Research Headlines – Promoting peace beyond European borders

The EU’s ability to maintain peace at home is widely celebrated. Now an EU-funded project is supporting the Union’s civilian peacebuilding efforts in countries beyond its boundaries.

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© Vitezslav Vylicil #270389701 | source: 2019

The European Union has been widely celebrated for its ability to maintain peace within its borders, even winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. Yet its success at preventing violence at home has not immunised the bloc from the effect of conflict entirely.

Over the past decade, protracted violence in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan and Ukraine has been devastating for those countries, their economies and the people who live there. These conflicts have also reverberated inside the EU itself: jeopardising regional security by creating havens for extremist groups and forcing huge numbers of people to leave their homes and become refugees.

The EU-funded EU-CIVCAP project has turned three years of research into a series of reports that include practical advice on how the EU can promote sustainable peace. ‘Through this project, we investigated how the EU can improve its civilian capabilities, so it can intervene more effectively in areas at risk of conflict,’ says Ana E. Juncos, project coordinator and researcher at the UK’s University of Bristol.

Turning research into lessons

The project focused on enhancing the EU’s ability to work more closely with local partners. Several of its recommendations have already been implemented, including improvements to training, equipment and support for EU civilian missions. Other recommendations have sparked policy discussions within EU institutions and European capitals.

While military operations involve the deployment of troops to keep or enforce peace, civilian missions and projects generally work with local police forces, judges and civil servants to tackle the root causes of conflict. ‘If you look at recent EU interventions in conflict zones, you will see that much of what the EU has done requires civilian capabilities and expertise,’ says Juncos.

With civilian missions growing in relevance, the project team wanted to answer key questions such as how to support such missions with technology, how to coordinate civil capabilities with military capabilities and how to promote peacebuilding efforts that can be led by local partners. ‘We also focused on how to save resources, for example, by emphasising prevention, which tends to be much more cost-effective than intervention,’ explains Juncos.

The project’s reports are the result of extensive fieldwork and more than 350 interviews with EU officials as well as local policymakers and non-governmental organisations working in the Western Balkans and the Horn of Africa – two regions where the EU has played a major role in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.

The EU-CIVCAP team also reached its conclusions by comparing the EU’s peacebuilding efforts to initiatives by other international actors such as the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

To make their findings easily accessible to a range of policymakers, the project team created an online catalogue of 34 ‘lessons’, covering issues that range from strategy advice to the use of big data.

Uniting peacebuilding experts

Alongside the reports aimed at policymakers, EU-CIVCAP also created a network of academics and policymakers to exchange knowledge and ideas on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. ‘The expert network, consisting of 49 members, was vital to the project’s outreach, dissemination and communication objectives,’ says Juncos.

For her, the relevance of this project has only grown in importance. ‘The goals of preventing the outbreak of conflict and promoting sustainable peace remain a fundamental challenge to policymakers and analysts alike,’ she says. ‘While wars between states remain rare, intrastate violent conflicts have actually increased since 2010.’

Juncos believes the huge body of research produced under this project will remain useful to European policymakers for years to come. ‘The EU-CIVCAP project has contributed to a better understanding of current shortcomings in EU civilian peacebuilding and we have witnessed EU policymakers make some of our recommendations a reality,’ she says. ‘We hope this will happen to a greater extent in the future, strengthening the ability of the EU to promote peace.’