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Peace and Security in 2021: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future

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Written by Tania Lațici and Elena Lazarou.

The promotion of global peace and security is a fundamental goal and central pillar of European Union (EU) external action, 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. Nevertheless, as the deteriorating security environment of the past decade has posed significant challenges, the EU has been intensifying its work in pursuit of peace and security in a number of key policy areas.

According to the Global Peace Index, the state of peace in the world deteriorated further in 2020, owing not least to the coronavirus pandemic. 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; a situation that has been exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic.

The coronavirus crisis has accelerated pre-existing trends, which were already signalling the advent of a more competitive international geopolitical environment, characterised by great-power rivalries and the weakening of multilateral security guarantees. In response to these trends, the European Commission under President Ursula von de Leyen, with the support of the European Parliament, has committed to empowering the EU’s external action. The fundamental goals remain those stipulated by the founding Treaties, including the achievement of peace.

The over-arching values and objectives of the EU guide all facets of its external action, including common foreign and security policy (CFSP); democracy support; development cooperation; economic, financial and technical cooperation; humanitarian aid; trade; and neighbourhood policy. While the promotion of peace remains the objective of EU foreign policy, achieving it is also linked to understanding peace and its components. Thus, measuring peace and the threats that challenge it is becoming an increasingly relevant exercise. In that context, the Normandy Index attempts to measure threats to peace based on variables identified in the EU Global Strategy. The EU Member States, supported by the European External Action Service (EEAS), conducted a comprehensive threat analysis in 2020, as part of the plans to develop an EU Strategic Compass. This has been ongoing in 2021 and is set to be finalised by March 2022.

The EU’s contribution to countering threats to peace, security and democracy globally has been growing significantly through legislation, financing and the creation of new structures and initiatives. A significant share of EU aid goes to fragile states and to issues related to securing peace. The EU’s ‘new consensus on development’ emphasises the role of development cooperation in preventing violent conflicts, mitigating their consequences and aiding recovery from them. 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. Through the CSDP, the EU runs 17 missions and operations, making it one of the United Nation’s main partners in peacekeeping.

In 2020, the EU advanced its work on countering new threats to peace, such as disinformation, cyber-attacks and climate change. New elements strengthening EU security and defence capabilities are being implemented with the aim of boosting EU strategic autonomy, including its capacity to work for peace and security. 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.

The EU also continues to be a staunch promoter of multilateralism on the global and regional levels to counter global threats, such as the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and global health crises, including the economic and humanitarian consequences of the coronavirus pandemic across the world. A consistent focus in the EU’s work is on its neighbourhood, with the aim of building resilience and upholding peace and democracy, both challenged by the implications of the health crisis.

Looking to the future, the global environment is expected to grow in complexity, not least because of the long-term effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Threats such as cyber-attacks, disinformation and foreign influence campaigns are here to stay, and demand new types of responses that take into account their nuances. While the EU has made significant progress in furthering its aim of strengthening its presence and efficiency in the area of peace and security, more remains to be done. The 2021-2027 multiannual financial framework (MFF) is focused on streamlining the EU’s various programmes and instruments to allow for sufficient flexibility to respond to unforeseen threats, while also implementing innovative financial instruments. 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. What constitutes peace and security in 2021 has become more multidimensional, dual, and civil-military in nature. The EU is therefore one of the best placed actors to ensure a comprehensive response by employing all its instruments strategically and coherently. Advancing towards increased strategic autonomy will depend on a harmonious blend of instruments and on increasing political and institutional capacity to act. A strategically autonomous EU will be invaluable in achieving the objective of a more peaceful, secure and prosperous world.

Read this study on ‘Peace and Security in 2021: Overview of EU action and outlook for the future‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.

See also our animated infographic on Peace and Security

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