The EU as a Peace Maker – Comments on Enhancing EU Mediation Capacities

‘While track one breakthroughs like the Ohrid Agreement or the recent Kosovo-Serbia Agreement are needed to start peace processes, positive peace can only be achieved through sustainable long-term follow-up of the implementation process’

Perhaps because of my Latin American roots, I took an interest in European mediation efforts starting in the 1980s with the Central American Peace Process and the San Jose Dialogue. Ever since, I have seen EU mediation capacities grow. Today, I am confident saying that the world would look very different without EU mediative support in all of the conflicts that rose up after the fall of the Soviet Union. The difference between then and now lies between awareness and self-actualization. Before the launch of the EU Concept on Mediation and Dialogue [PDF] in 2009, EU staff were carrying out mediative events, actions and processes at all levels and under various mandates out of necessity to achieve work goals, but without a clear mediation guideline to follow. Mediation was secondary, and other issues such as human rights, development, and economic cooperation were in the spotlight. With the rising complexity of today’s world and the challenges of globalization, mediation is recognized as a value in itself.

The EU and its predecessors have had a steep learning curve.  In 1991 Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, Jacques Poo, referred to the crisis in the former Yugoslavia as “the hour of Europe”, but we all know that despite good efforts it was not possible to avert genocide and ethnic cleansing in the Balkans.  Throughout the 1990s the EU’s capacity to engage NGOs and other actors on the topic of mediation was extremely small, even non-existent outside of donor- recipient relations.  However, thanks to the establishment of the small team working in the European External Action Service (EEAS) on the issue of conflict prevention, the new funding mechanisms in the EU, and the Concept on Mediation and Dialogue, interaction with the EU has improved significantly.  As an NGO in the field before these developments, I could rarely get an appointment with EU mission staff. Once I had proven my mediation credentials and was able to get a meeting, I was usually greeted by a different person every time, normally someone who wondered why I wanted the meeting in the first place. Usually, I was referred to the European Commission for project ideas. Today, mission staff are generally aware of mediation, have had training of some kind, and reflect very much on how mediation could play a role in their work – indeed a key question.

When we look at the EU’s mediation efforts, we can fairly say that it has improved significantly, especially along track one (governments/decision-makers). The EU has increased its capacities internally, and it is thinking professionally and strategically on how and when to act.  The problem is that, while track one breakthroughs like the Ohrid Agreement or the recent Kosovo-Serbia Agreement are needed to start peace processes, positive peace can only be achieved through sustainable long-term follow-up of the implementation process, which usually falls into track two, three, and multitrack efforts. There are some structural problems here, however:

  • First, power, resources, and decision-making between NGOs and EU actors are all asymmetrical; still today, the EU does not treat NGOs as equal partners. This asymmetry probably has to do with its internal hierarchies and donor mentality.
  • Second, mediation is not a primary function of EU staff members; participation in mediation projects tends to be limited as just one of many other tasks. Additionally, the EU staff rotation makes it difficult for NGOs to have the EU as a long-term partner in a peace process other than donor relations. This is also linked with issues of institutional memory both in the field and with Brussels.
  • Third, the EU cannot always commit to be impartial because it has strategic interests and this may create problems for NGOs or vice versa. Trust issues on both sides between EU actors and NGOs create a silent barrier that is often difficult to overcome.

What can be done?

First we need to recognize there is enough room and work for everyone.  There needs to be a process, mechanism or place where EU staff and private mediation professionals can meet and cooperate on an equal footing, a sort of impartial place that balances the power asymmetries in different areas.

Secondly there are wonderful resources in all Member States that can support EU or EU sponsored/supported mediation; unfortunately, from my humble perception having lead a small NGO, most of the available funding is going to major INGOs, NGOs in major countries, NGOs with Brussels presence, and quangos from the Member States.  This leaves out a rich diversity of expertise coming from smaller EU states or small NGOs.

The whole financing of mediation-related efforts needs thus to be reformed.  Small NGOs can often not qualify for funding, and therefore are more interested in strategic partnership, a sort of an extended or silent “co-mediator”.  One might think of completely outsourcing the funding to an agency or institution to specialize on this form of funding or grant making.

Thirdly, it is good and healthy that the EU has both internal and external capacities for all is mediation efforts.  The current internal staffing focused on mediation needs to be enhanced, if the small team that exists now had to work on every major conflict, their working conditions would be inhumane.  Yet there are not enough jobs out there to cover the need.  It might be interesting for the EU to create a mediation career path within the EU civil service.

Fourth, for the last two years a group of experts has been meeting with interested actors and colleagues debating every aspect of the potential for a European Institute for Peace (EIP) to support the EEAS.  It is funded by the Swedish government and facilitated by mediatEUr, an NGO specializing in European mediation capacities.  The main issues being considered are added value, legal status, and mandate for an EIP.  Now it is up to the EU institutions and the Member States to reflect on the same issues, the main question being whether a new institution (or agency) such as the EIP would be an added value that does not undermine the work of the EEAS.  Symbolically it is clear to most that an EIP would be positive. Practically, the results are still being debated.

An EIP would not be a panacea and Europe would not wake up the day after its establishment to a world of peace.  It is only one possible contribution to the overall peace “promoting” architecture. Second, it would be a significant improvement in the debate to stop talking about gaps in the EEAS and start talking about development, enhancing, and complimenting its mediation work. The EU does not and need not mediate in most conflicts, hence there are no real “gaps”.  There are plenty of other actors who can –and want to– do mediation, and the EU should be supporting these efforts.  It is a luxury that Europe has transformed itself from a region of war to a peace process, to positive peace, and finally to mediator.  This is the quintessential peace process, but, since it is indeed a process, it is also okay if the EU does not do everything. Thirdly, if it is to be credible and successful, the EIP needs not only the backing of the EEAS and all EU Member States, but also needs intensive collaboration between the EEAS and an EIP. In fact, the combined resources of a future EEAS and a future EIP would still not be enough to deal with all of the conflict in the world.

Lastly a key added value of the EIP lies in harnessing and building on multitrack approaches, and a future EIP will need to have a clear mandate that answers the following four questions:

  1. where does it act? (strategic interest);
  2. why does it act? (added value);
  3. when does it act? (mandate);
  4. how does it act? (capacity).

An EIP collaborating with the EEAS, partnering with NGOs and harnessing Member State resources could generate synergies and creativity for some of the most entrenched conflicts of the world.  The potential of an EIP does not lie in replacing something, but in its creative development and innovation.

This presentation was given by mediatEUr Berlin Representative Dr Juan Díaz at the ‘The EU as Peacemaker – Enhancing Mediation Capacities’ conference in Sofia, 17 May 2013, organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC) and the Sofia Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).


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