Emerging Security Technologies and EU Governance: Actors, Practices and Processes

Europe of Knowledge |

What role do technologies play in European integration? How EU governance of security technologies is changing and how does it differ from other major players? These and other questions are examined in a recent book Emerging Security Technologies and EU Governance: Actors, Practices and Processes, edited by Antonio Calcara, Raluca Csernatoni and Chantal Lavallée. In this Q&A, they tell about the origins of this book, key themes and emerging topics in this exciting and fast changing area.


Q1: What have been the rationales and origins of this book?

The origins of the project date back to 2017, when we were all based at the Institute for European Studies of the Vrije Universiteit in Brussels. Coincidentally, we actually first met during a hot September afternoon in Barcelona, at the 11th EISA (European International Studies Association) Pan-European Conference 2017, where we were paper presenters in the panel on ‘Military Adaptation or a Case of Putting One’s Head in the Sand?’ Notwithstanding different academic backgrounds and scholarly approaches, we were interested to investigate the impact of emerging security technologies in various EU policy areas. The core idea was (and still is!) to understand how new technologies are shaping the rapidly changing European policy processes, governance dynamics, and overall security landscape. We therefore began to discuss these issues on a daily basis and decided to involve scholars with similar research interests and with a very open attitude in terms of inter-disciplinary approaches.


Our collective work has especially benefitted from in-depth discussions during the panel on “Actors and Technologies: Towards a New European Security Governance” at the European Union in International Affairs 2018 (EUIA) in Brussels and the workshop on “Theoretical and Practical Implications of Dual-Use Technologies in the European Union” as part of the EISA European Workshops in International Studies (EWIS) at the University of Groningen (2018). We then met several times – both in-person and online – throughout 2019 to finalise the project. We are pleased to have cultivated a close-knit research group over the years and we are also convinced that the main strength of our book is the fact that it gathers scholars at different stages of their careers with various academic backgrounds and research interests. Using varied theoretical perspectives, they shed light on how diverse emerging technologies are being embedded in EU policy frameworks as a common good, with new legal, policy, economic instruments and measures, triggering new governance mechanisms, practices, and patterns of authority.


Q2: What role do technologies play in European integration?

Technologies play a key role in the process of European integration. In the last twenty years, the emergence of technologies such as drones, autonomous robotics, artificial intelligence, cyber and biotechnologies has stimulated worldwide debates on their use, risks and benefits in both the civilian and the security-related fields. The book emphasises the importance of studying how these emerging security technologies are governed in practice within the EU’s complex political and institutional machinery. With reference to European governance, the various contributions address the complex interplay of power relations, interests and framings between broad range of stakeholders EU institutions and agencies, state and non-state, public and private actors, and surrounding the development of policies and strategies for guiding the use of new security technologies. Each chapter in the book identifies actors involved in the governance of a specific technology sector, their multilevel institutional and corporate configurations, and the conflicting forces, values, ethical and legal concerns, as well as security imperatives and economic interests.


Q3: The EU governance towards security technologies have changed. Since the 1980s the EU has been supporting research and development through its Framework Programmes which have exclusive focus on civil applications. In recent years, EU has also started to fund defence research and set up the European Defence Fund. Why this shift in EU policy? Is the EU still a peace project?

Concerning these changes, we have seen growing concerns in the critical literature and civil society about the militarisation of the EU and the securitization of different policy domains. We believe that this debate should be further contextualised from an institutional point of view taking into account the EU governance structure, a political point of view taking into account power configurations among different levels of authority and a strategical point of view considering fast-evolving, very costly and competitive research and development as well as changing dynamics in transatlantic relations. For what concerns the policy shift from civilian to military research (or vice versa when considering how innovation nowadays predominantly stems from the civilian sector), our book highlights the multi-causal and complex nature of the phenomenon, especially when it comes to dual-use technologies.


Technological progress has been framed to be of strategic importance for both the EU’s future military capacity and economic competitiveness. An integrated defence-industrial base (with the support of EU funds), as also specified in the 2016 EU Global Strategy, is portrayed as indispensable, that is if Europe wants to achieve the by now infamous concept of ‘Strategic Autonomy’. In addition, there is no doubt that the European Defence Agency, the European Commission, the European Parliament (especially the Subcommittee on Security and Defence) and defence industry have – for different reasons – pushed for this process. Our book also looks at new patterns of authority and expertise within the intergovernmental-supranational institutional balance and the European Commission’s policy entrepreneurship and activity in framing and governing emerging security technologies. Arguably, such developments have raised important questions concerning the EU’s foundational and integration myth as a ‘peace project’ and whether it can still be seen as such, given recent EU-driven defence technological and industrial initiatives. While this question falls beyond the scope of the book’s research agenda, what is certain is that the EU is undergoing significant policy and institutional transformations that might indeed impact its identity-building as a global security actor and technological powerhouse.


