Has the Integrated Approach (finally) taken the EU responses to conflicts to the next level?

Giovanni Faleg

5 April 2018

This article presents the main findings of the EU-CIVCAP Report DL 4.3, “The EU’s integrated approach to conflicts and crises: evolution from the comprehensive approach and comparison with the UN, the OSCE and NATO”, published on 23 March 2018. The report was authored by Giovanni Faleg (Centre for European Policy Studies), with contributions from Nicoletta Pirozzi, Bernardo Venturi (Istituto Affari Internazionali) and Nabila Habbida (European Peacebuilding Liaison Office).

How can international actors work together effectively towards building peace and preventing conflicts? This question has been at the centre of policy and academic debates for more than twenty years. Because of the uniqueness of its institutional architecture and the level of ambition set by its external action doctrine, the EU provides a strong and compelling model in its integrated approach to external conflicts and crises.

The international community has attempted since the 1990s to link the provision of security with development aid, humanitarian assistance and other foreign policy instruments, under the framework of post-conflict peacebuilding. This paradigm shift was initiated with the report An Agenda for Peace which was released in June 1992 by the UN’s then-Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. An Agenda for Peace raised international awareness on the need for comprehensive missions to tackle the root causes of crises, consolidate peace and prevent the recurrence of conflicts. Actors have adapted these processes to their specific mandates, organisational cultures and strategic preferences, using different names, such as “whole of government”, “comprehensive approach”, “integrated approach” or “3D approach” (Defence, Development and Diplomacy). Notwithstanding limited progress made in the field, and persisting challenges of coherence and coordination affecting foreign interventions in fragile and conflict-affected settings, the integration agenda received new impetus over the past five years, leading to a new wave of institutional reforms. This came as a result of growing insecurity, fragility and prolonged humanitarian emergencies worldwide: in 2016, war, violence and persecution have produced unprecedented levels of forced displacement and hunger, with 65.6 million people uprooted from their homes (according to UNHCR) and 20 million people facing famine (according to the World Food Programme).

In 2013 the European Union elaborated the concept of comprehensive approach (CA), understood as the strategically coherent use of the EU’s tools and instruments for external action in crisis or conflict situations, which implies the joined-up deployment of EU instruments and resources. The 2016 EU Global Strategy (EUGS) expanded this into the concept of integrated approach (IA), which extends the scope and ambition of the CA and strengthens the way the EU brings together institutions, expertise and instruments, to work with Member States in prevention, peacebuilding, crisis response and stabilisation.

The recently published EU-CIVCAP reportThe EU’s integrated approach: evolution from the comprehensive approach and comparison with the UN, the OSCE and NATO” appraised the progression from the EU’s CA to the IA framework, and explained the rationale for such evolution, by comparing similar processes in the United Nations, NATO and the OSCE. The four organisations (the EU, the UN, NATO and the OSCE) are in fact prominent global providers of conflict prevention and peacebuilding interventions, by direct execution or through third parties. Member States act through these multilaterals to achieve a wide spectrum of objectives, including resilience, stabilisation, short-term crisis response via military, civilian or joint civil-military operations, and conflict transformation or prevention. By appraising the uniqueness of EU integrated mechanisms vis-à-vis external actors, the report shed light on the added value and significance of this approach for the EU’s external action priorities, and its contribution towards taking the “whole-of-EU strategy” for external conflicts and crises to the next level.

Compared to those of other actors, the EU’s new tools introduced with the integrated approach:

  • encompass different policy phases, such as planning and implementation;

  • address all stages of the conflict cycle, from prevention to resilience; and

  • address essential cross-cutting issues, such as the evolution from early warning to early action.

Research findings demonstrate that the EU and the UN have launched broader, very ambitious efforts to adapt their respective structures, in a changing geopolitical environment. Reforms ongoing within these two organisations take a systemic and strategic stance – in the case of the EU, strategic direction is provided by the EUGS, while for the UN, it stems from the recommendations of the HIPPO report. Conversely, evolution in NATO and the OSCE has been targeted towards specific dimensions: in the case of NATO, the new action plan will call for transformation of the Alliance’s capacities to tackle more effectively hybrid threats and engage in conflict prevention; whereas in the OSCE, the MC3/11 called for enhanced co-ordination to strengthen the OSCE’s analysis, assessment and engagement capacity in all phases of the conflict cycle, and led to the creation of a systematic mediation-support capacity.

Overall, the EU drew on NATO’s comprehensive approach first, adapting the narrow concept of civilian-military coordination to its sui generis, multi-level governance and need for inter-institutional coordination, but progressively moved closer to the UN’s work on systemic coherence. Furthermore, recently through the IA, the EU expanded the notion of “integration” to four interconnected layers of action (multi-level, multi-phased, multi-layered and multi-lateral), becoming even more ambitious in dealing with external conflicts and crises. This evolution made the EU’s crisis response fitter for operational purpose, at a time when there is growing international recognition that humanitarian, development and peacebuilding efforts are complementary and must be mutually reinforcing if they are to respond to fragility around the world.

There is of course always room for improvement, and as such, the EU-CIVCAP report makes some recommendations for the further optimisation of the EU’s crisis response machinery to improve effectiveness, efficiency and impact on the ground, which are also based on shared lessons identified by the EU-CIVCAP project partners. Key recommendations include, but are not limited to:

  1. establishing a proper results framework to measure the delivery of services specific to conflict areas more effectively, supported by an accountability and decision-making framework, and clarifying roles, protocols and behaviours in order to reduce the possibility of a conflict arising among institutional actors;
  2. creating internal incentives to motivate staff and management to break down silos, and including integrated activities in staff performance assessments;
  3. developing a more efficient ICT platform to serve as the basis for integrated action, for instance by piloting the use of geo-enabling to collect, organise and disseminate spatial data for multiple purposes, such as project execution, monitoring and evaluation in high-risk areas; and
  4. orienting the IA towards greater complementarity with other actors involved in conflict-affected situations, with special attention given to the inclusion of civil society organisations and the private sector. This is still an area in which progress must be made, so as to seek a more efficient intersection of mandates and division of labour with other stakeholders.

Related Deliverable

DL 4.3
Report on EU comprehensive approach to conflict prevention and peacebuilding

Authors: Faleg, G.N. PirozziB. Venturi and N. Habbida
Lead Institution: Centre for European Policy Studies

Published: 23 March 2018

[PDF, ~0.8MB; click to access]



Photo details

Title photo caption: Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC, went to Barcelona where she participated in “The EU Internal-External Security Nexus: Terrorism in the new EU Global Strategy” seminar, organised by Real Instituto elcano.

Title photo credit: EC Photo/Josep Lago

About the Author

Giovanni Faleg

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

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