Select Committee on European Scrutiny First Report



COM(00) 211

European programme for the prevention of violent conflicts.

Commission Communication on conflict prevention.

Legal base:
Document originated: (b) 11 April 2001
Forwarded to the Council: (b) 17 April 2001
Deposited in Parliament: (b) 11 May 2001
Department: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of consideration: EM of 17 July 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
Discussed in Council: (a) June 2001 European Council;
(b) 31 May 2001 Development Council
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but request to be kept informed

European programme for the prevention of violent conflicts

51.1  This unofficial document was taken at the Coreper meeting on 7 June and endorsed by the Göteborg European Council in June. According to the Presidency Conclusions,[89] the Council expects the programme to improve the EU's capacity for coherent early warning, analysis and action. Future Presidencies, the Commission and the Secretary-General/High Representative (SG/HR) are invited to promote implementation of the Programme and to make recommendations for developing it further.

51.2  The programme emphasises the EU's political commitment to conflict prevention, which the Conclusions describe as one of the main objectives of the EU's external relations. It should be integrated into all those relevant aspects of its external relations", including the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), development co-operation and trade. In the Programme, the EU undertakes to:

  • strengthen the EU's political commitment and set priorities for preventative action;

  • improve early warning, action and policy coherence;

  • enhance instruments for long- and short-term prevention; and

  • build effective partnerships for prevention.

— Setting political priorities

51.3  The programme states that "development of policy options must start with clear political priorities and direction, set out through regular reviews of potential conflict areas". In order to set these priorities, the Council undertakes to schedule "a broad consideration" of potential conflict issues at the outset of each Presidency. This will be prepared with the assistance of the SG/HR, Council bodies such as the Political and Security Committee (PSC), and the Commission. They will identify priority areas and regions for EU preventive actions.

51.4  The Council undertakes to pursue "coherent and comprehensive preventive strategies", and the Commission is invited to implement its proposal on strengthening the conflict prevention elements in the Country Strategy Papers through more systematic analyses of potential conflict situations.

— Improving early warning

51.5  A list of different bodies such as Member States, EC delegations, the Council Policy Planning and Early Warning Unit (PPEWU) and the EU Military Staff should provide regular information. In addition, full use will be made of information from the field-based personnel of the UN and the OSCE, as well as of other international organisations and civil society.

— EU instruments for long- and short-term prevention

51.6  The extensive set of instruments available include the long-term ones of development co-operation, trade, arms control, human rights and environment policies, as well as political dialogue. For short-term prevention, the programme proposes that the Union make use of a broad range of diplomatic and humanitarian instruments. The ESDP structures and capabilities developed for civil and military crisis management will also contribute. But the EU must use these instruments "in a more targeted and effective manner in order to address root-causes of conflict such as poverty, lack of good governance and respect for human rights, and competition for scarce natural resources".

— Strengthening its instruments for long- and short-term prevention

51.7  The programme says that all the relevant institutions of the EU will mainstream conflict prevention and take into account the recommendations made in the Commission Communication on which we report below. The Commission is invited to implement the recommendations of the 31 May Council Conclusions on EU electoral assistance and observation,[90] paying particular attention to support for electoral processes.

51.8  The programme also says that the EU's capacity will be strengthened, as needs are identified, by developing instruments in areas such as human rights and democracy, fact-finding missions, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DD&R) and demining.

51.9  A commitment is made by the Council to examine how instruments for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation can be used more systematically for preventative purposes, whilst avoiding duplication with the activities of regional and international organisations. Support is expressed for the UN Programme of Action on the unregulated spread of small arms.

— Co-operation and partnerships

51.10  The EU will intensify exchanges of information and practical co-operation on conflict prevention and crisis management with the UN, the OSCE, the Council of Europe, other regional organisations and the international financial institutions.

— Implementation

51.11  Responsibility for implementing the programme will be shared between the EU and its Member States.

The Commission Communication

51.12  The Commission describes this Communication as a contribution to the programme of action outlined above. It follows on from the report on conflict prevention presented by the Secretary-General/High Representative and the Commission to the Nice European Council.[91] Many of the main messages in the Communication are echoed and endorsed in the European Programme document, which the Communication predates by a couple of months. However, it goes into greater detail.

51.13  The Communication summarises what the EU is already doing, describes the instruments it has at its disposal, both long and short term, and suggests possible future activities for conflict prevention.

51.14  It is divided into three main sections:

    (i)    projecting stability (long-term prevention);

    (ii)    reacting quickly to nascent conflicts (short-term prevention); and

    (iii)  enhancing international co-operation on conflict prevention.

