Conflict Prevention and the European External Action Service

News | July 13, 2010

On June 29, EWI and the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office convened a panel discussion, “European External Action Service and Conflict Prevention,” at the European Parliament. Heidi Hautala, a member of the European Parliament and Chair of its Subcommitee on Human Rights, hosted a panel of parliamentarians and civil society representatives seeking to ensure that conflict prevention becomes an integral part of the new European External Action Service (EEAS). 

The EEAS was set up in a political agreement between Europe's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, the European Council, the European Commission and the European Parliament in June 2010. The parties agreed to set up a new external action structure, one endorsed by the Lisbon Treaty, that can represent the European Union in international affairs. This action service would also include a unit to deal with conflict prevention and crisis management. But it is unclear who will staff the unit, where the resources will come from or who will pay for them. 

The panel at the European Parliament brought together civil society and parliamentarians to begin determining the practical steps necessary to create a robust and cohesive conflict prevention unit in the EEAS.  There is much to be done. But the good news, as the panel revealed, is that there is a huge willingness to work together. More than 120 members of the national and the European parliament, as well as civil society organizations working on crisis management, attended the meeting. They reaffirmed their commitment to use all their resources in a coordinated and effective way to achieve the common goal of a strong conflict prevention focus within the EEAS.

Such a focus can give the EU a global footprint in peacemaking. It is an immense opportunity to –prevent conflicts before they start and make a real, tangible difference for millions of people. It also offers the potential to better coordinate European activities and resources with the U.S. and other key actors, even on the most protracted conflicts. 

But the future effectiveness of the EEAS is still debatable, some participants argued, and its formation faces several challenges. Among them, participants identified infighting and ideological divergence among the EU member states as the most serious one. There is insufficient agreement regarding the objectives and the nature of a common foreign and security policy. There are also concerns that national governments do not regard the EEAS as a viable structure to pursue the foreign policy objectives and are not sufficiently committed to it.

Parliamentarians and civil society have a special role to play in overcoming these barriers, participants suggested. They can highlight the impact an EEAS conflict prevention unit can have on the EU's global reputation and it's ability to create positive change in the world. They can also pressure EU member states to change the skeptical perceptions of the EEAS.

Participants committed themselves to further advocacy in coming weeks. In particular, there will be a series of meetings between leading advocates for conflict prevention and senior decision makers in the cabinet of Baroness Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for the European Foreign and Security Policy, who has the ultimate responsibility to implement the agreement mandating the EEAS.

The panel discussion was an initiative of the Parliamentarians Network for Conflict Prevention and Human Security, which will continue to work with national and European members of parliament to draw the attention of EU member states to the activities and potential of the EEAS.