EU Crisis Management in Transition

Tobias Pietz

1 October 2017

Since the adoption of its Global Strategy in 2016, European foreign and security policy has been in transition. The missions of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) have also been affected. In the Sahel region, missions are being “regionalised,” the topic of migration management is gaining in importance, and there are significant structural changes in the works in Brussels.

In addition, there is also a completely new instrument in the EU’s crisis management portfolio: the so-called “Stabilization Action” in Mali, which is the first operationalisation of Article 28 of the Treaty of Lisbon. It is still open whether these various instruments and activities will be complementary or – as provided for in the Global Strategy – integrated.


New innovations have been conceived and implemented for the CSDP, including the establishment of an operational unit, the Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC), for the management of non-executive EU military operations, such as the training missions in Mali and Somalia. In addition, the various units of the CSDP were reorganised in early 2017 under the Deputy Secretary General for CSDP and Crisis Response.

The willingness to reform EU crisis management structures is evident in particular with the establishment of PRISM (“Prevention of Conflicts, Rule of Law/Security Sector Reform, Integrated Approach, Stabilisation and Mediation”). This unit sees itself as a catalyst for the EU’s new Integrated Approach (IA) and is meant to bring about more coordination between all actors, both in the area of crisis response as well as in early detection and prevention. PRISM reports to the Deputy Secretary General for CSDP and Crisis Response, and is meant to enable implementation of what the Global Strategy and the Council of the European Union consider to be one of five priorities for EU policy: “an integrated approach to conflicts and crises”.

Article 28: “Stabilization Actions”

In addition, PRISM is to operationalize a new instrument of EU crisis management: the so-called “Stabilization Actions” under Article 28 (1) of the Treaty of Lisbon. Over the past year there has been intensive debate on this topic in Brussels and in the capitals of the Member States, primarily due to the widespread perception that the CSDP structures are too complex and the process of mission deployment too drawn-out, and thus, that the EU needed a more flexible new instrument in its crisis management toolbox. With Article 28 there might be more flexibility soon, as well as considerable leeway to the Member States, European External Action Service (EEAS) and the High Representative.

Art 28 (1): Where the international situation requires operational action by the Union, the Council shall adopt the necessary decisions. They shall lay down their objectives, scope, the means to be made available to the Union, if necessary their duration, and the conditions for their implementation (…). (Treaty of Lisbon, 2007)

But there is a considerable degree of uncertainty over a range of questions, including but not limited to the following:

  • Is PRISM meant to build up completely new expertise for the steering of stabilisation actions, or should existing CSDP structures be utilised?
  • What is the relationship between the stabilisation actions and the Commission? What specific tasks should they fulfil?
  • Do they have to be purely civilian in nature, or can they also involve police and military?
  • Are stabilisation actions predominantly small-scale, with limited scope, or can they potentially also be larger and more long-term?

As there has never been an implementation of Article 28, it is up to the High Representative and her team to design this instrument accordingly.


Under the name “EU Stabilisation Action in Mopti and Ségou” (EUSTAMS), Article 28 is currently being tested for the first time in Mali. Ten experts will be sent to central Mali to provide support in the process of rebuilding administrative structures and to help improve coordination between Malian authorities. This stabilisation action is mandated for twelve months.

In some respects, the decision to test Article 28 for the first time in Mali is a surprising one, as several other options would have been available there: alternatively, the delegation in Bamako or EUCAP Sahel Mali could have carried out these tasks in Mopti and Ségou. This would have taken advantage of local staff expertise, as well as the security measures of delegation or mission.

Observers explain that the decision was not determined so much by local factors, but rather by the possibility to test a stabilisation action for the first time. Only then can the EEAS and the High Representative gain a better understanding of the possibilities and limitations of Article 28.

If EUSTAMS is judged to be a success, further stabilisation actions could follow, with far-reaching consequences for CSDP missions, particularly civilian ones. Member States could be quicker to decide on stabilisation actions and, if they are comparable to CSDP missions in size and thematic orientation, stabilisation actions could in certain cases even replace CSDP missions. Article 28 could serve to expand the High Representative’s room for manoeuvre in foreign affairs and security policy. Whether all of this will lead to more efficiency or effectiveness in the EU’s crisis management is yet to be determined.

One must also remember that both instruments – CSDP missions and stabilisation actions – are currently relatively small in terms of budget and staff size, compared to the activities of the EU Commission and oftentimes the United Nations on the ground. Ultimately, the future of CSDP missions or stabilisation actions should depend on whether they are effective or not. Determining this will require a transparent and critical assessment of both instruments.


This blog post is based on a recent Policy Briefing by the author, on Flexibility and “Stabilization Actions”: EU Crisis Management One Year After the Global Strategy.

Photo details

Title photo caption: Commissioner Piebalgs visiting irrigation project in Tombouctou – Mali – on anniversary of donor conference. One year after the Donors’ Conference for Mali that was held in Brussels and raised 3.3 billion euro to support the reconstruction of the country, EU Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, hosts an event in Bamako to follow-up on the commitment. The event, on May 15, will serve to discuss progress and challenges on issues ranging from the supply of basic services for the population, such as water and education, to the return of the administration in the north of Mali, efforts for national reconciliation and democracy. During his visit, the Commissioner will inaugurate the resumption of works on the road between Niono and Timbuktu, in the north of the country, which had been interrupted during occupation of the area by rebels and terrorist groups. The road will be the first and only paved link between the capital Bamako and Timbuktu.

Title photo credit: EC Photo/Habib Kouyaté

About the Author

Tobias Pietz

Tobias Pietz is Deputy Head of the Analysis Division at the Center for International Peace Operations (ZIF) in Berlin.

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