September 23, 2011

The EU Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel – An indicator for the future of EU External Action?

Posted: 21:16 PM UTC

by Andrew Sherriff on September 23, 2011

In the field of foreign policy and external action, the promise of the European Union’s (EU) Lisbon Treaty was for a more integrated and coherent EU, with the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European External Action Service (EEAS) at the helm. The EEAS has just published the EU Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel region, and as it is one of the first integrated geographic strategies put forward under the new institutional setup, it might be read as an indicator for the future of EU external action. Three noteworthy issues that arise regarding the Sahel strategy are discussed below.

While the EU Security and Development Strategy for the Sahel’s conception came under the French EU Presidency in 2008, it has finally been birthed, almost four years later, in the “post-Lisbon” era of EU external action. This birthing was after some skilful diplomacy and drafting midwifery from the EEAS. The arrival of the EU Security and Development Strategy for the Sahel and the notification that it, together with the soon to be published strategy for the Horn of Africa, is scheduled to be adopted by the EU Foreign Affairs Council on 10 October is noteworthy for three reasons.

Securitisation of development

The first noteworthy issue is the merging of security and development concerns in a geographic strategy. The links between security and development agendas have been underlined in various EU policy documents, ranging from the European Security Strategy of 2003 to the European Consensus on Development of 2005, and even in specific EU Council Conclusions in 2007 as well as in the Joint Africa-EU Strategy of 2007. The links were also becoming stronger in every subsequent revision of the EU-ACP Cotonou Partnership Agreement since 2000. So this link is not new, but the specific more focussed dedicated “security and development” strategy for a particular sub-region is new – and some would say a logical evolution of these broader policy commitments. Such linking of security and development agendas could be seen as a step towards more coherent EU external action, yet some in the development sector are concerned that it will undermine progress towards development goals and is indicative of a growing trend of the “securitisation of development”.

Although the focus on terrorism in the Sahel Strategy is a particular concern, the strategy is not radical in its merging of security and development, but rather seeks to mainly recast and link existing initiatives. Yet this could be more of a first step.  The key question of “whose” security the well written and mercifully short Sahel Strategy is trying to promote is also not entirely clear: is it the security of the EU and EU citizens or the state security of EU partners in the region? Or is it the human security of individuals and communities from the Sahel region? Officials tend to wave off concerns saying that this is all the same thing, but the “devil will be in the detail” — particularly in the implementation choices made by the EU and how these will link to form a coherent (or incoherent) whole.

This leads to more questions if this linking of “security and development” is to be more of a trend in EU external action now that the EEAS has taken over the lead. The real indicator to assess this trend will be how much of the ethos and ideas of linking security and development that are found in the Sahel Strategy will make their way into the next round of country and regional strategies. The next strategies will be prepared by the EEAS and are supposed be ready from 2014.  They will replace what in the past were the EC’s Country and Regional Strategy Papers, which link to the larger pots of money representing National or Regional Indicative Programming. As the relationship between the sub-Saharan Sahel countries and the  EU is governed under the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, the spending of funds will have to be line with the rulesof its European Development Fund. This means, for instance, that funds cannot be spent on terrorism issues.  The rules also foresee that spending will have to be negotiated and co-managed directly with national authorities.

What implications the trend that the EU Sahel Strategy represents will have on the future of the rather distinct policy arenas of “security” on one hand and “development” on the other hand remains to be seen. Clearly, the relationship between the EEAS and the European Commission’s DG DEVCO will be key in this matter. The interaction between the various policy communities dealing with “security/political issues” and “development issues” in Brussels will also matter. And so will the relationship with the EU Delegations in third countries. Greater coherence could be a “win-win”, or as some see it a “lose-lose”.


The second noteworthy issue is the question, to what extent the Sahel Strategy represents a genuine “all-of-EU” strategy.  Generally, there is a common game played with EU strategies in external action: EU member-states view them somewhat as a vehicle to influence the EU institutions, while EU institutions perceive them as a way of bringing its member states more into a coherent EU approach (as articulated by themselves).  The Sahel Strategy would seem to place EU institutions front and centre. But is the EEAS going to be able to “lead, or more likely “facilitate” a more coherent “follow-through” of implementation by the various EU actors on the ground, particularly those member-states with interests in the Sahel region? This is a tough issue and success or failure shouldn’t all be laid at the EEAS’s door, as it is up to the member-states as well. This task to “lead” or “facilitate” will be a common challenge for the EEAS in most areas of EU external action.

Less joint strategies

A third dimension that must not be overlooked in the Sahel Strategy is the fact that for any initiative to be successful, it would have to align behind and support initiatives that are already on-going in the region from an approach of partnership. The challenge therefore is not just to get the EU “on side and coherent” but also to ensure that there is sufficient “ownership” from key partners in the region. This involves ensuring they have been consulted enough, and that this consultation covered all relevant stakeholders, also beyond officials and governments.

If this is not the case, the ideas presented in the Sahel strategy are unlikely to be carried through to implementation.  At times “consultation” is such an arduous and political business amongst the various EU stakeholders, that consultation with African partners is regrettably somewhat of an afterthought. This - quite rightly - is generally not well received in most quarters in Africa.  But unlike the Joint Africa-EU Strategy, or the Country or Regional Strategy Papers under the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement, the EU Security and Development Strategy for the Sahel, as well as the one proposed for the Horn of Africa, are not joint documents, even though some consultation and fact finding was a key part of their development. To be fair, a jointly owned document for the Sahel region would have required full consultation with a variety of national and regional stakeholders, and that would have been politically quite difficult to manage to reach a conclusion. Yet from an EU perspective, the EU Strategy for the Sahel might represent a trend where the EU is acting more unilateral, preferring to develop its own “EU” approach first, rather than to engage in complex joint processes for having joint documents.

Finally, while it is a good thing that the EEAS is developing integrated strategies, the EU will have to see how it reconciles its values and interests in a coherent matter during the implementation of these strategies. Over the longer-term  -and the strategy gives itself 8-10 years for some outcomes - it will be interesting to see whether the strategy will really have an impact on the implementation choices made by EU actors, and whether these choices and partnerships will deliver the outcomes sought.

The issues associated with the EU Security and Development Strategy for the Sahel are numerous and in recognition of this ECDPM will be producing a Discussion Paper later next month looking into these in more detail.  Other issues raised in the blog particularly “Reconciling the EU’s Interests and Values” will be explored in our work focusing on “Modernising EU External Action” and “Conflict, Human Security and Resilience” which will be key aspects of ECDPM’s new strategy 2012-2016 to be launched before the end of year.


Andrew The EU Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel – An indicator for the future of EU External Action? Andrew Sherriff is Senior Executive International Relations at ECDPM.



This blog post features the author’s personal view and does not represent the view of ECDPM.

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