The Future of EU Crisis Management: What Expectations for Germany?

05 January 2017   ·   Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung EU Office

On 11 November 2016, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung EU Office hosted an expert roundtable with European stakeholders as part of the PeaceLab2016 process to discuss Germanys role in future EU crisis management. The event was held in Brussels.

As global crises and international conflicts seem on the rise both in numbers and intensity, international expectations towards German contributions to crisis prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding have grown. Likewise, Germany itself wants to assume greater responsibility by making earlier and more effective contributions. At the same time, new multilateral frameworks for conflict and crisis management have emerged, such as the Agenda 2030 and the EU Global Strategy (EUGS) which set out for an integrated and multi-dimensional approach to conflict and crisis.

Against this background, the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung EU Office organised an expert roundtable to discuss challenges, expectations and priorities in conflict prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding. The roundtable brought together representatives of EU member states, EU institutions (EEAS, Commission), think tanks and civil society organizations as well as representatives from the German Foreign Office. The discussions fed into the PeaceLab2016 process and will thus contribute to formulating the German government’s new guidelines on crisis prevention, stabilization and peacebuilding.

Participants saw similarities between Germany’s current foreign policy soul-searching and the drafting of the EU Global Strategy, and called for Germany’s upcoming new guidelines to create synergies with Federica Mogherini’s signature paper. Some participants asked, for example, that Germany integrates “resilience” as a key concept of its new strategy, as this represents an important concept in the EUGS. Other participants expressed hope that Germany would improve conflict analysis and early warning systems to provide for better policies on conflict management and conflict prevention.

Making the Common European Foreign and Security Policy more efficient

While the event singled out Germany as a major player with particular contributions to European foreign policy, participants also stressed the importance of a more cooperative and coherent EU approach to international relations. Some participants argued that the 28 individual foreign policies of the member states created unnecessary excess work. For instance, EU member states combined have more political advisers deployed around the world than the United States. Yet, instead of combining their efforts, each member state’s embassy reports back to their capital separately. The EU, as a whole, would be more efficient if member states merged most of their reporting efforts. This was just one concrete example of the demand by many participants that EU member states should cooperate more closely and have a clearer division of labour in crisis prevention and crisis management.

Facing what seems like a myriad of challenges, Germany and the European Union have much work ahead of them. In regard to the refugee crisis, the wars in Europe’s southern neighbourhood, its complicated relations with the Russian Federation and uncertainty over the United States’ incoming administration, one discussant quoted Winston Churchill in suggesting to “never let a good crisis go to waste”. Participants saw these current challenges as a chance for Europe to use the momentum productively for reform. In terms of efficiency, many roundtable members saw the EU in need of a more effective and innovative spending policy. They argued that EU crisis management policies and tools did not need more money but that current funding would require better use. Participants also highlighted the need for reforming and reinforcing the European External Action Service.

In regard to growing populism all over the world, several participants emphasized the importance of public diplomacy and civil society involvement. It seemed more important than ever that the EU and member states explain their policies and show the benefits of a united European approach to ordinary citizens, participants argued.

In order to go forward, roundtable participants seemed to agree, the EU needs to define its own geopolitical interests and objectives and reassure itself of the values it stands for. While some participants argued that the Union should focus on common interests rather than common values, others reasoned that in the long term, compliance with values was indeed an interest that the EU should keep promoting. Participants tried to identify fault lines of former EU and German foreign policy, stating that the greatest lesson to draw from the past was to have more robust political strategies backed by the involvement of politicians at the highest level.

What expectations for Germany?

In summary, what expectations did participants have for the European Union’s largest member? Most participants saw Germany’s role as a driver for reform of the EU institutions and for a more coherent approach to foreign policy.

One participant even called for Germany to become a “leader for change” on European foreign policy, as the Union “searches for leadership”. German participants, however, highlighted that expectations for Germany should not become too high – it could only be one of several big players in the European Union. Either way, it seems that Germany, for now, has its work cut out.