The outbreak of the SARS-COVID 19 global pandemic has caused death, fear and major upheaval in our ways of life. The economic consequences of the pandemic are not fully known at the time of writing, but it seems inevitable that the world will be hit by a major recession and that no country will come out of this pandemic unaffected. 

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REPORT
Human Security in Central Europe
Executive summary

★★★★★

The threat that we are dealing with is global and knows no borders; it cannot be deterred or contained by military means. Peoples’ fear for their lives and future well-being is real; the dangers are immediate, and this is the closest that we have known to the state-of-war in the 21st century.  

These developments are bringing into focus the need to recalibrate our thinking about security, which still remains state-centric and concerned with traditional military means of addressing the threats to our societies. 30 years since the end of the Cold War, Central Europe – once referred to by Milan Kundera as the “Kidnapped West” – is geopolitically safer than it has ever been.

All of the Central European nations are now members of NATO, and quite a few of them (including the Baltic States, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania) are hosting NATO and American presence on their soil. Most Central Europeans are also members of the EU; moreover, the Baltic States, Slovakia and Slovenia are part of the eurozone. 

Whilst the region’s geopolitics has dramatically improved, time has come to look into the security of individuals, not only states. The key dilemma is whether the people who live in the states that “re-joined the west” have an improved sense of personal security.

The outbreak of the pandemic brings into the fore the heightened sense of personal insecurity. The most obvious implications of the pandemic concern health and prosperity, but the consequences of COVID-19 are felt in many other areas of human activity. It is a known fact, for example, that the enforcement of lockdowns has had a profound impact on the rise of domestic violence. Whilst the rate of violent crime usually declined as a result of decreased human activity, the rate of corruption has gone up especially in those nations that have problems with the rule of law. Those and other factors affecting the sense of security have been experienced throughout the region. 

Whilst there are many fields of human security, this report focuses on four areas: Crime, Gender-Based Violence, Economics and Health. The selection of these four areas was motivated by their likely exposure to the implications of the pandemic; however, most of the contributions to this report adopted a longer perspective, with the epidemic constituting a factor highlighting certain trends, which were in motion already.  

The report findings suggest that the region’s economies and healthcare have fared – so far (early June 2020) – better under the epidemic conditions than the rest of the EU. However, the prevalence of largely socially conservative attitudes in the region had their impact on the rise of domestic violence under the lockdown conditions. The weakness of the rule of law in Central Europe contributed to the spike in the levels of corruption. 

It seems, therefore, that whilst Central Europe showed considerable resilience in confronting the pandemic, the decades of isolation from the West and the relative immaturity of the political systems in the regions have amplified threats to personal security during the epidemic. 

Policy Recommendations 

  • The EU must return to the policy of conditionality towards the region. Whilst the carrot of membership is already consumed, there are carrots and potential sticks of EU funding still available. The EU should therefore adopt a clear policy of conditionality focused on the rule of law. The states that violate the rule of law should be deprived of funding in the context of the EU recovery fund and in the context of the EU financial framework. 
  • The EU should carefully communicate its punitive measures towards states violating EU conventions and norms as the governments of these states will certainly portray any adverse action directed against their nations as unwarranted/unsubstantiated acts of financial aggression and federalisation by the union. It is of the utmost importance that the EU is prepared to counter these narratives – most likely geared towards domestic audiences – by the governments that engage in undermining the rule of law. 
  • The US should condition further progress of its security cooperation with Central Europeans on the maintenance of the rule of law.
  • Both the EU and the US should be raising the need to combat Gender-Based-Violence not least by adopting and implementing the Istanbul Convention.
  • The EU should adopt a comprehensive strategy of combating the influence of Pro-Kremlin propaganda 

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Authors:

Spasimir Domaradzki is an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Lazarski University in Warsaw, Poland. Twitter: @DomaradzkiSpas

Kerry Longhurst is the Jean Monnet Professor at Collegium Civitas and a Visiting Professor at the College of Europe. Twitter: @longhurstkerry

Krassen Stanchev is an Associate professor of Public Choice and Macroeconomic Analysis of Politics at Sofia University. Twitter: @KrassenStanche1

Marcin Zaborowski is the Editor-in-chief of Res Publica Nowa, a Senior Associate at Visegrad Insight, and the Former Executive Director of PISM in Warsaw, Poland. Twitter: @MaZaborowski

 

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