European Union: Suspended Animation
European Union: Suspended Animation
Could Far-Right Electoral Gains Upend EU Foreign Policy?
Could Far-Right Electoral Gains Upend EU Foreign Policy?
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia 4 minutes

European Union: Suspended Animation

Within the foreign policy community in Brussels, there is an understandable preoccupation with form that is unnecessarily blocking function. The result is a policy paralysis that is detrimental to the EU and its partners.

The myriad of ongoing initiatives ranging from humanitarian assistance to security sector reform haven't stopped, but in the important sphere of developing crisis management policy, the current uncertainties mean the EU is treading water.

The problem not only lies in the lack of institutional structures through which policy can operate but in the continued ambiguity over the policy hierarchy. If everyone is waiting for the External Action Service to kick off -- and approval for the plan of the EAS is due at the earliest in April -- then the resulting mass sabbatical will mean that the EU expertise and machinery that deals with crisis management will atrophy while conflict situations continue to develop. In the end, the result will be months of catch up, or worse, EU redundancy where it might otherwise play a key role resolving or mitigating conflict.

It is exactly this relevancy deficit that the Lisbon Treaty was partly aimed at solving, and why the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was created.

The antidote is for the newly appointed High Rep, Catherine Ashton, to show real political leadership on key conflict situations where the EU is a player. Here are four situations where visible and immediate EU leadership is most needed: Israel/Palestine, Sudan, DR Congo and Afghanistan.


Due to the lingering importance of the rotating presidency in foreign affairs, Ashton is now accompanied by a potential ally in the shape of the Spanish foreign minister. Rather than seeing this as a hindrance, Ashton should exploit this overlap as far as possible.

Miguel Ángel Moratinos was EU special representative for the Middle East Peace Process from 1996 to 2003. He knows the EU system and the issues on the ground. Ashton's December speech in Strasbourg indicated that if given the opportunity by member states, she would speak out.

She should make the most of her promised trip to the region in late January or early February to emphasise that the EU is getting tired of its role as a sidelined commentator being asked to foot the bill for reconstruction, as Chris Patten pointed out in the FT in December. Ashton and Moratinos are in a position to transform that resentment into positive and unified EU influence that builds on the December Council conclusions.


In Sudan, 2010 is the year in which all the country's factors of instability - the north/south war, Darfur, Southern tribal conflicts - will come to a head with potentially disastrous consequences. As outlined in two recent Crisis Group reports (Jonglei's Tribal Conflicts: Countering Insecurity in South Sudan and Sudan: Preventing Implosion), national elections scheduled for April and the early 2011 referendum on self-determination in the South require both implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which ended the long north/south war, and additional negotiations if they are to have any chance.

The EU, with diminished influence in Sudan following the International Criminal Court's indictment of President Omar al-Bashir, will have to take a sophisticated political and regional approach. Rather than being a direct actor in the proceedings, the EU will have to assist, advise and pressure those that are. This includes the AU, the UN, and regional actors such as the Horn of Africa's regional group, IGAD, and where it can, China.

With slightly more leverage in the South, the EU should be looking into ways to support regional or international efforts to stabilise internal South Sudan security, through government capacity building and security sector reform.

DR Congo

European involvement in Congo currently seems as though it is there merely for the sake of appearances. The country is at the centre of a region dependent on several unstable peace processes, two under-resourced Common Security and Defence Policy missions, countless millions spent by the EU on elections and precious little stability.

The lack of member state policy coherence has allowed the multiple strands of assistance to play against each other. In the meantime unprotected civilians have paid the price. The EU can build on the late December UN Security Council Resolution (1906) that moved UN priorities from joint military operations to prioritising civilian protection, demobilising and repatriating Rwandan militias, and Congolese security sector reform. These significant changes are a clear invitation for the EU to energise its own expertise in these areas.   


At present, the EU is paying for failure - to the tune of approximately €1billion/year. The EU's Plan of Action for Afghanistan and Pakistan announced in late October will not materialise without clear and coherent leadership from Brussels and from a single European representation in Kabul.

The plan is meant to assist Afghans in taking responsibility for their own security through initiatives to support the rule of law, local governance and democratic institutions, while also bringing NATO-EU cooperation closer to its full potential. President Hamid Karzai's dubious re-election reflects the need for the international community to play a more discerning and political role. The EU has been one of the worst offenders for failing to do so. Strong statements by Ashton - both financial and political - at the London conference on Afghanistan later this month would be a step in the right direction. Ideally that would also coincide with a strong commitment from Germany, currently having its own Afghan policy review.

The constant factor in these four situations is the need for political leadership. The EU has been learning its lessons in crisis management for nearly two decades. From its collective inability to respond to conflict on its Balkan doorstep, it has become a relevant and respected actor in numerous regions of instability. The missing ingredient is rarely technical, such as resources or early warning mechanisms; it is political will, without which the work of analysis, ideas, and proactive policymaking that fuel crisis management are in suspended animation.

The institutional engineering is necessary and unavoidable - but so too is the EU's role in crisis management.

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