International Security: the EU brings real added value

Le Taurillon’s Interview with Catherine Soullie, EPP European Member of Parliament

, by The editorial board of Le Taurillon, Translated by Sarah Todd

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

International Security: the EU brings real added value

Catherine Soullie is the French MEP for the constituency of Massif Central-Auvergne-Limousin, member of the European People’s Party and regional councillor for the region Centre. At the European Parliament, she sits in particular in the Committee on security and defence, the Committee on environment, public health and food safety, and the Committee on the internal market and consumer protection.

Le Taurillon: You have recently led the European Parliament delegation to the Atalante general headquarters in Northwood, in the United-Kingdom. Can you tell us a bit more about this operation?

Catherine Soullie: Yes, Atalante is actually a European military operation launched to fight against piracy off the coasts of Somalia. Our forces there are striving to achieve three goals, namely the protection of the ships of the World Food Program, the protection of vulnerable trade ships passing through the Gulf of Aden, and the deterrence of armed thefts in the zone.

Concretely, it represents servicemen from 13 member States of the European Union joined by third countries like Norway, a general staff of 80 people and a fleet of 12 frigates, one submarine and 3 reconnaissance aircrafts.

It is a shame to note that the Atalante operation is still little known of the general public even though it is the EU’s first naval operation and has already existed for two years! The term of the operation, which should have lapsed in December of this year, has actually just been extended by one year, which not only shows the success of the operation, but also all the work which is left to accomplish...

Le Taurillon: Precisely, what have been the successes and limits of the operation since it was launched?

Catherine Soullie: The strength of this operation comes first of all from its ability to implement a global approach, which includes both civilian and military elements. Let us also note the strong complementarily of the actions carried out by the EU and NATO. There is no competition between these two entities, which besides both act on mandate from the United Nations.

Another positive point is the excellent circulation of the information, thanks to constant contacts between the ship owners, the states, the European institutions and other international bodies involved in the operation. To finish, I would say that considerable progress has been made possible thanks to the adoption of a code of good conduct destined to maritime companies, which in particular compels them to introduce preventive measures. All of this means that today, less than one attack out of five is a success, whereas one out of three was in 2009.

The strength of this operation comes first of all from its ability to implement a global approach, which includes both civilian and military elements

About the limits of the operation, the main one is the size of the territory to cover, which represents over 10 times the surface of Great-Britain! To that you may add the fact that it is sometimes very difficult to distinguish between the pirate ships and the commercial ships. Yet the pirates’ reaction time is extremely fast. We reckon that about 15 minutes pass between the moment when they detect a boat and the assault of that boat.

Le Taurillon: The parliamentary commission on security and defence named you rapporteur for the European People’s Party on the plan of action aimed at strengthening security in the nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical fields. What can a structure like the EU bring to the action of the states?

Catherine Soullie: The plan of action was essentially put into place to better control the access to nuclear, radiological, biological and chemical agents and avoid them falling into the hands of terrorist groups. I think that the EU has a fundamental part to play because the phenomenon doesn’t concern itself with national borders. Thanks to their transnational perspective, the European institutions can proceed to an inventory of the member states’ best practices and then organise their promotion and application on the whole EU territory, to the benefit of everyone’s safety.

Le Taurillon: As a member of the delegation for relations with Israel, what do you think of the EU’s reaction following the confrontations between the Israeli navy and the fleet of pro-Palestinians activists off the coast of Gaza?

Catherine Soullie: All I can tell you is that I totally approve the international inquiry which was asked by chief of European diplomacy Catherine Ashton. One must now hope that the investigations on what really happened will shed some light on the situation and allow us to answer to it in an unheated context.

Le Taurillon: You were elected at the European Parliament just one year ago. How do you view these first months as a European Member of Parliament?

Catherine Soullie: It is a lot of work! One must say that at the beginning of our mandate, the European Commission was in “current affairs” while awaiting the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the designation of a new college of commissioners. Since the Barroso II team took its functions, we are experimenting a much more intense period with a marked acceleration in the matters at hand.

But what hit me most when I arrived here is that the search for compromise constantly guides the legislative work. You don’t have the cut throat debates which you can see at the national Assembly, which would actually be a real headache for the interpreters providing the transcription of the speeches in the 23 official languages of the European Union!

I also notice that the European Parliament is very open to external opinions. Any citizen who has an interest to assert can thus speak to the MEPs and expect to be heard.

Image: Portrait of Catherine Soullie, source: Martin Lahousse - All rights reserved

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