Long-term prevention

51.15  The Communication describes development policy and other co-operation programmes as proving the most powerful instruments at the Community's disposal for treating the root causes of conflict. The Country Strategy Papers, which set out the Community's assistance to each recipient, will be the key tools for mainstreaming conflict prevention into co-operation programmes. The Commission suggests that, in countries which show a potential for conflict, there may be a need to focus external aid on the emergence or re-emergence of a favourable political environment. This means focussing on support for democracy, the rule of law, and an independent media. Another approach to mainstreaming is to find more effective ways, within the EU and in the wider international context, to address cross-cutting issues which may contribute to tension and conflict. The most important of these are drugs, small arms, natural resources, environmental degradation, population flows, human trafficking and to some extent, private sector interests in unstable areas.

Short-term prevention

51.16  The Commission says that the EU should improve its ability to react quickly where a situation in a particular country seems to be entering a downward spiral. It continues:

    "This clearly requires an effective early warning system. In pre-crisis situations, many Community instruments including new ones such as the Rapid Reaction Mechanism can be used. The EU can deploy a variety of options ranging from political dialogue to Special Representatives and including, in the future, civilian crisis management mechanisms. All of these may be improved, made more systematic and flexible. But in any case they need to be based on a common political line between EU Member States".

51.17  Stressing that the EU must be able to respond in a timely and tailor-made fashion, with an appropriate mix of instruments, the Commission concludes that, ultimately, this is not just a question of streamlined decision-making and management procedures but, more fundamentally, of the common political will to respond.

51.18  Amongst practical points made in the Communication are that:

  • the Special Representatives should be used more widely as mediators;

  • the civilian and military crisis-management tools being developed in the context of the European Security and Defence Policy could be used to deal with the earliest stages of incipient conflict, in a preventive, "pre-crisis" role; and

  • the EU should work with the UN and OSCE in training personnel for deployment on international missions on the rule of law and civil administration, where the lack of suitably qualified and available personnel ready for deployment is a major problem.

51.19  In conclusion, the Commission proposes that it should build the objectives of peace, democracy and political and social stability more clearly into its assistance programmes. It should also ensure that its assistance programmes take account of political exclusion, ethnic, social or regional marginalisation, environmental degradation or other factors which, if unchecked, might lead to civil strife or violent confrontation.

51.20  This document was noted by the 31 May Development Council in its Conclusions[92] as a "key contribution to the overarching ambitions to improve EU capabilities for conflict prevention". The Council's response would be incorporated within the European Programme.

The Government's view

51.21  In a letter dated 19 June, the Minister for Europe (Peter Hain) tells us that the 11 June General Affairs Council agreed in principle to the Programme and that the final text was endorsed by the European Council of 15-16 June. He notes that the Programme is directly linked to the Communication and regrets that the timing of the European Council, together with the Parliamentary Recess, did not allow for the Programme to be cleared before it was agreed.

51.22  The Minister points out that the UK has played a key role in pushing conflict prevention up the international agenda and the Government was pleased that the Swedish Presidency took such an interest in the subject. In particular, the Government welcomes the focus in these documents on "a root-cause approach".

51.23  In an Explanatory Memorandum dated 17 July, the Minister comments specifically on the two documents as follows:

    "EU Programme for the Prevention of Violent Conflict

    "HMG supports this programme, which is in line with our objective of mainstreaming conflict prevention in the work of international organisations. We particularly support increased co-ordination with other organisations (UN, OSCE, NATO etc), as well as the focus on root causes of conflict.

    "Commission Communication on Conflict Prevention

    "We welcome the Commission's intention to take a genuinely long-term and integrated approach to conflict prevention, using a range of policy instruments. The Communication makes a range of ambitious recommendations, not all of which, as the Commission recognises, are within the Commission's competence. Further work is also needed on the details of the instruments proposed in order to ensure cross-pillar coherence and complementarity."


51.24  EU development aid is certainly a powerful instrument, as the Commission suggests. However, the Communication does not address the question of what path the EU should pursue when beneficiary countries do not welcome this aid being made conditional upon internal political reforms and commitment to democratic principles. What legitimate role the EU should play in "pre-crisis" situations in other countries is also a major question which is not addressed in these papers. However, the papers make an important contribution to the issue of the EU's approach to conflict prevention.

51.25  In the Programme, the Secretary-General/High Representative, relevant Council bodies and the Commission are said to be tasked with identifying priority areas and regions for EU preventive actions. We assume that these bodies will present their identifications to the Council for endorsement.

51.26  We realise that work in this area is moving forward apace and that some of the questions we pose here are likely to be answered in subsequent papers, so we now clear both these documents, but ask the Government to keep us informed of further substantial developments.

89  Paragraph 52. Back

90  31 May 2001 Development Council Press Release No. 8855/01, pages 16 to 18 of on-line version. Back

91  14088/00. Not submitted for scrutiny. Back

92  Press Release No. 8855/01, pages 19 and 20 of on-line version. Back

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