November 25, 2011

Is there a new impetus on the EU to deal with conflict and fragility in third countries? Part 2: recent policy developments

Posted: 14:35 PM UTC

by Andrew Sherriff on November 25, 2011


When it comes to violent conflict, the common mantra is that prevention is better (and cheaper) than cure. This is also illustrated by the findings of a recent evaluation of support to conflict prevention and peace building. In Georgia, for instance, the contracted amounts to be spent by the European Commission increased from €19 million in 2007 before the escalation of a conflict with Russia, to €72 million in 2008, the year of the clashes, and €116 in 2009 as a result of it. That is a 600% rise over three years, even without the cost of the European Union Monitoring Mission in Georgia. As much as the main imperative for conflict prevention and peace building should be about people and not about saving money, it seems that investment in better conflict prevention by the EU would be money well spent, especially in these times of fiscal constraint and increasing demand for “value for money”. Yet how has the EU sought to develop its policy in this area?

Last week’s Talking Points blog article looked into the EU’s approach to conflict and fragility by focusing on the institutional setup and findings from the evaluation mentioned above. Starting from there, this week’s article explores recent EU policy developments.

Not much new or innovative

Over the last ten years, the EU Institutions have tended to be “fast followers”, rather than leaders, when it comes to new developments in the policy sphere related to conflict and fragility. Fast followers is still an achievement - particularly in relation to certain EU Member States. It is not since the ground breaking Communication on Conflict Prevention and the EU Gothenburg Programme on the Prevention of Violent Conflict, released over ten years ago, that the EU institutions have really been “leading the pack”.

These progressive policies from 2001 were somewhat side-lined in a more ‘security based’ approach to EU external action following the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the development of the European Security Strategy. However, the EU institutions have shown the ability to be innovative with mechanisms like the Instrument for Stability and the Africa Peace Facility to support African Peacekeeping and the African Peace and Security Architecture. In addition, the range of instruments that the EU institutions and the EU as a whole can bring to any conflict situation in third countries is fairly unrivalled. Albeit with the ever-present proviso that the EU alone cannot prevent conflict, build peace or overcome fragility, it can play an important role.

In the post-Lisbon context, which set the ground for joint external action, it would be useful for the EU to clarify its ambitions in the field of conflict and security with a new overarching policy commitment that straddled at the very least both the EEAS and Commission. The abovementioned evaluation demonstrated that even a basic common understanding of what the concepts of conflict prevention and peace building mean, and how they might be achieved, was not held by EU officials. This greatly clouded prioritisation and implementation of EU institutions actions at the global, regional and country level. Yet, there is also fear that such a search for more policy clarity would be a distraction from the hard business of better implementation and more functional collaboration.

As approaches to conflict and fragility are supposed to be “mainstreamed” across all areas of EU external action, it is equally important to review how well concerns related to these topics are reflected in overarching EU policies. The new EC Communication on the future of EU Development Policy “An Agenda for Change” is one indication of this mainstreaming effort. In this remarkably brief document, not much is really new or ground breaking in relation to conflict and security, with the possible exception of the statebuilding contracts. (Many of the perspectives can also be found in the 2005 European Consensus on Development, or even the 2001 Communication on Conflict Prevention, as well as in previous Council Conclusions on Security and Development or Fragility from 2007).

Making “All of EU” reality

So, the first thing to note is that there is not much new or innovative in the Agenda for Change when it comes to conflict and fragility. One of the commitments made in the “Agenda for Change” is to finalise and implement an EU “Action Plan on security, fragility and development”. This Action Plan was a previous commitment of the abovementioned Council conclusions from 2007 - and had previously fallen foul of the institutional wrangling to set up the European External Action Service (EEAS) and resultant internal changes in the European Commission - but now appears to be back on the agenda. The original proposals for this Action Plan portrayed a commitment to follow an “All of EU” approach (involving Member States beyond the EU institutions) in a few pilot countries. There is little doubt that a more coherent and focussed “All of EU approach” would be welcomed in most fragile and conflict affected countries. Yet, for it to really work effectively, it requires some political drive from the EEAS and the Commission, as well as some demand from EU Delegations and EU Member States, not to mention welcoming partners “in country”. As improved international approaches to conflict and fragility are also pioneered by the International Network on Conflict and Fragility out of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee and the UN Peacebuilding Commission, any EU initiative will have to demonstrate how it adds value and, where appropriate, how it is linked to these ventures.

Another indicator of what the EU’s policy agenda will mean for conflict and fragility is the EU position for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan,that will take place next week. This joint position seems to reflect a more cutting edge stand on the topic than the “Agenda for Change”. For instance, it directly references and supports the work of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, initiated by representatives of fragile states, convened in the G7+ group.

In addition to the “developmental” approaches to conflict and fragility seen in the Agenda for Change and the positions for Busan, the EEAS and the Commission also have to follow-up on the EU Council conclusions on conflict prevention of June 2011. These conclusions represented one of the first Council utterances specifically dedicated to conflict prevention since the endorsement of Gothenburg Programme ten years earlier.

To summarise my two articles on EU’s approach to conflict and fragility: the institutional changes seem positive, but relationships and hierarchies still need to settle and are of pivotal importance for how this will translate into action on the ground. The evaluation of EU support in this field was well received and could provide the evidence base for a renewed drive, but again the devil is in the detail of implementation and the political impetus given. Lastly, recent policy commitments do not seem particularly fresh or innovative, although the specific commitment to the G7+ peacebuilding and statebuilding goals is a positive indication. The next 12 months, rather than the last ones, will be an indicator if there really is a new EU impetus for conflict and fragility of simply more of the same. But as ever, the EU institutions will require good alignment, support and partnership from Member States, partner countries, international partners and civil society if progress is really to be achieved.

Andrew Is there a new impetus on the EU to deal with conflict and fragility in third countries?  Part 2: recent policy developments Andrew Sherriff is Senior Executive: International Relations at ECDPM and was part of the team led by ADE that completed the evaluation of European Commission support to Conflict Prevention and Peace Building  2001 – 2010.


This blog post features the authors personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.

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