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Peace and Security in 2019: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future

Written by Elena Lazarou,

© fotomaster / Fotolia

The promotion of global peace and security is a fundamental goal and central pillar of the external action of the European Union (EU), following the model of its own peace project. 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, 2018 was a year of implementation and of transforming vision into action.

According to some academics, 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 quality of government, free flow of information and low levels of corruption. In this context, 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 currently characterises the geopolitical environment has translated into a sharp deterioration of peace in the EU’s neighbourhood and has challenged its internal security. In addition, multilateralism, a core element in the EU’s foreign policy and identity and a cornerstone of its approach to peace and security, is under increasing pressure from alternative value systems and ideologies.

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 envisaged by 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’ that emphasises the role of development cooperation in preventing violent conflicts, mitigating their consequences and 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 progress made by means of permanent structured cooperation (PESCO), the European Defence Fund and other such initiatives, 2018 was marked by the continuation of efforts to build 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. New elements strengthening the EU’s security and defence capabilities, launched under the outgoing EU Commission and European Parliament legislature, including the initiatives in the area of European defence research and development, are boosting the EU’s capacity to work for peace and security.

Looking to the future, the global environment is expected to grow in complexity. New threats such as cyber-attacks, disinformation and foreign influence campaigns demand new types of multifaceted responses. As the mandate of the current European Commission and the current European Parliament draw to a close, the legislation adopted is evidence that the EU has made significant progress in furthering its aim to strengthen its presence and efficiency in the area of peace and security. The proposals for the post-2020 multiannual financial framework (MFF), which focus on streamlining the EU’s various programmes and instruments, allow for sufficient flexibility to respond to unforeseen threats while also implementing innovative financial instruments. However, the final adoption of the 2021-2027 MFF will take place under the next European Parliament after the European elections of May 2019. Underlying the quest for flexibility, efficiency and innovation is the strategic goal of empowering the EU in its global role as a promoter of peace and security, while adapting to the new realities of the international order and the rapid technological, environmental and societal changes of our times.

Read the complete study on ‘Peace and Security in 2019: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

Threats to peace and security in the current global environment


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