EU Report


Policies Developed

For the past two decades, the EU has aspired to contribute to conflict prevention, crisis management and post-conflict peacebuilding through civilian and/or military means. In 2001, an ‘integrated approach’ was introduced in a Commission communication that identifies ‘conflict prevention’ as the most effective effort to counter human suffering caused by violent conflicts (EC 2001). The 2003 European Security Strategy (ESS) (Council of the European Union 2003), while not mentioning the concepts of ‘comprehensiveness’ or ‘integration’, stressed the need for using EU policies and instruments in a more coherent and coordinated manner to respond to interconnected security and development challenges (Faria 2014: 3).
An important step in the efforts to consolidate more coherent and coordinated conflict responses came with the joint communication of the Commission and the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy (HRVP) in 2013 (EC and HRVP 2013). Building on the spirit of structural integration espoused by the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Commission and the HRVP further developed coordination by introducing the EU’s ‘comprehensive approach to conflict and crisis’ (CA) in 2013. The joint character of the communication serves to illustrate the common understanding of the CA and the desire to jointly apply the CA.
The communication identifies two core elements of a CA: the coordination of EU instruments and resources, on the one hand, and the role of both EU-level actors and member states, on the other. What’s more, it notes that “[c]omprehensiveness refers not only to the joined-up deployment of EU instruments and resources, but also to the shared responsibility of EU-level actors and Member States” (ibid.: 3). Four principles underpin a CA: the connection between security and development; the importance of context-specificity over blueprints and one-size-fits-all solutions; the need for collective political will and engagement; and the respect for competence allocation between the respective institutions and services of the EU and its member states.
While seen as a welcome step to further develop the EU’s comprehensive approach – especially because it offers conceptual clarifications and a common understanding of the CA (Tercovich and Koops 2013) – the joint communication also sparked criticism. Overall, while it listed commitments and recommended a number of tangible actions, critics argued that the document did not, in fact, provide EU actors with the systems, mechanisms or means to put it into practice (Faria 2014: 9; Wilton Park 2014). Indeed, it does not set out very concrete and tangible structures and processes regarding who the Union should work with as well as when, where and how (Hauck and Sherriff 2013).
Moreover, a number of gaps were detected in the joint communication. While previous EU documents put a major stress on conflict prevention, the principal focus in 2013 – given the fallout of the Arab uprisings of 2011 – was on conflict situations and crisis management, raising the question of how the CA dealt with prevention (Faria 2014: 8). What’s more, the issue of trade preferences, which can play an important role in overcoming instability and crisis, is excluded from the text, as are the roles of local structures, processes and government actors in conflict-affected countries (Hauck and Sherriff 2013). Another element missing from the joint communication were the relations with key international partners in the field (e.g. the UN, NATO, the African Union and the OSCE) despite the fact that a specific invitation to build on these partnerships was included in the Council conclusions on conflict prevention from 2011 (Council of the European Union 2011).
Eventually, the Council (i.e. the member states) endorsed the joint communication in its conclusions on the EU’s comprehensive approach of May 2014 (Council of the European Union 2014) and through the adoption of subsequent action plans in 2015 and 2016/2017 (Council of the European Union 2015, 2016). Rather than presenting something new, the goal of the action plans was to focus on practical examples for CA implementation and feasible actions that the EU could implement rather than forging a shared understanding of CA in the EU (Faleg 2018: 38).
Nonetheless, the CA was quickly superseded by the EU’s ‘integrated approach to external conflict and crisis’ (IA) in 2016. Stemming from the shortcomings of the CA, the European Global Strategy (EUGS) (EEAS 2016) sought to move forward the comprehensive approach by (re)introducing the concept of an ‘integrated approach’. In fact, an IA numbers among the five priorities that the EU sets forward for its external action, together with the security of the union, state and societal resilience, cooperative regional orders and global governance.
According to the EUGS, the integrated approach has the following four characteristics. It is:
– multi-phased, in that it enables the EU to act “at all stages of the conflict cycle” and to “invest in prevention, resolution and stabilisation, and avoid premature disengagement when a new crisis erupts elsewhere” (ibid.: 9–10).
– multi-dimensional, as it says that it is essential to use “all available policies and instruments aimed at conflict prevention, management and resolution”, bringing together diplomatic engagement, CSDP missions and operations, development cooperation and humanitarian assistance (ibid.: 28).
– multi-level, as it acts to address the complexity of conflicts “at the local, national, regional and global levels” (ibid.: 29).
– multi-lateral, as it engages “all those players present in a conflict and necessary for its resolution”, and it enables the EU to “partner more systematically on the ground with regional and international organisations, bilateral donors and civil society” and to build sustainable peace “through comprehensive agreements rooted in broad, deep and durable regional and international partnerships” (ibid.: 29).
The scope and actions of the IA have been defined in a Political and Security Committee (PSC) working document on external conflicts and crises of the EEAS and the European Commission released in 2017 (EEAS and EC 2017a). Since the action plans for implementing the CA were viewed as being too rigid, the 2017 working document outlined that the CA “established a process based on action plans and progress reports […that…] has been valuable in establishing lessons learned on how the EU could most usefully work in a coherent way” (ibid.: 4). However, it adds that “this process made the system somewhat rigid by the nature of the process and by focusing in advance on a limited number of priorities.” As a consequence, under the IA, it has been decided to focus on substance rather than process. The 2017 PSC working document also provides an overview of the results the EU envisions to achieve by implementing the IA, as outlined according to the particular phase of the conflict cycle (ranging from prevention to crisis response to stabilisation). In addition, the Council’s 2018 conclusions regarding an IA to external conflicts and crises (Council of the European Union 2018) called for more concrete and significant progress in this realm. The conclusions welcomed that a report on the implementation of the IA is included as part of the yearly report on the implementation of the EUGS.
In general, compared to the CA, the IA does not add anything that was not already on the EU’s security agenda, and it is mostly compatible with what was laid out in the European Consensus on Development agreed in 2005 (EC 2006) in terms of responding to conflict. However, it does reaffirm the relevance of the CA and states that its scope needs to be “expanded further” by adopting a new cross-sectoral focus on multi-phase and multi-level aspects (Tardy 2017: 2). The extended scope of the IA can be understood in two ways: First, it can be seen as more ambitious, more political and longer-term than the CA. And, second, it can be seen as more operational, i.e. as a means to operationalise the CA. Indeed, the IA has brought about some institutional changes to help operationalise the concept, such as the creation of the PRISM (Prevention of Conflict, Rule of Law/Security Sector Reform, Integrated Approach, Stabilisation and Mediation) division within the EEAS.
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