Documents considered by the Committee on 21 July 2015 - European Scrutiny Contents

59 The EU External Conflict and Crises Strategy

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionCleared from scrutiny; further information requested; drawn to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Document detailsJoint Staff Working Document: Taking forward the EU's Comprehensive Approach to external conflict and crises — Action Plan 2015
Legal base
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Document numbers(36802), 7913/15, SWD(15) 85

Summary and Committee's conclusions

59.1 In December 2013, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (HR Federica Mogherini), and the European Commission put forward a Joint Communication on the Union's comprehensive approach to external conflicts and crises. The aim of the comprehensive approach is "enhancing the coherence, effectiveness and impact of the EU's policy and action, in particular in relation to conflict prevention and crisis resolution".[ 438]

59.2 The Joint Communication was retained under scrutiny by our predecessor Committee on 8 January 2014, and cleared from scrutiny via European Committee debate on 12 March 2014.[ 439] However, the Government rejected our predecessor Committee's recommendation that such an important and infrequent document should be debated on the floor of the House.

59.3 In May 2014, the European Council gave full support to the concept of the comprehensive approach, and agreed what the Commission describes as an "ambitious" set of conclusions, including on the way forward. In order for the principles of the comprehensive approach to be taken from theory into practice, the Council invited the HR and the Commission to prepare an Action Plan. This was received on 10 April 2015.

59.4 The new Commission under President Jean-Claude Juncker has emphasised the importance of working across teams. This emphasis gives further impetus to the development of a comprehensive approach.

59.5 The Action Plan identifies four areas of priority for 2015:

·  The definition of a common strategic vision through the development of guidelines for Joint Framework Documents (JFDs). These are potentially a pivotal part of a comprehensive approach and could "set out the EU's and Member States' objectives and priorities for a particular country or region and the tools needed";[ 440]

·  The mobilisation of the different strengths and capacities of the EU. In this area, the focus will be on three initiatives: capacity building; transition; and rapid deployment;

·  Country and regional cases. These have been chosen to bring forward different aspects of the comprehensive approach, and to include countries with and without a CSDP presence, as well as areas where joint efforts are already taking place. They are: the Sahel, Central America and the Caribbean, Afghanistan and Somalia; and

·  Implementation and reporting. The Action Plan will be implemented by the EEAS, the Commission and Member States; the country and regional cases will see EU delegations and Member States' embassies play a key role. In addition, there will be an oral briefing on the Action Plan to the European Council in mid-2015 and a report in the first quarter of 2016.

59.6 We welcome the formulation of an Action Plan to take forward the comprehensive approach. It is important that EU policy in relation to conflict prevention and crisis resolution should be as 'joined-up' as possible. It is in line with the more general approach of the Juncker Commission that the Union should not be constrained in individual silos, but that there should be working across teams.

59.7 We also welcome the recognition that foreign affairs and security policy are the responsibility of Member States as well as of the EEAS and the Commission. Although the comprehensive approach must be undertaken at EU level and does not engage issues of subsidiarity, it is important that coordination of action by Member States should not impair Member States' freedom of action. In addition, coordination of action should not become duplication of effort, and the comprehensive approach should be pursued as complimenting United Nations or NATO operations.

59.8 It is important that the Council is given regular and full updates on the implementation of the Action Plan, and in this regard it is to be welcomed that the Commission has agreed to an oral briefing this year and a hopefully fuller report in the first quarter of next year. We ask the Minister to write to us after the first of these briefings, with his views on developments thus far, and also to keep us fully and promptly informed of UK involvement in the comprehensive approach.

Full details of the documents: Joint Staff Working Document: Taking forward the EU's Comprehensive Approach to external conflict and crises Action Plan 2015: (36802), 7913/15, SWD(15) 85.


59.9 The Joint Communication on the comprehensive approach presented by the High Representative and the Commission was prepared in advance of the December 2013 European Council meeting. This was the first such meeting to focus on the Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy and general defence matters since 2007. The purpose of the comprehensive approach is to bring together the EU's diplomatic, economic, development, civilian and military tools in a coordinated manner to address external conflicts and crises. The Commission has been at pains to stress that the comprehensive approach is about process rather than ends; in essence, not "what to do" but "how to do it".

