Directorate ISP: No Deus Ex Machina for the EU’s Integrated Approach

05. Juni 2019   ·   Loes Debuysere, Steven Blockmans

Due to improved managerial strength and operational implementation, the new Directorate Integrated Approach for Security and Peace (ISP) will clarify and strengthen the chain of command in implementing the EU’s Integrated Approach. However, the new structure fails to merge the operational level with the political level. In this regard, the EU could learn lessons from recent UN reforms.

While the EU has consistently emphasized the importance of a more coherent and holistic engagement with external crises and conflicts, its institutional structures have not lived up to this stated ambition. In order to remedy its discrepancy between rhetoric and institutional practice, various changes have in recent years sought to facilitate the implementation of the EU’s Integrated Approach to Conflict and Crisis (IA), as outlined in its 2016 Global Strategy. While the latest addition, the “Directorate Integrated Approach for Security and Peace” (Dir. ISP), has the potential of fostering stronger operational coordination within the European External Action Service (EEAS) and between other services, it should not be oversold as a game-changer for the EU’s Integrated Approach.

A new institutional set-up within the EEAS: More holistic and coordinated?

A wave of institutional reform has, as of March 1, 2019, significantly altered the organizational structure of the EEAS. The reforms were partly driven by the recent inflation of human resources devoted to defense policies and instruments (particularly the Permanent Structured Cooperation – PESCO), which fostered the need for a revision and extension of the existing “Crisis Management and Planning Directorate” (CMPD). As part of the EEAS, CMPD functioned as a single hub for civilian-military strategic planning for EU peace-keeping and humanitarian operations. Another motivation underpinning the reform process has been to better embed the EU’s Integrated Approach in the institutional structure of the EEAS. The reforms aim to facilitate and improve the EU’s ability to address global instability and fragility in an integrated way, by deploying all its relevant policies, players, and tools in a holistic and well-coordinated manner.

It is not the first time, however, that institutional change seeks to smooth the way for the implementation of an Integrated Approach. Already in January 2017, the EEAS unit for “Peacebuilding, Conflict Prevention, and Mediation” was upgraded into a division that directly reports to the Deputy Secretary General for the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) as well as crisis response. This division became the focal point for EU responses to the conflict cycle, including the unit for “Prevention of Conflicts, Rule of Law/Security Sector Reform, Integrated Approach, Stabilisation and Mediation” (PRISM). Among other things, PRISM coordinated a working group – the so-called “Guardians of the Integrated Approach” – of like-minded souls within the EEAS and the Commission, whose ultimate aim was to enhance operational capacity in conducting an IA to external conflict and crisis.

Figure 1: PRISM comes into being in January 2017 (Source: EEAS)

Directorate ISP: No Deus Ex Machina for the EU’s Integrated Approach


However, due to its slightly odd position in the EEAS organizational chart (cf. figure 1), the need was felt internally to replace PRISM with a full-blown Directorate and its own managing and deputy-managing director. The result was the “Directorate Integrated Approach for Security and Peace.” Itself a pillar responsible for crisis response and planning, Dir. ISP operates in parallel with a “policy pillar” and a “conduct pillar” (cf. figure 2). While the policy pillar (Security and Defence Policy – SECDEFPOL) brings together all policies relating to security and defense (e.g. PESCO, the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD), cyber security), the conduct pillar combines the operational headquarters of both civilian (‘Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability’ – CPCC) and military (‘Military Planning and Conduct Capability’ – MPCC) CSDP missions.

