Rethinking Germany’s peace policy: From crisis management to sustainable peace?

Violent conflict at Europe’s doorsteps, record levels of forced displacement and a concentration of poverty in fragile states have shown the importance of building sustainable peace. At the same time, global power shifts and the rise of populism and nationalism are just a few illustrations of a world in transition where existing institutions, norms and practices are increasingly questioned. It is not yet clear what impact these changes have on the political and financial support for peacebuilding. This is why ECDPM is currently conducting a study to investigate the changing environment for peacebuilding in Europe.

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      Peace back on the German agenda, with a new focus


      The objective of promoting peace globally is enshrined in Germany’s constitution. Civil society organisations – often faith-based and antimilitarist – and a number of champions in the German administration and Federal Parliament play a key role in maintaining Germany’s identity as a ‘peace power’. Nevertheless, its peacebuilding policy has been losing some of its luster since the formulation of the 2004 Action Plan, until now.

      Partly inspired by a ‘new global responsibility’ policy as part of the 2014 Review of German foreign policy, and partly triggered by crises in Ukraine and Syria, discussions on German peace policy have regained momentum. The Foreign Office has significantly beefed up budgets and operational capacities to engage in conflict prevention, stabilisation and peacebuilding, for instance in terms of mediation or transitional justice. According to government sources, peace-related funding through the Ministry of Development nearly doubled between 2015 and 2017, from €1.3 billion to €2.5 billion. The main reason for this is the growing prominence of migration and forced displacement on the political agenda.

      The Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development traditionally focuses on reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development. However, domestic pressures to deliver quick results now risk prioritising crisis management over preventive and structural approaches to building sustainable peace. The ‘special initiative’ for addressing root causes of displacement is a case in point.

      Moreover, the shift of funding towards migration-relevant regions such as North Africa and the Middle East could have an impact on ongoing peace processes that have received German support, such as in Colombia, and pose additional challenges for implementing partners, which need to adapt to new environments.

      A key challenge to making German peacebuilding more effective will be to avoid using pre-cooked recipes. Yet, it is still to be seen whether the new political environment and pressure for results will make room for a solid understanding of new local contexts, conflict dynamics and power relations. Also, will there be a realistic assessment of German capacities and added value in building sustainable peace locally? Is there really a momentum to strengthen expertise and analytical capacities within the government, implementing agencies and NGOs and invest more in evaluation and learning?

      Sustainable peace should be a common goal


      An ambitious peacebuilding policy requires a whole-of-government approach. This is why the Ressortprinzip or ‘departmental principle’, which grants a high degree of autonomy to the single German ministries, has proven to be a major barrier. The upcoming new guidelines for civilian crisis engagement and peacebuilding will need to recognise peacebuilding as a self-standing policy field with a structural approach to building peace that goes beyond ‘doing no harm’.

      The PeaceLab2016 process significantly contributed to building a common language among different ministries and stakeholders. Still, for the new guidelines to work, it will be essential to strengthen the institutional architecture, instruments and, most of all, the commitment of the political leadership.

      The views expressed here are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

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