Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

More effective transnational crisis management

With Europe facing transboundary crises on multiple fronts, the EU-funded TransCrisis project has developed a number of policy recommendations for effective crisis management.
More effective transnational crisis management
Today, crises are rarely contained within national borders. The refugee crisis, the financial crisis, food-related deaths and even volcanic ash clouds – all crises that have far-reaching effects across Europe.

Transboundary crises like these represent the new normal. But does the EU have the capacity to effectively manage them? How coordinated is the response in each case, and how have political leaders fared in the management of these crises? With a re-emergence of nationalist politics, how can the EU navigate complex issues like sovereignty and national identity in a way that is considered legitimate?

The EU-funded TransCrisis (Enhancing the EU’s Transboundary Crisis Management Capacities: Strategies for Multi-Level Leadership) project was designed to answer these questions and develop policy recommendations for improving effective and legitimate crisis management across the Continent. Here we sit down with Project Coordinator Martin Lodge to learn more.

What is a transboundary crisis?

A transboundary crisis is one that does not respect national jurisdictional boundaries. They usually also involve other types of boundaries, such as those established by organisations, legal frameworks, professional disciplines or Member State policy cleavages. Because of this ambiguity, transboundary crises are particularly challenging for political and administrative systems – especially in the post-financial crisis context of depleted resources.

Why is the TransCrisis project needed now?

The project comes at a critical time. As some European states are retreating from the European project, TransCrisis was dedicated to examining the social, economic and political consequences of managing transboundary crises. From this research, we aimed to understand how the EU can improve its capacity to manage transboundary crises while maintaining its legitimacy in the eyes of Member States. Of course, this is no small task, as it is a challenge that relates to the future direction of the European Union itself.

That sounds ambitious, where do you start?

Our main objective was to identify the individual and organisational leadership strategies needed to successfully address transboundary crises. So, the starting point was to assess the challenges for effective transboundary crisis management in the context and aftermath of the financial crisis. That being said, however, during the course of the project additional contextual conditions had to be considered – most of all, the refugee crisis and Brexit, but also the growing backsliding by Member States.

From here, our research turned to assessing the key tasks associated with effective transboundary crisis management and how these tasks can be executed across levels of government and types of crises. For example, we assessed meaning-making by political leaders during the financial crisis, the presence of crisis management capacities in EU institutions, and the interaction between EU and Member State administrative systems in a variety of policy domains, as well as the deepening impact of backsliding among some Member States. Such activities had to be pursued by developing effective knowledge exchange and dissemination strategies capable of enhancing Europe’s capacity for managing transboundary crises.

You mention backsliding, what do you mean by this?

Backsliding is the intentional moving away from the liberal democratic constitutional norms that the EU is based on. Backsliding can be seen in the growing re-nationalisation of electoral politics and the adoption of policies that retreat from, or even contradict, commonly accepted European constitutional norms that is happening in a variety of Member States. The TransCrisis project identified a number of indicators that reflect on good governance and the fundamental principles of EU membership. These include the rule of law, corruption control, and gender-, disability- and ethnicity-based protections.

We then used this index to explore the nature and prevalence of backsliding among EU Member States. Unfortunately, the evidence is disheartening. To varying degrees, many Member States are backsliding on their commitments. Although Hungary and Poland are particularly prominent, they are far from being alone.

How has the EU been dealing with backsliding?

Backsliding is a particularly challenging transboundary crisis. Enforcing the EU rulebook could backfire, playing into the hands of nationalist politics and further fanning the flames of disintegration. For example, in late 2017, the European Commission initiated proceedings against Poland. However, our research suggests that it is questionable whether such action will actually discourage other Member States from backsliding themselves. It is also questionable whether other Member States will ever unanimously agree to suspend a state’s EU membership.

Overall, we found that backsliding represents a distinct transboundary crisis for the European Union – one that points to a growing tendency among some Member States to wilfully ignore EU laws or to openly challenge them. In doing so, they threaten the very fabric of the Union itself. By being unable to effectively deal with this problem, the EU faces an important juncture if it is to prevent further backsliding on traditional democratic values.

Accepting that we live in an age where scepticism towards transboundary collaboration is an acceptable part of the political debate, what can the EU do?

Enhancing transboundary crises management capacities is essential to the survival of the European Union. The problem is that EU institutions and Member States are not just disagreeing about the most appropriate ways of responding to transboundary crises, they are even disagreeing on what constitutes a transboundary crisis. There are therefore no easy answers.

To develop effective transboundary management in the context of the EU, it is important to realise that there are no one-size-fits-all answers across all types of transboundary crisis. Instead, we must consider the trade-offs between different models of crisis management in terms of appropriate level of government and in terms of how prescriptive common rules are. After all, crisis management requires discretion, as every crisis is different.

In the immediate future, what is necessary is the development of a truly transboundary crisis management capacity at the EU level that goes beyond the current, mostly sectoral (i.e., DG) focus. Second, there needs to be more attention paid to the administrative pre-requisites to ensure effective crisis management, possibly involving ‘stress tests’ of Member State administrations.

Source: Interview from research*eu results magazine n. 75

Related information

Follow us on: RSS Facebook Twitter YouTube Managed by the EU Publications Office Top