Peace and Security in 2018: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future

Written by Elena Lazarou,

white pigeon in flight on a white background with an olive branch

© fotomaster / Fotolia

The promotion of global peace and security, following the model of its own peace project, is a fundamental goal and central pillar of the external action of the European Union (EU). Both within and beyond the EU, there is a widespread expectation among citizens that the Union will deliver results in this crucial area. Yet, the deteriorating security environment of the past decade has posed significant challenges. Following the release of its Global Strategy in 2016, and in line with the wording and spirit of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU has been intensifying its work in pursuit of peace and security in a number of key policy areas. In this respect, 2017 was a year of implementation and of transforming vision into action.

The world has become more peaceful in recent centuries. Europe in particular has experienced the longest period of peace in its history, not least thanks to a regional network of international organisations, of which the EU is a major example. Today, peace is defined in a positive way, not only as ‘the absence of war’, but also in terms of the quality of government, the free flow of information and low levels of corruption. In this context, out of the 39 most peaceful countries in the world, based on the 2017 Global Peace Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace, 22 are EU Member States. Nevertheless, the instability that characterises the geopolitical environment has translated into a sharp deterioration of peace in the EU’s neighbourhood and has challenged its internal security.

The over-arching objectives of the EU guide it in all facets of its activity in this area, including common foreign and security policy (CFSP); democracy support; development cooperation; economic, financial and technical cooperation; humanitarian aid; trade; and neighbourhood policy. As foreseen in the Lisbon Treaty, the 2016 Global Strategy introduced several elements to refine and improve the EU’s efforts, including the promotion of resilience and capacity-building in the world. This approach is reflected in the EU’s external policies.

As far as development is concerned, a significant share of EU aid goes to fragile states and to issues related to securing peace. In 2017 the EU committed to a ‘new consensus on development’, which emphasises the role of development cooperation in preventing violent conflicts, in mitigating their consequences and in aiding recovery from them. The new consensus clearly focuses on fragile and conflict affected countries, which are the main victims of humanitarian crises. On the ground, the EU has been able to strengthen the nexus between security, development and humanitarian aid through the implementation of comprehensive strategies, for example in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel.

With the launching of Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), the European Defence Fund and other such initiatives, 2017 saw remarkable progress towards a more autonomous and efficient EU common security and defence policy (CSDP). Of all the policy fields in the area of peace and security, this is the one that has enjoyed the greatest support from EU citizens (75 %) for more EU spending. Through the CSDP, the EU also runs 16 missions and operations, making it one of the UN’s main partners in peacekeeping. These elements of ‘hard power’, together with the EU’s long-standing experience in the practice of soft power, form the backbone of its action for peace and security.

Looking to the future, the complexity of the global environment is expected to increase.  At the same time, an analysis of ongoing EU legislation indicates that the EU is aiming to strengthen its presence and efficiency in the area of peace and security. The discussions on the funding of specific initiatives in the context of the 2019 annual budget and the post-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF) will focus on streamlining the EU’s various programmes and instruments, allowing for sufficient flexibility to respond to unforeseen threats, as well as implementing innovative financial instruments. Underlying the quest for flexibility, efficiency and innovation, is the strategic goal to empower the EU in its global role as a promoter of peace and security, while adapting to the new realities of the international order.

Read this study on ‘Peace and Security in 2018: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future‘ on the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

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