59.10 Our predecessor Committee considered the Joint Communication in its Thirty-ninth Report of Session 2014-15, published on 24 March 2015. The Committee noted that the Communication had been assessed as politically important, and had recommended that the Government find time for it to be debated on the floor of the House. This recommendation was not acted upon, and the Communication was debated in a European Committee on 12 March 2014.

59.11 The Foreign Affairs Council endorsed the concept of a comprehensive approach at its meeting on 12 May 2014. It agreed a set of Council Conclusions which called for an Action Plan for implementation of the comprehensive approach to be developed by the EEAS and the Commission by the end of the first quarter of 2015.

59.12 In February 2015, there was a "defence informal" meeting in Riga at which the Minister for Reserves, Mr Julian Brazier MP, represented the UK. HR Mogherini identified five areas of focus: higher levels of defence spending, improved cooperation in capability development, exploitation of dual-use research, developments of the "train and equip" concept, and improved EU-NATO cooperation. Several of these are relevant to the comprehensive approach.

The document

59.13 The Action Plan was due to be promulgated by the end of the first quarter of 2015. It was published on 10 April 2015, and the Explanatory Memorandum submitted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on 5 May 2015.

59.14 The Action Plan is founded on three main principles. Firstly, the comprehensive approach, as stated above, is a working method, a way of bringing together EU actions in the field of conflict prevention and crisis resolution. The Commission underlines that the purpose of the comprehensive approach is not to reiterate the policy framework contained in the Joint Communication, nor to list challenges and opportunities across the spectrum of EU foreign and security policy. Rather:

"The purpose of the Action Plan is […] to identify a selected number of key issues that were flagged in the Joint Communication and the Council Conclusions and which should be taken forward as a priority in 2015."[ 441]

59.15 Second, and flowing from that, the best way to test the comprehensive approach is to apply it to real situations. Therefore, in line with the Council conclusions, the Action Plan identifies a small number of country or regional cases to which particular aspects of the comprehensive approach could be applied.

59.16 Thirdly, the implementation of the Action Plan is the responsibility of the European External Action Service, the Commission and Member States. In order for it to be truly 'comprehensive', it should be taken forward by the whole range of EU actors.

59.17 As described in paragraph 59.5, the Action Plan prioritises four actions for 2015.

59.18 The first action is the definition of a common strategic vision. This is to be achieved through the development of guidelines for Joint Framework Documents. The Commission considers that JFDs could be a centrepiece of the comprehensive approach, strengthening joint analysis and creating a common strategic vision for the EU. It has set out the following core principles in the development of JFDs:

·  They should be developed jointly by the EU and by Member States;

·  EU delegations and Member States' embassies on the ground should be central to the process;

·  A shared context analysis, based on existing knowledge, should be a fundamental building block.

The Commission also emphasises that the guidelines for JFDs "should be clear on process as well as its links to other strategic documents like regional strategies, the Political Framework for Crisis Approach (PFCA) documents, the programming documents for EU development instruments etc".[ 442]

59.19 The second action is the mobilisation of the different strengths and capacities of the EU. The full potential of the comprehensive approach will only be realised when the EU and Member States bring to bear all their available and relevant policies and instruments in a unified way to achieve commonly identified objectives. The Commission notes that lessons have been learned about consistency and coherence from support to security sector reform projects, CSDP capacity-building missions and operations and the EU support to the African Peace and Security Architecture.

59.20 In this field, the Action Plan identifies three initiatives for priority attention. The first is capacity-building in support of security and development. This is intended to building on the "train and equip" initiative identified as a priority by HR Mogherini at the defence informal in February 2015, and is intended to assist partner countries and regional organisations to manage or prevent crises independently.

59.21 The second initiative is transition; that is, the switch from one form of EU engagement, such as CSDP, to another, for example, bilateral or multilateral engagement by Member States. Strategies to manage this kind of transition are essential in planning new missions and reviewing existing ones. The Commission intends that planning such strategies should be a collaborative effort between the EEAS and Commission services, Member States and host authorities.

