Linking policy and practice in international cooperation

Talking Points

Addressing Peace, Security and State Fragility – How can the EU do Better?


Photo: March 2013 conflict IDPS North Kivu, DRC European Commission DG ECHO 

In the run up to 1 September, we, the European Think Tanks Group (ETTG), will be publishing a blog each Monday setting out the context of the five global challenges – trade and international finance; environmental sustainability; peace and security; democracy and human rights; and, poverty and inequality. 

Today’s blog, the first in our series, examines peace, security and state fragility.

In 2014 countries such as Ukraine, Mali, Central African Republic, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Kosovo and Serbia have all been part of the top table of European Union (EU) decision-making, because of conflict, fragility or threat of conflict. The EU’s strategic environment is rapidly changing – conflict and the fragile states are drawing closer to the EU’s own borders. Informally, EU officials talk of over 50 fragile, conflict-prone or conflict countries in which the EU has a presence or an interest.

Strategic spillover from these situations can have a direct impact on the economic and political security of the EU and its citizens. The new leadership team in the European Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs & Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission (HRVP) will have this on their agenda and will have to offer, in close dialogue with EU member states, a strategic response.

In view of the mounting insecurity/instability so close to EU borders, it would be tempting to conclude the EU hasn’t done anything. However, this would be grossly unfair.  Slowly and steadily, over the past 15 years, the EU institutions, with member-states, have been working to develop their capacities, in everything from their policy frameworks, their institutional architecture, working methods and intervention activities to respond to conflict better, as we illustrate in the table below. All the major building blocks are in place with the exception of a functioning human resources policy.  What is missing, however, is that these parts still do not add up to a better response – the transition from being ‘good on paper’ to being ‘good in implementation’.


On Paper

1. EU policy commitments and framework

Specific EU Treaty obligations;


Overarching policy frameworks for CFSP, CSDP as well as European Consensus on Development;


Policy framework for crisis, conflict and fragility (comprehensive approach 2013/14, but also commitments on fragility, security and development, conflict prevention, mediation and dialogue);


Recognition of gender dimension of conflict and fragility; Recognition of international norms and best practice within EU policy frameworks; Policy framework to address global drivers global drivers of conflict and fragility;


Specific conflict focused regional strategies like the Horn of Africa / Gulf of Guinea / Sahel;

Good (where they exist)

Comprehensive country based strategies – action plans;


2. Institutional architecture



Specialist units for conflict and fragility within above;


EU Delegations;


EU Institutions human resources and human resource policies;


3. EU-wide policy making, decision making and expert forums

EU Foreign Affairs Council, Political and Security Committee, Council working groups on Development, Civilian Crisis Management, Political Military Group, Human Rights, and Geographic Working Groups Africa etc.


4. Working methods

Early warning systems in place;


Conflict and political economy analysis;


Integrated planning and implementation;


Formal Financial Instruments included in the Multi-Annual Financial Framework and adapted aid modalities, incl. DCI, Instrument of Stability & Peace, European Development Fund;


Lesson learning and evaluation;


5. Intervention activities and resources

Political dialogue and mediation;


CSDP Missions;


Association Agreement;


Financial portfolio;




Partnerships with UN, African Union, OSCE, Civil Society organisations etc.


Source: fuller analysis of each area noted in the upcoming publication.

Others have questioned the EU’s added value in responding to violent conflict.   Yet the EU does have an added value in responding to violent conflict and fragility. We have identified seven:

1. Fewer short-term bilateral interests than other actors (mainly its member states, but also those of major powers)

2. Capacity to establish long-term partnerships

3. Global presence

4. Continued presence long-term through its EU Delegation

5. A critical mass of aid to many conflict countries

6. Availability of short and long-term financial instruments

7. Credibility as a promoter of democracy and human rights

It is integrating its added value with the assets noted in the list above and investing them with political purpose and energy that will bring results.   

To respond effectively to instability and crisis, the EU and EU member states need to find effective answers on the timing of engagement; the type of activities to be deployed, the actors to work with; and the definition of geographical level to intervene. This calls for a more effective ‘division of labour’ between the EU institutions and EU member states and a renewed focus on conflict prevention as a means to counter the widening of fragility and occurrence of violent conflict.  These points are summarised in the above graph. The full report itself launched on 1 September will propose six practical steps for the new leadership to consider to achieve this.  

On 1 September, the European Think Tanks Group will publish a major report addressed to the new leadership of the European Union entitled Our Collective Interest: Why Europe’s problems need global solutions and global problems need European actionIt calls for a new understanding of the EU’s global role, and in particular, a new approach to international development. The key message is that the EU’s ambitions for its own citizens – for prosperity, peace and environmental sustainability – cannot be divorced from its global responsibilities and opportunities. We identify five global challenges where we believe the EU has a comparative advantage to act and make a positive contribution to the world’s future. These are: trade and international finance; environmental sustainability; peace and security; democracy and human rights; and, poverty and inequality.

The full report on 1 September will put forward recommendations for the EU’s engagement in each of these areas and propose organisational and structural changes to enhance the EU’s performance. We believe that this will involve creating a truly integrated, but flexible approach across institutions, and stronger political leadership to enable complex linkages between today’s global challenges and agendas.

Share Button

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Cross-cutting TopicsEuropean Responses to Violent Conflicts and CrisisETTG Puzzle Book blog seriesEuropean Think Tanks Group (ETTG)