Figure 2: Directorate ISP replaces PRISM in March 2019 (Source: EEAS)

Directorate ISP: No Deus Ex Machina for the EU’s Integrated Approach

Improved managerial strength and operational implementation

Thanks to this improved in-house logic and increased staff capacity (an upgrade from some 30 to 90 staff members), Directorate ISP hopes to forge a better division of labor among its four branches. On the one hand, the “Concepts, Knowledge Management and Training” unit (ISP.1) seeks to revive and operationalize important concepts (e.g. disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR), security sector reform (SSR), human security) and boost a process of lessons learned. On the other hand, the “Conflict Prevention and Mediation” unit (ISP.2) principally institutionalizes the former tasks of the ‘Guardians of the IA’ thanks to its three teams working respectively on conflict prevention, early warning and mediation. The ‘Integrated Strategic Planning’ unit (ISP.3) brings in some of the later phases of the conflict cycle (CSDP and stabilization). Consular affairs (ISP.4) have been added to the Directorate, thus facilitating the protection of and support for EU citizens and staff in case of natural or man-made disasters abroad.

Upgrading PRISM into a full-fledged Directorate will clarify and strengthen the chain of command in implementing the Integrated Approach. Its Director and Managing Director will now be in a position to engage directly with counterparts at their hierarchical level. Indeed, the introduction of a new post of managing director, presiding over both the policy (SECDEFPOL) and planning (ISP) branches, means that it will no longer be necessary to turn to an over-solicited Deputy Secretary General in order to engage in intra-service deconfliction. Directorate ISP hosts crisis meetings which bring together all relevant EEAS divisions and Commission DGs (ECHO, DEVCO, NEAR) involved in crisis management. More than ever before, the geographical desks play a prominent role in these meetings which are chaired by the Deputy SG for CSDP or his replacement.

Formalizing and upgrading the former PRISM division will not only improve its managerial strength, but will also foster better integration and coordination within the EEAS. By absorbing the former Crisis Management and Planning Directorate (CMPD), tasked with the political-strategic planning of CSDP missions, Directorate ISP now looks at the crisis cycle in its entirety. Merging PRISM with CSDP planning into one Directorate will certainly facilitate the operational implementation of an integrated approach.

No silver bullet for integration as long as political level is missing

However, the fact that the Directorate has been called “Integrated Approach for Security and Peace,” with security preceding peace – rather than the other way around, as is common in the international context – raises questions as to where the focus of the unit lies. The staff balance also tilts towards ISP.3 with over a third of all directorate’s personnel operating in strategic planning for CSDP and stabilization. While the (staff) capacity for prevention and mediation has surely improved compared to PRISM, it is clear that political will of the member states will be needed to prioritize this aspect of the EU’s crisis response.

Yet, this is exactly where the shoe pinches for Directorate ISP. Rather than merging the operational level with the political level, the new directorate only merges the operational side. While Directorate ISP may trigger integrated action at the bureaucratic level, it will not necessarily do so at the political level. In fact, the member states are largely absent from the new directorate’s activities. Also, the reforms did not further integrate the work of the EEAS’ Secretary General for Political Affairs and the geographical divisions.

To be truly effective from an “integrated approach” perspective, the latest wave of institutional reforms should have been more informed by, and wired towards, the political level. In this regard, lessons can be learned from the recent UN reforms, which tried to do just that: integrating the former “Department of Peacekeeping Operations” (DPKO, now “Department for Peace Operations” – DPO) with the former “Department of Political Affairs” (DPA, now “Department for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs” – DPPA), at the geographical level and in-country through newly empowered Resident Coordinators.

By failing to realize the integration of the new structures for CSDP and crisis response in the geographical managing directorates of the EEAS, mainly due to limitations posed by the Treaties, Directorate ISP cannot be seen as a silver bullet for a “whole-of-Europe” approach to external conflict and crisis. That said, the new directorate is an important step in improving the EU’s operational capacity in implementing the Integrated Approach.

This blogpost has been produced in the context of a project funded by the Bertelsmann Stiftung on "Europe's coherence gap in external crisis and conflict management: Political rhetoric and institutional practice in the EU and its member states".

Europäische Union English Europa

Loes Debuysere

Dr. Loes Debuysere is a Researcher in the Foreign Policy Unit at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS).

Steven Blockmans

Dr. Steven Blockmans is Head of EU foreign policy and Head of Institutional Affairs at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS). He is also a Professor of EU External Relations Law and Governance at the University of Amsterdam.