59.22 The third initiative is rapid deployment. Some recent deployments, such as that to Libya (Operation Odyssey Dawn), have demonstrated some of the solutions which can draw capacities and resources from across Member States and the Union itself, and these should be examined and developed further for the rapid deployment of joint field missions.

59.23 The third action is the identification of a number of country cases which demonstrate different aspects of the comprehensive approach, including countries with and without a CSDP presence. The Commission also notes that the six-monthly EU Conflict Early Warning System process may identify further regions which could benefit from the comprehensive approach.

59.24 The Action Plan names four countries or regions in this context. The first is the Sahel, for which the EU is developing a Regional Action Plan (covering Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad) to implement the Strategy for Security and Development in the Sahel adopted by the European Council in March 2011. The RAP is being developed by the EEAS, the Commission and the EU Special Representative for the Sahel, M. Michel Dominique Reveyrand-de Menthon. It is intended that the RAP will offer opportunities for the EU and Member States to implement the comprehensive approach.

59.25 The second region is Central America and the Caribbean, for which the EU has had a Strategy on Citizen Security since July 2014. The HR and the Commission are in the process of drawing up an action plan to address the security challenges of high homicide rates and international criminal activity.

59.26 The third country is Afghanistan. The EU and Member States reiterated their long-term commitment to Afghanistan in a Joint Communication issued in June 2014, Elements for an EU Strategy in Afghanistan 2014-16, which the Commission views as a concrete example of the comprehensive approach. The Strategy comprises financial aid, electoral assistance, an EU Special Representative (Hr Franz-Michael Skjold Mellbin) and a policing mission.

59.27 The fourth country identified is Somalia. The EU operates in Somalia through the Somali Compact, adopted by the international community in cooperation with the Federal Government of Somalia in 2013. It is engaged in three CSDP missions, development and humanitarian aid and coordinated diplomatic actions under the auspices of the EUSR for the Horn of Africa, Mr Alex Rondos. The Commission views Somalia as an excellent opportunity for implementing the comprehensive approach, to develop shared analysis, define a common EU strategic vision to align existing documents with the Somali Compact, mobilise the different strengths and capacities of the EU and continue engagement with the African Union.

59.28 The fourth action prioritised for 2015 is implementation and reporting. The Action Plan is to be implemented by the EEAS and relevant Commission services together with Member States. In the regional and country cases in particular (paragraphs 59.24-59.27 above), EU delegations and missions and the embassies of Member States will play a key role in the creation of the comprehensive approach. In terms of reporting, the European Council will receive an oral briefing on the progress of the Action Plan in mid-2015 and a report in the first quarter of 2016.

The Government's view

59.29 The UK has for a long time supported the development of the EU's Comprehensive Approach and took a leadership role in creating the Action Plan. It notes in its Explanatory Memorandum that the Plan "contains some positive proposals, in line with UK objectives", and highlights early planning, better joint institution analysis and the nexus between training and equipping as particularly important.

59.30 The Government looks forward to using the updated Action Plan, due to be produced by the EEAS in 2016, as an opportunity to ensure the inclusion of more practical and operational elements. These will include the 'mainstreaming' of the Comprehensive Approach, and better joint working across institutions in Brussels.

Previous Committee Reports

Thirty-ninth Report HC 219-xxxvii (2014-15), chapter 19 (24 March 2015); Twenty-ninth Report HC 219-xxviii (2014-15), chapter 12 (14 January 2015); Twenty-second Report HC 219-xxi (2014-15), chapter 17 (26 November 2014), Thirteenth Report HC 219-xiii (2014-15), chapter 33 (15 October 2014), Fifth Report HC 219-v (2014-15), chapter 13 (2 July 2014) and Twenty-ninth Report HC 83-xxvi (2013-14), chapter 9 (8 January 2014); also see (36526), — and (36527), —: Twenty-fifth Report HC 219-xxiv (2014-15), chapter 20 (10 December 2014); (36180), 11358/14: Ninth Report HC 219-ix (2014-15), chapter 19 (3 September 2014); and (35857), 7537/14: Second Report HC 219-ii (2014-15), chapter 4 (11 June 2014).

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439   Common Security & Defence Policy debate 12 March 2014 Back

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Prepared 30 July 2015