On 16 March 2017 in Brussels, the third Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Policy Forum was held, in which a panel of two European Union officials, a senior diplomat of a Member State, and a civil society representative debated the concept of ‘resilience’ and its implications for EU conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Taking place at the premises of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), the event drew some 100 experts, policymakers, and practitioners; the four opening statements prompted a lively debate on the concept and its implementation.
Defined by the Global Strategy (EUGS) for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy as ‘the ability of states and societies to reform, thus withstanding and recovering from internal and external crises,’ resilience has been gaining currency among policymakers and practitioners dealing with conflict and peacebuilding. Yet the concept has invited different understandings, not all of them compatible, from various constituencies in the fields of foreign policy, security, development, humanitarian aid, climate change, and others.
The EUGS, which was the topic of the second Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Policy Forum in September 2016, made resilience one of its five priorities. As a follow-up, the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Commission have now launched a public consultation for a future joint communication that is supposed to translate the concept as contained in the EUGS into concrete policy initiatives. It is against this background that CEPS on 16 March 2017 held the third Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Policy Forum under the EU-CIVCAP project, which is financed by the Horizon 2020 programme.
On 16 March 2017, Elisabeth Pape from the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO) outlined the process of consultation with NGOs, international organisations (including the World Bank, the United Nations, and OECD), the Member States, and think tanks. In addition to the EEAS and DG DEVCO, the Commission’s departments for humanitarian aid (ECHO) and for the neighbourhood policy and enlargement negotiations (NEAR) are also involved in this process. The communication is scheduled for adoption in May 2017, in the context of a review of the EUGS after one year.
According to Pape, resilience is a way to take the focus away from state fragility—a notion that drew a negative response from many countries at risk—and shift it toward the capacities of countries and societies to deal with challenges. A first communication on resilience adopted in 2012 was development-focused, and while much of the subsequent Action Plan remains valid, there was a feeling that the political dimension of resilience required more attention.
Pape also stated that efforts were underway to make DG DEVCO’s staff more sensitive to the impact that development policies may have on conflict dynamics.
Tim Heath from the EEAS provided an overview of the communication’s substance. He highlighted that conflict produced serious stresses on resilience and that this meant that issues such as transitional justice were relevant to the concept. Stability must not mean preserving the status quo, and EU values are not an optional add-on to its policies and approaches, he argued: the EUGS is all about fostering ‘human security’, the conceptual problems of that term notwithstanding, and at the heart of this is the bridging of different perspectives on peace and conflict. Working at various levels, from the local and sub-national to the national and regional, is another important element. Identifying conflict risks and resilience risks in specific cases gives the EU leverage for preventive action, hence the development of a joint conflict analysis capacity for the EEAS and the Commission. More analysis is also needed in order to identify local-level sources of resilience. In recent years, preventing violent extremism has been added to the mix.
Lembit Uido, Estonia’s ambassador to the Political and Security Committee, presented a more security-focused view of resilience. Social cohesion, he said, is a core element of resilience, but at the same time the concept also includes critical services that ensure the functioning of society and the state (transport, energy, and communications, for example). Psychological defence and strategic communications are also ingredients of resilience that help the EU promote its narrative of liberal democratic values.
Kathrin Schick, director of VOICE, expressed a certain scepticism towards the notion that resilience would really one day guide the EU’s action in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Resilience is not a goal but a process and falls more in the development field than it does in humanitarian action. The humanitarian community has, according to her, been pushing for a more political approach to conflict for many years. Schick is concerned about the relatively short timeframe allocated to the development of resilience communication and said that the EU was not good at institutional knowledge and lessons learned. The fact that the review of the 2012 communication on resilience in development will not be available in time to inform the new communication is not good policymaking, she argued. It is important for the NGOs gathered in VOICE that the Commission keeps the implementation of the 2012 Action Plan on track.
Questions at the end of the event concerned the role of EU Delegations and CSDP missions in fostering resilience, and whether EU funding priorities would be adjusted as a result of the communication.
 European Union (2016), ‘Shared Vision, Common Action: A Stronger Europe – A Global Strategy for the European Union’s Foreign and Security Policy’, European Union, June [accessed 26 March 2017], available from: http://europa.eu/globalstrategy/sites/globalstrategy/files/regions/files/eugs_review_web.pdf: 23.
 The first Conflict Prevention and Peacebuilding Policy Forum, held in May 2016 also at CEPS, discussed post-conflict Syria.
Toby Vogel is a writer on foreign affairs based in Brussels, where he also works as a research communications officer in the foreign policy unit of CEPS.