Workshop 2 – “EU Conflict Prevention”

Correspondent: Nabila Habbida
Host: European Peacebuilding Liaison Office
Location: Brussels, Belgium
Date: 27 January 2017

Executive Summary

On 27 January 2017, EPLO hosted a workshop on EU capabilities for conflict prevention and technological shortcomings in early warning and conflict analysis, bringing together experts from the Consortium’s associates, external practitioners and researchers. The workshop was an occasion to present and discuss the results of the reports on technological shortcomings in early warning and conflict analysis (DL 3.1) and the report on EU capacities for conflict prevention (DL 3.2).

In the first session of the workshop, Dr Laura Davis (EPLO) presented the research findings within the report on EU capabilities for conflict prevention (DL 3.2), which focused on how conflict prevention in EU external action is understood and implemented – both as a way of acting in the world and as a set of distinct activities. Dr Davis also shared the main recommendations to EU policy-makers identified in the report, which looked into ways in which the EU could strengthen its capabilities to reduce conflict through its external action. This session was facilitated by Sonya Reines-Djivanides (EPLO) and involved key speakers Chiara Biscaldi (International Crisis Group) and Jan Reinder Rosing (European External Action Service).

In the second session, Denis Bruckert and Jenny Berglund (EU Satellite Center) presented the main findings of the paper on technological shortcomings in early warning and conflict analysis. This session was chaired by Sonya Reines-Djivanides (EPLO).

Full Report

After the welcome remarks made by Dr Ana E. Juncos and Sonya Reines-Djivanides, Dr Laura Davis (EPLO), the lead author of the report, presented the main findings on the EU’s capacities for conflict prevention. Dr Davis began by sharing two approaches to conflict prevention that the report identified and which are not mutually exclusive: conflict prevention can be understood as a distinct set of activities or as way of acting. The capacities identified in the paper include capacities to act, to engage, to fund, to cooperate and to coordinate. The presentation established that many of these capacities are linked to political leadership in the EU institutions, in particular senior management at the EEAS and the European Commission, which should provide direction, set priorities and earmark resources to carry out activities related to conflict prevention.

One of the findings of this research was that in practice, conflict prevention often comes at the expense of crisis response. It was also found that conflict prevention is a fuzzy concept if no clear definition is attached to it, and it remains empty talk without dedicated funds and resources to support it. The amount of resources available is important, however it was highlighted that a key aspect of the EU’s ability to carry-out conflict prevention is the way in which these resources are used. Beyond financial resources, staff time dedicated to conflict prevention work (e.g. conflict analysis, coordination, scenario planning, training, etc.) was found to be particularly lacking.

The specialist divisions SECPOL.2 (EEAS) and DEVCO B7 (Commission) were identified as key service providers and hubs of thematic expertise in conflict prevention, early warning, peacebuilding, fragility and mediation. They are tasked with providing leadership, technical support and expertise within the EEAS, DG DEVCO and across the EU’s external action machinery. They have started developing innovative partnerships in conflict situations worldwide, in particular with civil society organisations and other external expert individuals or groups.

Knowledge management was also shown to be key in conducting effective conflict prevention activities. In the EU, knowledge management is a challenge because of internal staff rotation across the spectrum of EU institutions. An evidence base would help to counter the issue of conflict prevention being a fuzzy concept and to demonstrate why it matters.

