The adoption of the EU’s Multi-annual Financial Framework (MFF) 2021-2027 will bring profound changes to the set-up of the EU’s instruments for crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding in fragile and conflict-affected countries, which aim to improve the EU’s ability to engage in these contexts. However, reforming the EU’s financial instruments alone is not sufficient to address key underlying challenges. What is needed is an overarching strategic framework that puts policy coherence for sustainable peace at the centre of EU crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding.
One of the key changes in the new MFF is the streamlining of previously 10 external instruments into one instrument, the Neighbourhood, Development, International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI), that is currently being negotiated. The Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), the EU’s ‘flagship’ for funding civilian crisis response, conflict prevention and peacebuilding will be integrated into the rapid response pillar of the NDICI. Another change is the dissolution of the African Peace Facility, through which the EU has provided nearly EUR 3 billion for African peace support operations, capacity building and short-term crisis prevention and peace mediation since 2004. In its place, the EU is setting up an off-budget European Peace Facility (EPF) that will continue to allow the EU to fund African peace support operations. However, the EPF will be an instrument of global scope and add military capacity building – including the provision of weapons and ammunition to partner countries – to the EU’s foreign policy toolbox.
A key rationale behind this new set-up of the EU’s external financial instruments is to maximise their impact and facilitate coherent responses by simplifying procedures, increasing flexibility and strengthening transparency. However, the underlying challenges that have affected the EU’s engagement in fragile and conflict-affected countries will not be fully resolved by a re-structuring of financial instruments. A remaining key challenge that often hampers coherent and effective EU responses to crisis and conflicts is the diffusion of competences and responsibilities for different parts of the EU’s toolbox for crisis prevention, management and peacebuilding across the European Commission, the EEAS and the member states. In other words, the single instrument created will continue to be shared by a multitude of EU actors and their associated complex inter-institutional interests and relations. Another challenge are the different theories of change that underpin the various EU policy actions such as humanitarian and development aid, conflict prevention and peacebuilding activities and military capacity building. These need to be reconciled in a way that promotes complementarity for achieving the common objective of sustainable peace.
Over the past two decades the EU has largely followed an ‘instruments before policy’ approach that needs to be balanced with a clear strategic and conceptual framework that puts policy coherence for sustainable peace at the centre of its engagement in crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding. Admittedly, the EU has made considerable progress in implementing its ‘integrated approach’ to external crises and conflicts as spelled out by the EU Global Strategy in 2016 and increased the coherence of its engagement in many conflict theatres, as acknowledged in a recent evaluation. Nevertheless, the ‘integrated approach’ does not compensate for the lack of an overarching policy framework because it primarily focuses on technical and operational measures to enhance the EU’s crisis response capacities. Moreover, it seems to be partly built on the flawed assumption that establishing mechanisms for coordination between different actors will automatically lead to a higher degree of EU coherence. However, coherence – being understood as different policies working together towards overarching common objectives – can only be achieved if coordination mechanisms are guided by a common strategic framework and overarching normative principles. Such a framework and principles can serve to overcome unavoidable conflicts of interests between different institutional actors. Incoherence, on the other hand, is widely acknowledged to have negative implications on the implementation and sustainability of activities due to increased risk of duplication, inefficient spending, a lower quality of service and difficulty in meeting goals.
But how to establish ‘policy coherence for peace’ as a guiding principle for external action? A recent DIE study on behalf of the German Advisory Board for Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding has analysed this question with respect to the German government’s foreign policy strategies vis-à-vis Africa. The study finds that an overarching vision statement is crucial for Germany’s efforts to achieve policy coherence for peace. The German government’s vision statement includes four guiding principles: (1) the protection of human rights; (2) inclusivity, and a long-term orientation in peacebuilding; (3) transparency about risks, coherence and due diligence; (4) the primacy of politics and the priority of prevention. The study demonstrates that although the different ministries display a common strategic ‘denominator’ of Germany’s cooperation with Africa, the implementation of the guiding principles is not yet fully streamlined across Germany’s Africa policies. The study stresses that these principles have to be as concrete as possible in order to provide effective guidance to day-to-day efforts of crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding.
It is no coincidence that the German Council Presidency 2020 had initiated a discussion on a European Consensus on Crisis Prevention and Peacebuilding, which could embed the EU’s instruments and activities in a broader strategy and contribute to the strengthening of the implementation of the EU’s ‘integrated approach’ to external conflicts and crises. Such a framework would add value in three ways:
First, it would send an important signal of the political priority the EU attaches to crisis prevention and peacebuilding in its broader efforts to position itself as a ‘geopolitical actor’, particularly at a time when the dissolution of the IcSP sparks fears about a loss of visibility of the EU’s civilian engagement in crises and conflicts. As the newly adopted Concept on EU Peace Mediation of December 2020 acknowledges, the EU’s conflict resolution efforts are based on inclusivity, conflict sensitivity, and human rights. These add to its geopolitical power and should not be seen as being opposed to a vision of the EU becoming a more self-ascertained actor in global politics.
Second, the framework could firmly enshrine values such as conflict sensitivity, inclusivity, respect for and protection of human rights and international law into the ‘DNA’ of EU external action and provide further guidance on how to implement them in practice, especially in situations when they might be in conflict with other EU interests. This might be particularly relevant in the context of the EPF, as the provision of lethal equipment to armed forces of partner countries will require the development of a due diligence policy for security actors and strong oversight mechanisms.
Third, a new strategic framework would establish a much-needed conceptual consensus among EU institutions and member states about the understanding of key terminologies such as crisis prevention, stabilisation, or peacebuilding. Recent efforts by the Commission and the EEAS to clarify the peace dimension of the humanitarian-development-peace nexus at the EU level are an important step in this direction. A joint understanding of the EU’s approach and key principles towards crisis prevention, conflict management and peacebuilding among member states would allow them to interlock their bilateral approaches with the EU level more closely. In this way, the consensus could contribute to maximising member states’ support to EU-level efforts, which would increase the effectiveness of EU crisis prevention and response. The current Portuguese Council Presidency could continue to facilitate the exchange among member states on such a consensus.
In sum, the EU needs a clear strategic framework that puts policy coherence for sustainable peace at the centre of its external action and specifies the division of labour between all actors concerned, or it will continue to struggle to provide a unified, effective response to crises and conflicts.
The authors are grateful for the feedback provided by Niels Keijzer and Christine Hackenesch (DIE), and Pauline Veron (ECDPM).
The views are those of the authors and not necessarily those of ETTG.