1989 Generation Initiative

This article is part of a series of papers based on the preliminary results of the 1989 Generation Initiative’s policy cycle “Tackling Populism: Hope over Fear”. The following article is based on the results of the Roundtable “Mitigating Conflict” at its launching conference. By Martin Garrigue, External Content Officer.

Tackling the roots of the refugee crisis: the Hour of Europe could be now

25 years ago, as the opening salvos of what would become a decade-long ethnic war in the Balkans were fired, then Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jacques Poos, at the helm of Europe’s negotiation team in the Yugoslav crisis, delivered the now infamous line “This is the hour of Europe”. A few years later, the ‘hour’, in retrospect, had been just a second; hapless in the face of mounting carnage, with the massacre at Srebrenica one of its darkest moments, Europe had to stand on the side-lines as American hard power delivered the Dayton agreements and, later, Kosovo’s sanctity. Its credibility in foreign affairs shattered, the European Union, under the impulse of France and Britain in St-Malo in 1998, set out to build a military-civilian capacity which would finally allow Europe to have its own say in the international order.

Today, as the Refugee Crisis has nudged the European Union ever closer to its total disintegration, it could well be time for Europe to step up once again its ambitions to mould events beyond its borders. The European Union, through its “Comprehensive Approach” to security, has theoretically the best means at its disposal to tackle the root causes of the Refugee Crisis. Only through a mix of civilian and military power can the hotbeds of conflict, out of which refugees have been pouring towards Europe, be pacified in the long term. In this respect, overcoming the current wave of ‘integration fatigue’ plaguing Europe over the past 10 years, is long overdue.

Replicating the European model outside its borders

The EU has been keen to export its success story and has built to this effect a wide range of civilian instruments, relying on Europe’s economic power and the sheer strength of its ideas. These tools have had mixed results and, with regards to the region at the heart of the Refugee Crisis (the Middle East and North Africa), it is widely recognised that they have failed. This, the 1989 Generation Initiative believes, is the result of a lack of fine-tuning and adaptation of those tools to the context in which they operate.

Based on its own experience, the European Union has considered economic development as the bedrock of political and social stability and has developed a vast programme of economic aid consequently; this aid requires more coherence so that needs can be targeted more efficiently. Within member-states, ensuring coordination between aid programmes must be undertaken, possibly in the form of an extension of EuropeAid’s remit within the Commission. As such, common vision, principles and especially objectives must be fleshed out in a new strategy encompassing European institutions and member-states alike, in coherence with other strategic papers such as the EU Global Strategy or the EU Sahel Strategy. Within this, the EU must additionally be wary that its trade policies do not contradict its development objectives: encouraging European trade flows to developing countries might destroy the still weak local production bases and handicap its development. Supporting microcredit would also extend the use of development funds to a tool with a proven track record in developing countries. All this, and more, can be accomplished within the upcoming new European Consensus on Development if ambitious enough.

Mitigating Instability and Conflict Roundtable

The way the European Union attempts to export its norms, for its part, must be rethought. The EU’s practice of conditioning development aid to the development of human rights, fair elections and the rule of law has hit a wall in states controlled by a predatory elite. Predatory rulers’ overarching concern will be maintaining themselves in power and, as such, they will refuse economic aid rather than cede ground on their control of state institutions. Conditionality, hence, should be used only when it can have effects, and abandoned for countries which resist it; economic development is more important in the long run than the conditions it’s given on, even for the development of democratic institutions. Assistance should be provided instead to civil society in these regions so to empower local populations while minimising the EU’s encroachment on national sovereignties. In the same vein and following the EU’s commitment to multilateralism, more support should also be provided to the African Union; local countries remain those most likely to respond to the needs of their own region. Above all, this means shelving regional frameworks such as the Union for the Mediterranean in favour of bilateral agreements. Only through this framework can the EU’s actions become, in effect, context-specific.

Creating the prerequisite conditions: a military tool for post-conflict stabilisation

The Refugee Crisis has created internal threats which the EU should mitigate; ensuring the continued sharing of intelligence with post-Brexit Britain, part of the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence cooperation structure, and increasing the power of the EU Counter-Terrorist Coordinator beyond its currently non-binding recommendations, will be required if the EU is to tackle the terrorist threat refugee flows have the potential to bring, while maintaining the highest standards of human rights in keeping borders open to refugees. If the Union wants to become pro-active in tackling the crisis and, at the same time, create the conditions for its civilian tools to become effective, it must however, invest itself once more in developing an appropriate military arm.

Launched in a fanfare at the beginning of the 2000s, the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) has quickly drifted into irrelevance. The EU’s Comprehensive Approach, mixing civilian and military solutions to the problem of rebuilding post-conflict regions, is theoretically the right framework but has been found wanting, particularly in military terms. There have been no large-scale military missions in a decade, while the EU Battlegroups, rapid-reaction forces meant to respond to immediate stabilisation needs, have never been deployed. Beyond that, the CSDP’s missions, civilian or military, have often been too small to have any meaningful impact. This is a far cry from the level of ambition the EU once had in this respect; the rise of populism, divergence in interests between member-states and uneasiness with the idea of the EU employing military force has contributed however to this fall in relevance the CSDP has experienced. Yet, for all those constraints, a force capable of delivering post-conflict stabilisation is needed more than ever: the current situation in Libya, for example, would have gone another way if a stabilisation force had been sent after the Franco-British intervention.

The European Defence Agency must see its power reinforced in order to take advantage of economies of scale, as well as develop interoperability between European weapons-systems.

The potential for civilian-military approaches is there but it must be (re)activated. This means, first, increased and improved funding for CSDP missions. In procurement terms, the European Defence Agency, currently sitting on a meagre €30 million budget, must see its power reinforced in order to take advantage of economies of scale, as well as develop interoperability between European weapons-systems. In terms of funding, the Athena mechanism – a common fund for CSDP operations paid for by all member-states – must be increased from its current 10% of mission costs. When it comes to divergence of national interests, the use of the Permanent Structured Cooperation mechanism, introduced in the Lisbon Treaty, must be incentivised, so that member-states with the same strategic interests can go forward in cooperation without being blocked by others. The question of member-states’ political will, in sum, cannot even be asked if the prerequisite means for CSDP missions to occur are not there in the first place.

The interests of all member-states in the EU intervening in the regions at the heart of the Refugee Crisis, nevertheless, will become key. In military strategy, “united in diversity” need not apply; all member-states, including Eastern European countries traditionally focused on Russia in security matters, must come to the realisation that they all share the same interest in the stability of those regions if the refugee influx is to permanently recede. If this can occur, if member-states can get behind the need for a more encompassing civilian-military approach to the unstable countries on the periphery of the continent and beyond, Europe might succeed in its ambition to stabilise its neighbourhood.

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