Dr Davis recommended that the EEAS and the Commission should clarify how the EU promotes conflict prevention as a way of acting in the world, how it can support and be supported by stabilisation, as well as how specific, distinct activities (particularly conflict analysis, early warning and mediation) contribute differently to conflict prevention. Her recommendations also included the following:

  • Senior management in the EEAS and the European Commission should mainstream conflict prevention as a matter of policy and practice across the EU external action machinery (the DG for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, DG DEVCO, DG Energy, DG Trade, as well as the EEAS) and prioritise prevention as well as response.
  • The EU’s Global Strategy implementation plans should ensure that conflict prevention is prioritised across all the thematic areas identified, not only for the implementation of the section on “an integrated approach to conflict”. Conflict prevention should also be prioritised in the preparation of the action plan on security and defence, the initiative on public diplomacy and other follow-up actions to the Global Strategy.
  • The EU should further develop its capacities for preventive diplomacy in situations at risk of escalating conflict, for example by reinforcing and tailoring the support provided to EUSRs and heads of delegations in charge of carrying out dialogue in conflict-affected countries (e.g. mediation and analysis training, support staff) and by including conflict expertise in their job descriptions.

Jan Reinder Rosing (EEAS) reacted to the presentation by welcoming the research and the recommendations from the paper and the authors, especially as the EEAS is restructuring its thematic divisions on conflict prevention and is working to implement the EU Global Strategy. As of January 2017, the new thematic division in the EEAS in charge of conflict prevention is PRISM (Prevention, Rule of Law and Security Sector Reform, Integrated Approach, Stabilisation and Mediation). PRISM is the result of the merger of SECPOL.2 division and CSDP.1 division – a merger that was anticipated in the report. PRISM reports directly to Deputy Secretary General for CSDP and Crisis Response (Pedro Serrano), which provides more opportunities for conflict prevention to be raised higher on the agenda. Participants were informed that the EU’s conflict early warning system timespan changed from 6 months to 12 months in order to allow more time for early action.

Mr Rosing also reacted to recommendations 1, 2 and 3 in the report, sharing thoughts on the usefulness of having new Council conclusions on conflict prevention and the importance of political leadership. It was highlighted that there is a reference to conflict prevention in the Security and Defence Action Plan. There also seems to be more interaction between EEAS and member states on the one hand, and EU delegations on the other. Participants acknowledged that a key challenge for conflict analysis is prioritisation and that there is a need to free-up more resources in order to do more, and better, conflict analysis. Partnerships with NGOs and international organisations will be essential to enabling these efforts.

While they welcomed institutional change towards more integrated EU approach to crises, the co-authors of the report Anna Penfrat (EPLO) and Nabila Habbida (EPLO) highlighted in the discussion that there is a concern that the prevention agenda is understood as encompassing crisis management activities with a strong emphasis on CSDP. They also raised the issue of documenting internal organisational issues and building evidence for best practices internally: this is difficult for researchers to achieve partly because EU officials are not willing to speak on the record or even under anonymity.

Chiara Biscaldi (International Crisis Group) reflected on how leadership is related to a willingness to take risks. Conflict prevention is mentioned in a substantial number of policy documents, but what is missing is a strategy that would tie specific resources to clearly set priorities. Other participants picked up on this point: the strategy does not require more documents but a revised, thoughtful engagement which includes risk. A major challenge for the EU, like other international organisations, is that it considers that much of its external action, in particular in conflict-affected countries, is technical and neutral, even though it is not a neutral, peaceful technical provider. The EU has interests and values, and claiming them will make it a stronger international actor in any particular place. Evaluation was also raised as a key issue: the collection of solid evidence that enables actors to understand the effect(s) that EU action has in a conflict-affected country is still lacking.

Denis Bruckert and Jenny Berglund (EU Satellite Centre) presented the main findings of the paper on technological shortcomings in early warning and conflict analysis, which evaluated the following tools:

  • Earth observation geospatial information;
  • Analytical tools;
  • Horizon 2020;
  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICT);
  • Big Data; and
  • Information Exchange systems.

