The EU has plans for peace – but is spending on defence


Dilia Zwart, Quaker Council for European Affairs

The long-term perspective of peacebuilding and the short-term focus of politics are usually at odds, but seem especially tense today. In a time when peacebuilding is needed more than ever, the rise of populist politics in Europe and other parts of the globe have challenged international cooperation. The fragmented political climate has been accompanied by a shift towards defence, particularly in Europe. However, plans for peacebuilding can be encouraged by politicians, practitioners and citizens.

While the European Union (EU) originated as a peace project, recently it has been shifting towards a hard interpretation of security. When President Trump visited Brussels in May 2016, he admonished NATO allies for not meeting the voluntary 2% spending target. In the context of the unpredictable U.S. administration, the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU, and perceived threats domestically and abroad, Europe has increasingly turned its attention to defence. Several Member States are considering raising defence budgets.

At the EU level, multiple new institutions dedicated to bolstering defence have been established in the last two years. This includes the European Defence Fund (EDF) which is expected to amount to €5.5 billion per year after 2020 for research and development of military equipment and technology such as drones. Unprecedented boosts for defence spending can be seen in the Commission proposal for the EU budget post-2020, the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF), which is currently being negotiated.

These developments risk marginalising peacebuilding. Hard security responses hazard securitising issues rather than looking at them through a peacebuilding lens. While military interventions have traditionally been a go-to foreign policy response, research indicates that civilian responses to conflict are more cost-effective and lead to more durable political settlements. Current trends could worsen conflict dynamics by excluding or profiling certain populations, or missing the point of human security by solely investing in military strength.

Recognising the need to re-think responses to the complex security environment, the EU and certain Member States have put forward frameworks for peacebuilding and conflict prevention. In follow up to the 2016 Global Strategy, the EU published its Integrated Approach to Conflicts and Crises. At the national level, Germany put forward policy guidelines on Preventing Crises, Resolving Conflicts and Building Peace. The question remains: how to put these frameworks into practice?

A recently published report by the Quaker Council for European Affairs (QCEA) Building Peace Together showcases 80 concrete peacebuilding examples. It conveys how peacebuilding can effectively address root causes of conflict and build positive peace through a variety of initiatives. The resource demonstrates that everyone can understand their activities within a peacebuilding framework.

Building Peace Together is relevant in today’s political and security context as it shows how ‘soft power’ approaches such as diplomacy can resolve conflicts and build peace. Several examples in the resource come from Europe. This demonstrates that the EU already has numerous peacebuilding tools, which can be further developed and synchronised.

Members of the European Parliament will have the chance to vote on the next MFF in early March 2019. Leading up to this date, politicians, practitioners and citizens have the opportunity to creatively re-think responses to violent conflict through a peacebuilding lens. These ideas can ensure that the MFF and other plans contribute to peacebuilding.