s playing with fire.”

Those are the words of the EU’s chief diplomat in light of the UK EU referendum result. Filmmaker Annalisa Piras’ documentary follows the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy over a year. Aged 43 at the time of filming, she’s the youngest of the commissioners and works in an office bedecked with an Obama ‘Hope’ poster and colourful drawings by her children.

How can the EU face up to the challenges it faces? Mogherini argues that Europe needs to take control of their defence, working with allies in NATO, but aware that the US may no longer play as positive a role in world affairs follow its “mistakes” in the Middle East. She has a vision of a security force that combines military and civilian personnel, able to tackle areas like cyber-security where NATO is weak.

The camera follows Mogherini on a visit to Lampedusa. It brings home one of the many readings of the film’s title. The 3 October 2014 tragedy in which a fishing boat sank off the coast of the Mediterranean island with the loss of 339 lives and the rescue of only 155 of the migrants who were being trafficked across to Europe. The incident sparked a compassionate response across Italy, and occurred in the last month of Mogherini spell as Italian foreign minister before she moved to Brussels.

Operation Sophia was set up in 2015 to disrupt the people smuggling in the southern central Mediterranean. Naval vessels and crews from 25 countries participated in a joint mission, training the Libyan Coastguard, ‘neutralising’ smugglers’ boats, arresting traffickers and saving lives (over 33,000). However, tackling the cause of the migration would require action in Africa.

The House of Lords EU External Affairs Sub-Committee report from July 2017 found that the initiative had failed to achieve its objective. Baroness Verma said:
“People smuggling begins onshore, so a naval mission is the wrong tool for tackling this dangerous, inhumane and unscrupulous business. Once the boats have set sail, it is too late. Operation Sophia has failed to meet the objective of its mandate—to disrupt the business model of people smuggling. It should not be renewed.

“However it has been a humanitarian success, and it is critical that the EU’s lifesaving search and rescue work continues, but using more suitable, non-military, vessels. Future UK and EU action should focus on tackling people smuggling in source and transit countries, and supporting sustainable economic development and good governance in these countries. Italy has found itself on the front line of a mass movement of people into Europe, and deserves credit for its efforts to respond.”

The documentary ends with a chart showing how Chinese, Russian and Saudi military spending is massively increasing as the same time as the EU is collectively reducing individual defence budgets. Mogherini sees the opportunity to create the world’s second largest security force to efficiently tackle the challenges faced by Europe and be a significant peace-keeping force.

While at times Europe at Sea feels like an uncritical puff piece to promote the benefits of European integration, it’s a great educational primer to the thinking and attitudes behind the wider European project. Voices of challenge would have lengthened the film’s duration and perhaps weakened its impact. The camerawork is compelling and the access granted around the documentary’s primary subject makes it very watchable.

Produced by Springshot Productions and Journeyman Pictures, Europe at Sea is now available to view ($) on Amazon.

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*Article 5 of the Treaty on European Union in effect seeks to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen while putting in place checks to verify that any action at the level of the EU is justified and that constant checks are made to verify that action at EU level is competent and justifiable in light of national and regional aspects.

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