Among the main findings, the authors found that information collection seems to come mainly from the Single Intelligence Analysis Capacity (SIAC) and EU delegations, without clarity on the technological means through which EU delegations can collect and extract information in-country. They also found that at the institutional level, the main tools used are Earth observation geospatial information – probably already ingested in the information produced by the SIAC – and the Global Conflict Risk Index (GCRI). By contrast, the systematic use of ICT to obtain information, and Big Data to process and analyse this information, has not been incorporated into the EU’s early warning system or the conflict analysis structure so far

Recent Council conclusions called for the mainstreaming of digital solutions and technologies in EU development and foreign policies, which could accelerate the possible use of ICT for early warning and conflict analysis. Furthermore, new technologies such as ICT and Big Data could present great opportunities for the enhancement of the EU’s early warning and conflict analysis capabilities. However, they also raise the question of how the complexity of handling such tools will be tackled by the relevant EU institutions.

Ongoing EU projects on Big Data could also open further the possibility of its application in the conflict prevention domain (including the early warning system and conflict analysis). Technological applications and their use should be analysed against the institutional capabilities of the organisation and the policies they are supposed to support.

The authors recommended that the EU reflects on how new technologies such as ICT and Big Data could be added, in a sustainable manner, to the existing technological tools for early warning and conflict analysis. They added that the EU should update, mainstream and coordinate the various capacities within different services dealing with conflict early warning and conflict analysis, in order to bridge gaps, improve interconnectivity and avoid duplication.

Tommaso De Zan (IAI) shared reflections on the presentation and insights from his own research on technologies in early warning and conflict analysis as member of the EU-CIVCAP Consortium. He also illustrated the issue of coordination and analysis by explaining that in some CSDP missions, equipment for classified and non-classified information are distinct, in that they use different operation systems and are not connected in any way.

Horizon 2020 projects analysing technologies for conflict prevention should not be analyses at the same level as actual technologies, however they attest to the EU’s willingness to address challenges related to the use of technologies in CSDP mission and in conflict-affected countries.

Participants asked various questions related to the issue of the diverging understanding of early warning among EU actors, the challenge of linking early warning with situational awareness, the tension between internal and external security in using these technologies, and the tension between data collection and privacy.

Other participants explained that some of these technologies have already been, or are already being developed by other institutions like NATO and the UN and wondered how the EU can avoid duplication and instead encourage cooperate with other institutions.

Related Deliverables

dl_3-1DL 3.1: Report on Technological Shortcomings in Early Warning and Conflict Analysis

Authors: Berglund, J. and D. Bruckert
Institution: European Union Satellite Centre

Published: 30 January 2017

[PDF, ~1.5MB; click to access]


dl_3-2DL 3.2: The EU’s Capabilities for Conflict Prevention

Authors: Davis, L., N. Habbida and A. Penfrat
Institution: European Peacebuilding Liaison Office

Published: 30 January 2017

[PDF, ~1MB; click to access]


People Involved

Ana E. Juncos

Ana E. Juncos is the EU-CIVCAP Consortium Co-ordinator and team leader at the University of Bristol. She is a Reader in European Politics at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies.

Anna Penfrat

Anna Penfrat is Project Officer at EPLO. She coordinates the work of EPLO on EU institutions and policies, including the Common Security and Defence Policy, as well as on EU-Africa relations.

Denis Bruckert

Denis Bruckert is COPERNICUS Coordinator and Head of the COPERNICUS Unit at the SatCen since June 2004.

Jenny Berglund

Jenny Berglund joined the EU Satellite Centre in 2002, where she is currently holding the post as Capability Development Officer, supporting the management of the Capability Development Division in the operational and strategical coordination.

Laura Davis

Laura Davis is a scholar and practitioner specializing in EU foreign policy, transitional justice and peace mediation, including women’s participation in these processes.

Nabila Habbida

Nabila Habbida joined EPLO in June 2013 to support EPLO’s analysis and advocacy towards EU Member States on EU policy and thematic issues related to peacebuilding and conflict prevention.

Sonya Reines-Djivanides

Sonya Reines-Djivanides is the Executive Director of EPLO and a peacebuilding professional with over ten years of experience in international conflict resolution.

Tommaso De Zan

Tommaso De Zan is a former EU-CIVCAP Staff Member. This profile represents his biography at the time he worked for the project.

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