In our Impulse article, Véronique Dudouet, Berghof Foundation, discusses the promising outlook for greater cooperation and inclusive support of the revamped EU mediation policy for European civil society organisations involved in peacebuilding and peace mediation. Mediation has taken on an increasingly important and visible role within the EU foreign policy toolbox, but more political impetus and knowledge as well as financial and human resources are required to realise its full potential.
In December 2020, the German Presidency of the European Union (EU) oversaw the release of the new EU policy on peace mediation. Endorsed by the EU Council Conclusions on EU Peace Mediation, which reaffirm the EU's support to peace mediation as a tool of first response to emerging and ongoing conflicts, the revamped Concept on EU Peace Mediation outlines the main approaches and principles guiding EU mediation efforts. It is complemented by a set of Peace Mediation Guidelines published by the European External Action Service (EEAS), which translate the EU Concept into nine thematic priorities and outline the resources and support options available for EU mediators and implementing partners.
This short article presents a few reflections on the antecedents and process that led to the adoption of the new EU mediation concept, its main features and its implications for the European peacebuilding community.
The new policy framework on mediation builds on a decade of institutional developments and growing experience by EU actors in leading or supporting peace support efforts worldwide. The first-ever Concept on Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacities adopted in 2009, shortly before the Lisbon Treaty and the establishment of the EEAS, set up peace mediation as a new component of the Common Security and Foreign Policy. This trend was reinforced with subsequent policy documents promoting the role of mediation within the EU foreign policy toolbox – from the 2016 Global Strategy to the 2018 Integrated Approach. Internally, this political ambition was made possible by establishing dedicated entities with an explicit mediation and dialogue support mandate, and investing in capacity-building efforts to mainstream, systematise and incentivise the use of mediation approaches across the EU. Over the years, mediation has become a central and visible pillar of the EU’s external action, supported politically by its Member States and leveraged through international partnerships. As a result, the EU is today involved, in one role or another, in nearly all peace processes across the globe.
In this context, the new EU Concept takes stock of the progress achieved so far, while reflecting “a heightened ambition” for the EU as a peace mediator – in the words of the Council Conclusions. The process of upgrading the EU mediation policy was initiated during the Finnish EU Council Presidency in 2019, and concluded under the German Presidency. Steered by the Mediation Support Team within the EEAS Directorate for an Integrated Approach to Security and Peace, the drafting process was conducted in an informal but fairly inclusive fashion, in regular consultation with Member States as well as civil society organisations. Various expert papers were commissioned to review lessons learnt from past practice and guide the new policy. NGOs were also invited to take part in review meetings organised by the European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), and a virtual Community of Practice consultation in June 2020 gathering more than 700 experts.
The new EU Council Conclusions and Concept on mediation have been well received by European civil society organisations, such as the Quaker Council for European Affairs and EPLO. Indeed, the new policy clearly emphasises the added value of the EU within the increasingly ‘crowded field’ of peace mediation, among other international organisations, its own member states, and private diplomacy actors such as mediation NGOs.
In particular, thanks to their sustained presence on the ground and the wide array of financial instruments which can be leveraged for mediation support, EU diplomats (such as Special Representatives or Delegation teams) are well placed to intervene in all stages of conflict, from early warning and preventive action to the long-term implementation of peace agreements. EU mediation is understood in a broad sense and performed through a multitrack approach, which includes formal mediation between conflict parties ‘at the table’; mediation support ‘around the table’ through informal backchannels, consultation formats, technical advice and bilateral engagement with conflict parties; and broader dialogue support and facilitation roles ‘outside the table’ that are part of a broader peace process, often in tandem with implementation partners and local ‘insider mediators’. Illustrative examples of EU-funded peace support infrastructures include the Syria Peace Support Initiative and the Afghanistan Peace Support Mechanism, which promote and leverage civil society participation in peace negotiations.
