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Evaluation of the EU’s support to conflict prevention and peacebuilding

The political engagement needs support by all actors and member states

Impuls 09/2020 von Volker Hauck, ECDPM

Conflict prevention and peacebuilding (CPPB) is more needed than ever, given a rising number of violent conflicts in the world. While most of these conflicts take place at sub-national levels, many also spill over across national borders. Since the early 2000s, the European Union (EU) has supported CPPB efforts – and particularly in the past ten years.

But has the EU managed to achieve its ambitions so far? How relevant, effective and coherent was its CPPB support considering the plethora of institutional arrangements, instruments, funding and non-spending activities? How does the EU interact with other actors, including EU member states? Does the EU add value to what other international actors are doing in this field? And, most importantly, what results has the EU’s support achieved in the short, medium and long term?

These are some of the key questions that the new external evaluation of the EU’s support to conflict prevention and peacebuilding between 2013 and 2018 provides answers to. It also looks at whether the EU improved its way of operating and supporting CPPB since its last evaluation in 2011. Given the European Commission’s ambition to make the EU a more important global player and the ongoing thematic and country programming of the new seven-year EU budget, this evaluation couldn’t have come at a better time. It is also timely given Germany's Presidency of the Council of the EU, that aimed to promote conflict prevention and peacebuilding, as well as an integrated EU approach to conflict and crisis. One of its objectives was to formulate a strong political guidance on crisis prevention, conflict resolution and peacebuilding to help orient a dialogue on what CPPB can mean for EU institutions and member states, and how to promote it.

Conflict prevention and peacebuilding, which received EUR 5.6bn between 2013 and 2018, has become one of the cornerstones of the EU’s external action. It is an area of engagement where the EU, together with its member states, has the potential to translate its foundational elements and values – in essence a peace project – into global action for a better and safer world.

The EU has progressed in a number of areas… 

Since 2011, the EU overall did well and improved its way of working when providing CPPB support. The EU strengthened its policy frameworks, streamlined some of its institutional structures, sought to strengthen human resources, and promoted cooperation and coordination between its institutions. And as such, the quality of the EU’s coherence in supporting CPPB increased.

Case studies, for instance the one on Colombia, reveal that the EU’s coherence and complementarity of engagement were strengthened if explicit CPPB strategies and political frameworks were in place. The EU’s CPPB support was relatively successful in achieving short- to medium-term results, but less so in terms of longer-term impact on preventing and mitigating violence, restoring immediate stability, and creating more structural stability. Nevertheless, across the 12 countries we looked at, we could see the consequences and effects of the EU’s support – think of signed peace agreements, the prevention of local level conflicts or the restoration of state security functions. Other results were less tangible, such as the jump-starting of mediation processes or confidence building between conflicting parties, as was the case in Georgia.

Unsurprisingly, compared to other international actors, the EU’s added value lay in the volume, duration and predictability of its financial support. This was often accompanied by a political engagement for which the EU was valued because of its relative political neutrality, political weight and convening powers. The creative interaction between the financing of interventions and non-spending activities, such as policy dialogue or diplomatic engagement, was a recipe for success – as long as it was guided by a clear political orientation. This interaction has improved since the 2011 evaluation, but so far it has not yet trickled down to all of the EU’s operations. 

Since 2001, coordination and complementarity between other EU member states in support of CPPB deepened through joint analysis or the development of common positions. But divergent interests and approaches, particularly in countries and regions where many member states were present, as well as a lack of willingness to share relevant and sensitive information, made it difficult to translate this more systematically into joint action. The EU’s collaboration with other international actors was faced with a similar challenge.

...but there is room for improvement on a number of fronts

The evaluation report shares many relevant findings and recommendations for how to advance the EU’s support to conflict prevention and peacebuilding – but two key takeaways stand out.

First, twenty years after the 2001 Gothenburg Programme and the EU’s last dedicated policy statement on conflict prevention and peacebuilding, the EU has not updated its policy messaging on what constitutes CPPB. It also does not offer any guidance on how to approach its support to CPPB and how this fits into a rapidly changing world. As a consequence, the EU has not integrated explicit policy and strategic objectives systematically across its CPPB engagement, which has diminished the value of its activities. The evaluation therefore recommended the EU to publish an updated EU communication (key policy documents of the European Commission) that clarifies the EU’s political objectives in engaging in CPPB. It should provide a clear conceptual framework defining CPPB and explain how the high-level CPPB political priorities can be translated into strategy and implementation documents. This would help to improve the effectiveness of the EU’s CPPB support.

Second, the evaluation has shown that the EU is a unique and important actor in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. But its added value can be further enhanced by ensuring that all resources are deployed in an integrated manner. This starts but does not end with the deployment of conflict-sensitive approaches. Conflict sensitivity and more conflict analyses are indispensable for the effectiveness of all EU support proposed under the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) – and not just those specifically focused on peace and stability and rapid reaction.

This needs to extend to all domains of the EU’s external action, including migration management, trade relationships and investment decisions. At the same time, conflict and risk analyses are only one aspect of developing a conflict-sensitive approach to CPPB. Integrating the results of such analyses systematically into the organisational routine is equally essential. This requires appropriately selected and trained staff with an affinity for CPPB, which the EU currently does not sufficiently have among its ranks. The evaluation highlighted this as an area for further improvement, in particular at the EU delegation level. There, the interaction between the political and operational staff is vital to ensure that policies translate into effective programming, implementation and monitoring, and into a more effective collaboration with the many actors the EU is interacting with.

The EU’s investments in conflict prevention and peacebuilding over the past ten years have been promising. What is needed now is a next level of political and operational engagement, supported by all EU institutional actors and member states, to put CPPB more prominently on the agenda and to enhance its relevance in the EU’s external action.

This article is an adapted and extended version of a commentary published by ECDPM on 7 December 2020.


Weiterführende Informationen:

Volker Hauck
Head of Programme Security and Resilience, ECDPM