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Maximising the EU’s potential to prevent conflicts and build peace

9 August 2012

The European Union (EU) needs to mainstream conflict sensitivity into every dimension of its external action – particularly development co-operation – if it is to meet its own ambition of being a global actor that can ‘preserve peace, prevent conflicts and strengthen international security’. A new briefing by Saferworld, EU External Action: towards conflict sensitivity, outlines how and why the EU should be more serious about conflict sensitivity in order to meet the ambitions set out in the Lisbon Treaty.

The EU is usually known for being a large donor, providing more than half of the world’s development assistance. But since the late 1990s, the EU has also been taking steps to develop a Common Foreign and Security Policy with the aim of making the EU a ‘global player’ in its own right. This resulted in the establishment of its own diplomatic service called the European External Action Service (EEAS) in 2010 which is tasked with bringing consistency and coherence to the EU’s external action.

However, the EU has yet to demonstrate fully its ability to prevent conflicts and build peace globally.  Saferworld’s research on EU early warning and crisis response mechanisms over the last two years has highlighted the potential of EU development co-operation programmes to bring about positive change on conflict dynamics, if they are designed in a ‘conflict-sensitive’ way.  Indeed, the links between conflict and development are increasingly recognised within the EU, which has adopted a set of policies to ensure EU external engagement is conflict-sensitive.

However, as Saferworld’s EU Advocacy Co-ordinator Sébastien Babaud points out, “policy doesn’t systematically translate into everyday practice. Just as the EU is revising its multi-annual country strategies and programming priorities, more effort needs to be taken to ensure conflict-sensitive approaches are applied more proactively at all stages of these processes”.  

For that to happen, awareness among EU actors on the rationale for and benefits of applying conflict sensitivity needs to be improved. Moreover, their capacity to implement these practices in EU processes and decisions needs to be strengthened and supported. Saferworld’s briefing is contributing to this, and will be followed up by further targeted support for EU actors in Brussels and in-country to help maximise the EU’s potential peace-building impact.

This briefing and associated research forms part of the Initiative for Peacebuilding – Early Warning project.

Read the briefing

“More effort needs to be taken to ensure conflict-sensitive approaches are applied more proactively at all stages”

Sébastien Babaud, Saferworld