Opening Remarks by Herman Van Rompuy to Crisis Group Board Meeting
Opening Remarks by Herman Van Rompuy to Crisis Group Board Meeting
Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2023
Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2023
Speech / Global

Opening Remarks by Herman Van Rompuy to Crisis Group Board Meeting

It is an honour for me to speak to this distinguished audience.

Let me start out by emphasizing the convergence between your philosophy and ours. Your President says the following in her preface to your anniversary brochure "15 Years on the Front Lines":

"Conflict prevention and resolution are increasingly complex. The protagonists are no longer exclusively state entities: (…) Victims of conflict are no longer willing to settle for peace without justice. Women are seeking a seat at the table."

I can subscribe to every word. In a very short period of time our security concerns have been transformed: from armies of tanks into youths brandishing AK-47's, from the Iron Curtain into failed states and terrorist camps. But our duty to DO something is more acute than ever.

Turning now to what we try to do as the European Union, I will start with an old cliché: the whole European Union is an exercise in conflict prevention. It is our raison d'être. We started back in 1950 with Six to prevent another war between France and Germany. It was a gamble, and we won it. This achievement is now close to invisible. However we should never forget that debating fish quotas (or the future of the Euro) is much better than debating disputed borders.

Conflict prevention also remains at the heart of EU external action.

Credibility in conflict prevention starts next door. The EU's enlargement policy is its most successful policy of conflict prevention. The Union has secured stability in the Western Balkans. The European perspective given to that region has been decisive.

Earlier this week, I visited 4 Balkan countries to confirm their European perspective. And Cathy Ashton has played a key role in the negotiations leading up to the UN Resolution on Serbia and Kosovo in early September.

As Chris Patten can surely testify, the European Union has consistently promoted a culture of conflict prevention and conflict sensitivity.

A recent addition to the EU's conflict prevention capacity is our work on mediation and dialogue. In that area, we surely have a lot to learn from you, both from the ICG as an organization and from many of you as individuals.

We hope to soon have EU mediators in the field to complete the valuable work of our representatives. Our Special Representatives and Heads of Delegation have been our eyes and ears in places like Sudan, the Great Lakes, and the Western Balkans for years. But it has become obvious that we also need people who are specifically mandated to mediate on behalf of the European Union.

We tend to emphasize the need for a comprehensive approach in this field, and for a reason. The EU carries out interventions which are truly "whole-of-government".

  • That's why justice and law enforcement reform processes are at the centre of many EU missions. They have contributed to democratisation and good governance.
  • That's why we have combated the proliferation and illicit trade of small arms and light weapons. Our trade agreements systematically cover "everything but arms".
  • That's why we have tried to break the link between conflicts and natural resources. We mediated between the Kimberley Process and Zimbabwe, in order to put an end to violence in the diamond fields.

And if everything else fails, we of course have our capacity to carry out crisis management operations. That is our plan B and we have no reason to hide that.

The European Union has carried out 24 crisis management operations in three continents in less than 10 years. We have reinforced rule of law in Kosovo, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, police forces in Afghanistan, Congo and Bosnia and contributed to the fight against piracy in Somalia, to pick a few examples. Crisis management will continue to be our operational window to the world.

I see two big challenges in our work on conflict prevention:

  1. We need to have people who do conflict prevention full time.
  2. We need the analytical tools to crack complex security problems quickly.

1. As you know, we are busy turning the Lisbon Treaty into reality. Conflict prevention is explicitly mentioned in that Treaty for the first time as a goal of EU external action. (Before, conflict prevention was based on individual political decisions by the Member States.)

Our culture of conflict prevention needs to be underpinned by an adequate and dedicated capability for conflict prevention within the new European External Action Service.

We also need to provide training to our practitioners that reflects the comprehensive nature of security.

2. The complex nature of security is a challenge for all analysts, including ours. No strategy today is complete without an assessment of climate change, of cyber security and of the scarcity of natural resources.

You will be familiar with the link between security and development. It works both ways. There can be no development without security but in many places there can be no lasting security without development either. That's why the European Union as a whole -- the 27 Member States and the institutions together -- is the world's biggest donor of development aid, with 49 billion euro. We mobilise more than half of global aid.

The EU faces some particular institutional challenges in this respect. Development has traditionally been a policy implemented by the European Commission and security has been considered as the turf of the Council. I truly hope that the function of the High Representative / Vice-President and the External Action Service will help us to overcome this unhelpful barrier.

In closing, I simply wish to emphasize that we are in this together. When a country or a region in actual or potential conflict needs urgent help, to my mind, we should NOT focus on debating who does what and when. As members of the international community, we have a duty to ensure that someone does something, as quickly as possible.

The EU Security Strategy summarizes everything I've said in nine words: "Conflict prevention and threat prevention cannot start too early." This is true today and tomorrow.

And we should never forget that at the end of the day we are dealing with individual people. Exceptional times require exceptional individuals, giving their talents and energy, as many of you have done. I myself and my staff will continue to follow your activities with interest and gratitude.

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