Another emphasised strength of EU mediation lies in its value-based approach, strongly anchored in the promotion of human rights, democracy, rule of law, gender and youth inclusion, do-no-harm and conflict sensitivity. This distinct profile often creates entry points for EU actors in peace processes, especially with conflict parties identifying with these values. In the past, however, the EU has sometimes ignored the values it promotes when mediating elite-driven negotiation processes that failed to include the voices of marginalised groups or ‘hard to reach’ radicals that are essential to reaching a sustainable peace (as in e.g. Kosovo, Georgia and Ukraine).
The updated Concept also reiterates key principles driving EU foreign policy such as coherence and partnership, while picking up on new global trends influencing the mediation landscape, from climate change to digitalisation. Moreover, it stresses the need for an evidence-based approach that rests on joint conflict analysis, rigorous monitoring and evaluation, and iterative engagement able to adapt to changing conflict dynamics.
Beyond principles and policies, the EU’s heightened ambitions as a global mediator will only materialise if and once the new concept and accompanying guidelines are effectively put into practice, with strong political leadership by the EU Council and operational support from all relevant institutions, including the forthcoming high-level Peace Mediation Task Force within the EEAS. This unit will be set up to steer EEAS mediation engagement politically and to accompany the implementation of the new Concept. It will be complemented by a Pool of Mediators made up of senior EEAS staff trained in mediation skills, who will help identify opportunities for mediation and hence enhance the EU’s reach and capacity.
The ambition of Germany in leading the process that resulted in the EU Council Conclusions was to upgrade mediation from a technical capability to a political instrument of EU foreign policy – in particular by anchoring it in an EU peace policy, to counteract the securitised approach that dominates the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). By broadening the range of CFSP options to choose from, and making mediation officially part of the toolbox of instruments that EU Member States can access – alongside Common Security and Defence (CSDP) missions and restrictive measures (i.e. sanctions) – this new policy allows member states through the Council to send EU diplomats (such as Special Envoys) on mediation missions under Article 28 of the Lisbon Treaty, with access to the CFSP budget.
However, for mediation to effectively become a tool of first response in situations of emerging or protracted conflict, EU institutions and Member States will need to be more knowledgeable about its practice, interested in promoting it, and aligned in their positioning towards the conflict parties. Analysts cite the Libya crisis as an illustration of the difficulties for a multilateral actor such as the EU to be perceived as a coherent and impartial third-party actor, when its mediation ambition might be seen as incompatible with its CSDP mission mandate in the same country or with the political and security interests of its Member States. Up to now, EU actors have primarily performed discreet and technical support roles coordinating the engagement of other mediators. Hence for EU officials to become more prominently involved in Track 1 formal negotiations, they will require greater institutional capacity, awareness-raising, knowledge management, professionalisation, and dedicated human and financial resources for mediation intervention across the EEAS, Commission and Council.
For European civil society organisations involved in peacebuilding and peace mediation – such as my own organisation, the Berghof Foundation – the revamped EU mediation policy offers a promising outlook for greater cooperation and inclusive support. The revised Concept underscores the long-standing experience of the EU in promoting all-of-society and multi-track approaches to peace processes, by funding civil society initiatives that complement EU diplomatic, security and development work. A notable example is the engagement to “safeguard space for civil society liaison with proscribed [armed] actors”, an area where EU officials cannot engage themselves but intervene through trusted NGOs. Effective coordination between EU institutions and mediation support actors will require enhanced efforts towards “connecting the tracks”, by better linking Track 1 official peace processes with Track 2 and 3 civil society dialogue initiatives. Finally, to retain its influence as both as ‘player’ and a ‘payer’, the EU will need to sustain its capacity to support the mediation work of its implementation partners through appropriate funding instruments. The pending budgetary reductions for peacebuilding engagement in the next EU Multiannual Financial Framework (2021-2027), under the impression of the COVID-19 pandemic and a probable global recession, will likely impact the EU’s ability to implement its ambitious mediation support agenda.