The poster of the Donor Conference for development in Mali entitled “Together for a New Mali”, with the miniature flags of the three participants (European Union, Mali and France). Credit: EC Photo/Etienne Ansotte

The European Union (EU) cooperates closely with international partners in the areas of conflict prevention, crisis management and peacebuilding. As there are few places around the world where the EU operates as the only security actor, a better understanding of how the EU interacts with partners on the ground is critical. Indeed, the recent EU Global Strategy has made relations with partners a priority for EU external relations.

By Hylke Dijkstra, Ewa Mahr, Petar Petrov, Katarina Đokić and Peter Horne Zartsdahl

This blog was originally published on 30 September 2017 on EU-CIVAP

The EU and its partners coordinate a lot. There are regular formal and informal meetings both at headquarters and on the ground. But do the EU and its partners also genuinely work together to achieve a unity of effort? In a recent EU-CIVCAP report, we studied whether the EU and other international organisations actually exchange civilian resources within target countries.

Civilian resources include funding, personnel and even equipment. The EU and its partners may also provide non-material resources to each other, such as political or diplomatic support. To provide evidence of the actual synergies between the EU and its partners, we conducted a unique study of exchanges of civilian resources on the ground in Kosovo, Mali and Armenia. In Kosovo, the EU is the lead actor, in Mali an important actor, and in Armenia a secondary actor.

The positive news is that the EU and its partners are largely complementary in their conflict prevention, crisis management and peacebuilding efforts. While there are the occasional conflicts and turf tensions, relations between the EU and other international organisations tend to be cooperative.

At the same time, there is potential for further synergies. Coordination tends to take place at the operational and tactical level, whereas a genuinely joint strategic approach to crises is lacking. And when complementarities are achieved, they tend to be implicit and the result of parallel civilian missions rather than a truly collective and integrated approach.

We also find that cooperation often takes place either via formal or informal channels, but not a combination of both. This is problematic as formal and informal channels offer complementary advantages. Formal channels for coordination allow for inclusivity and are permanent forums. Yet there is also a need for informal channels. These are efficient coordination opportunities in the event of political obstacles. But informal channels are largely people-driven and the approach of the international community cannot hinge solely on whether heads of mission like each other.

Our research has revealed that the EU and other international organisations exchange resources extensively. At the same time, the exchange tends to be limited to financial resources and diplomatic and political support. For instance, the EU may provide extra-budgetary funding for OSCE projects or lend political support to OSCE mediation efforts. In Kosovo, the UN, EU and OSCE think strategically about which logos to put on joint projects depending on their location.

The EU member states themselves make considerable staff contributions to the other international organisations, such as the UN and the OSCE, but this takes place outside the EU context. The EU and its missions are, in this respect, one of several deployment options. The EU does not serve as a clearing house for deployments to other international organisations.

More recently, we have seen some ambitious attempts at resource exchanges. In Mali, for instance, CSDP missions may rely extensively on the UN mission support structure in the future. This is particularly relevant when EU trainers have to leave their compounds and require logistical support and force protection. This clearly goes beyond financial and/or diplomatic support.

Yet we also noted across the case studies that the EU does not always think in political and strategic terms about its contribution to the broader international community. Indeed, it gets insufficient political leverage from its financial contribution. Part of the problem is the EU’s institutional fragmentation. Budget administrators in the EU may not necessarily be the same people as those who make policy or implement EU actions on the ground.

It also became clear that the EU should be more aware of how it is perceived among other international organisations. In Kosovo, Mali and Armenia, the image of the EU as a security actor is sub-optimal for various reasons, ranging from a divided membership (Kosovo), risk aversion (Mali), or the perception that the EU is more generously funded (Armenia). A greater awareness of such perceptions is needed and public diplomacy is relevant in inter-organisational relations.

Our study of cooperation between the EU, UN and OSCE in Kosovo, Mali and Armenia shows that while there is willingness to coordinate, in practice cooperation remains ad hoc. It is based on entrepreneurial individual staff officers and goodwill. There is a lot of low hanging fruit left. A further unity of effort can certainly be made.

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