Q4: How does the EU governance of security technologies differ from how these technologies are governed in other regions? Is the EU better or worse that other parts of the world in governing its security technologies?

Rather than better or worse than other regional contexts, we argue that the EU governance of emerging security technologies – due to its multiplicity of actors, institutions, discourses and practices – is following a distinctive path that sometimes converges and sometimes diverges from other international approaches. For instance, the EU seems to be accepting the dominant narrative that the development of emerging security technologies such as Artificial Intelligence or drones is essential to bridge the technological-innovation gap, towards the US and China. However, EU representatives are also trying to find a complex balance between creating markets and stimulating cutting-edge research and innovation, and the need to address their normative and ethical implications with legal controls regarding their use and the risks of misuse.


Unlike other actors in fact, the EU has used extensively specialised expert groups to legitimize its policies and to involve state and non-state, civil and private actors (industry, civil society, international organisations, civil authorities). This warrants further research into an area that is also covered in the book, namely the role of security and science expertise in establishing and reproducing patterns of authority and legitimate knowledges in the governance of new and emerging technologies. Moreover, we argue that the analysis of the EU governance towards these technologies is also questioning the nature and scope of the European integration. Such technical advancements are transforming civil–military practices as well as their interactions and might have unforeseen long-term effects on the EU imaginaries (of what the EU is) and its global role.


Q5: What role do security technologies play during the times of global Covid-19 pandemic?

Security technologies are playing a central role during the global Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic is acting as an accelerator of certain dynamics that were already in place, such as the use of contact tracing apps, drones and biometric technologies for surveillance, coercive control of confinement measures. Our new works, which also build on the research carried out for the book, are looking at the broad use of emerging security technologies to tackle the health emergency. Raluca Csernatoni has noted that whereas tracking apps represent a critical experiment for the role technology will play in tackling future pandemics, scepticism should surround techno-solutionism and AI-powered mass digital surveillance when it comes to complex problems. Chantal Lavallée, in a co-authored piece with Bruno Oliveira Martins, another book chapter contributor, has looked at the extensive use and multiple applications of drones from the outset of the pandemic, the implications in terms of privacy/data protection, security and safety issues and consequences on public acceptance.


Q6: What are the most important trends and developments in the governance of security technologies to watch in the next few years?

We believe that there are three trends and developments in the governance of security technologies to watch in the next few years. The first is linked to the previous point on the use of technological silver bullets mobilized during states of emergency and the necessary careful assessment of the trade-offs between democratic principles and technologically mediated emergency politics. Second, from an EU perspective, it will be interesting to see how the relationship between institutions, member states, industries and civil society groups will evolve in the regulation and governance of new technologies, not least those related to artificial intelligence. Third, from a broader perspective, we believe it is important to observe how the debate on strategic autonomy and European technological sovereignty will develop. Both concepts seem to have lost traction after the 2020 American presidential election, but may come back into vogue if there will be further transatlantic turbulence and in the context of US-China rivalry.


Q7: What are the main lessons from your book for practitioners and policymakers?

This is the first book that deals with understanding how a unique and complex institutional actor such as the EU adapts and puts forward the governance of innovative technologies. The focus on these emerging and dual-use technologies and key technological areas such cyber, drones, and AI in the EU will certainly be of high interest to stakeholders, expert audiences, practitioners, and policy makers in Brussels, in Europe and beyond, as well as for professionals engaged in these sectors in Europe and worldwide. European policymakers should read our book to understand the role of national actors, but also their interactions embedded within new configurations of actors. National policymakers should read our book to understand more about EU dynamics. Both industrial and civil society representatives and/or ordinary citizens might also better grasp institutional and political dynamics that are already having a significant impact on their lives.


Q8: What would be interesting avenues for future research?

From a theoretical point of view, we believe that more conceptual effort should be made to rigorously bridge Science and Technology Studies with Security Studies and European Studies. Besides our book, some recent works are going in the same direction. From an empirical point of view, each emerging technology analysed in the book would deserve a more extensive treatment, which, due to space constraints, we could not go into, and a follow-up as they are fast-evolving technologies and as the framing of new EU policies is ongoing. Perhaps these could be two ideas for a second collective book on the subject.



Antonio Calcara is Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Department of Political Science of the LUISS “Guido Carli” University in Rome. He is also currently Visiting Lecturer at SciencesPo Paris. His research interests are at the crossroads of International Relations, International Political Economy and Security Studies.


Raluca Csernatoni is Guest Professor at the Institute for European Studies (IES) of Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). She is also Visiting Scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, where she works on European security and defence. Her research interests focus on critical theoretical approaches at the intersection of security and technology, as well as new and emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and drones.


Chantal Lavallée is Assistant Professor of International Studies and Assistant Director of Centre for security and crisis governance (CRITIC) at Royal Military College Saint-Jean (Canada). Her research and publications focus on the contribution of the European Commission to the security and defence as well as emerging technology (drones) sectors.