How can we understand the processes and outcomes that arise from frictional encounters in peacebuilding?

Annika Björkdahl

1 July 2016

The evolution of the EU

In turbulent times it important to recall the origins of the European Union. The EU in itself was conceived as a peace project, and its post-war experience of integration based on integrationalist and functionalist thinking about peace has been the foundation for its peacebuilding approach. This approach rests on a number of core values that emerged from within the EU, such as sustainable peace, consensual democracy, human rights, rule of law, inclusive equality, social solidarity, sustainable development and good governance that guide the internal relations among its member state. Consequently, what the EU is rather than what the EU does seems important to its achievements as a peacebuilder. The strong self-image of the EU as a ‘normative power’, a ‘power for good’ and a ‘peacebuilder’ on the global arena is perpetuated through its peace discourse. Thus, one of the ways the EU project its power in the world is through its conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts.

The Western Balkans has been the testing ground for the development of EU’s approach to peace and security and has contributed to the development of the EU peacebuilding framework. Against the backdrop of the Balkan conflicts in the 1990’s the EU began to frame its role in peace and security. New strategies, tools and capacities were often been tried out and fine-tuned in the Western Balkans. It was here the idea of conflict prevention was turned into practiced through the CONCORDIA conflict prevention mission in Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and where the EU deployed its first police operation (EUPM), and military operation (EUFOR Althea). The EU also developed a more comprehensive regional approach after this conflict, which took shape through the ‘Process of stability and good-neighbourly relations in South-Eastern Europe’ and the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) of the late 1990s was to start harmonize the societies and the laws in the Western Balkans with the EU’s acquis communitare. This regional approach emerged as a cornerstone of EU peacebuilding approach. It is linked to the European Union’s own experience of regional integration and a firm belief in regional integration and interdependencies as a key to durable peace.

However, the quality of the peace established through EU peacebuilding efforts is often poor and the peace dividend is not always realised. A closer look at the interplay between the EU peacebuilding discourse and the practices of conflict-affected societies depicts an asymmetrical relationship that is diverse and unequal with no predetermined outcome. Such examination also shows that the ideas pertaining to the liberal peace promoted by the EU are charged and changed by their encounters with post-conflict realities. In response to this many policy makers and academics alike have argued for the EU to provide space for local ownership of peacebuilding processes, stimulate a local turn in peacebuilding and assist localized peacebuilding efforts.

It seems that the precariousness of peacebuilding requires a better understanding of the conflictual dynamics of the encounters between the EU through its various representations and conflict-affected societies in order to avoid unintentional consequences, counterproductive outcomes and undermining local peacebuilding agency and local visions and versions of peace. The question is then how can the processes and outcomes that arise from EU’s encounters with conflict-affected societies be better understood?

Friction is an analytical concept that brings to the fore how the EU, its ideas and practices engage with localness, and are changed through these interactions. Through the lens of friction peacebuilding is revealed as a site of power production and it zooms in on the vertical and asymmetrical relations between the EU and conflict-affected societies. An analysis of peacebuilding with the use of friction as an analytical concept opens up for an exploration of a range of questions related to the broader implications for EU’s effort to promote peace, reconciliation, development and democratisation. Such an analysis seems crucial to understanding the dynamics and transformative impacts of EU-peacebuilding in the short-, medium- and long-term.

About the Author

Annika Björkdahl

Annika Björkdahl is Professor of Political Science at Lund University, Sweden.

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