Overall Findings

Gaps between rhetoric and practice: a typology

Five groups identified
While almost two-thirds of EU member states have one or more WGA policies in place, the track record of actually implementing and operationalising a WGA at the headquarters level is much more mixed. A tentative typology based on an assessment of the above-mentioned variables in the EU member states differentiates between five groups of states with varying gaps between political rhetoric and institutional practice.
WGA pioneers,
high-quality performance
A first, marked group consists of the WGA pioneers – Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK – which have already been developing their WGA to external conflict and crisis for a generation. These countries have one core WGA policy document in place that features an ambitious, system-wide scope. Their WGAs are operationalised in a formal and centralised way as well as facilitated by a joint budget instrument. These countries are generally perceived as having a high-quality performance in both WGA policy and practice.
WGA policies rather successful (2)
A second group consists of smaller member states with rather successful WGA coordination in the realm of external conflict and crisis. This group includes countries such as Belgium, Cyprus, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Ireland and Luxembourg, which have very different levels of explicit/implicit WGA policy and formal/informal WGA practice. For example, while Belgium and Cyprus have one core WGA policy document with fixed institutional structures that facilitate a WGA, Ireland and the Czech Republic lack a WGA policy and formalised structures but still function in a coordinated way, albeit in a more informal and ad hoc manner. The small size of these countries is generally perceived as facilitating coordination and cooperation between and within different ministries and services (with the exception of Belgium, with its institutional complexity). This group of member states is often inspired by the integrated or comprehensive approaches of the EU and/or other multilateral organisations.
Ambitious yet
WGA record
A third group, which includes France and Germany but also the EU, are key players in external crisis management with an ambitious yet inconsistent WGA record. While they differ greatly in terms of their practical implementation, these players have WGA policies with broad geographical ambitions. And even if there are formal structures in place to implement these policies, the ‘siloed’ culture between the different services and ministries is difficult to overcome. Leadership plays a key role in driving a WGA forward.
Shortcomings in
terms of imple-
A fourth group consists of small and medium-sized member states that, despite having some WGA policies and commitments in place, still face shortcomings in terms of WGA implementation. This group includes countries such as Austria, Finland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Sweden. One sub-category within this group are member states with strong (authoritarian) leadership, such as Hungary and Poland. While a power vertical may help in taking coordinated WGA decisions, a culture of ‘divide and rule’ and a lack of transparent institutions may simultaneously undermine effective cooperation.
Weak structures
to operationalise
WGA policies
Finally, there is a group of countries with national WGA policies and structures that are not very developed. This group includes both bigger member states (e.g. Italy and Spain) and smaller to medium-sized member states, including countries in the Baltic region (e.g. Estonia and Lithuania), in Central and Eastern Europe (e.g. Slovakia), and in Southern Europe (e.g. Greece and Malta). Due to limited resources, either in general or specifically allocated to external crisis management, these countries generally lack formalised structures to operationalise a WGA. However, in recent years, some of these countries have been trying to upgrade their WGA performance in external crisis response and conflict management, principally within a broader EU framework.
Whole-of-Europe approach… slowly in the making
All in all, it is clear that WGAs to external conflict and crisis have become more and more sophisticated over the years in both the EU and its member states. Several factors – including institutional adaptations, decisive leadership, pooled budgeting and multilateral exchanges – have helped to translate paper commitments into actual WGA practice at the headquarters level. Despite the many shortcomings that still exist, a whole-of-Europe approach to external conflict and crisis management is – at least at the headquarters level – slowly in the making.
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