In 2009 the EU adopted the Concept on Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacities, its first-ever strategic document focusing specifically on mediation. Ten years later, the EU’s concept and practices of mediation need an update, write Julian Bergmann, Toni Haastrup, Arne Niemann and Richard Whitman.

The first two years of implementation of the EU Global Strategy focused on advancing the EU’s security and defence capacities as well as its civilian crisis management missions through the adoption of the 2018 Civilian CSDP Compact. While this prioritisation was reasonable, it is now time to focus on the EU’s diplomatic tools to prevent and resolve violent conflicts in order to achieve the ‘full cycle implementation’ of the EU Global Strategy. In this context, the tenth anniversary of the Concept on Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacities provides an opportunity to reflect on the EU’s role as an international mediator. Drawing on research findings from the EU as International Mediator Research Network, we identify entry points for a revision of the EU’s framework for international mediation and more effective deployment of mediation as a tool of conflict prevention and crisis management.

Reflecting on the EU’s mediation practices

To increase and streamline its crisis response capacities while sharpening its profile as an international mediator, the EU launched the Concept on Mediation under the Swedish Council Presidency in 2009. The Concept was the first EU policy framework to deal exclusively with the EU’s role as a mediator in international conflicts and has become the main reference point for EU mediation activities.

In the ten years since the development of the Concept, the EU has systematically strengthened its institutional capacities for mediation, including through the establishment of a mediation support team within the European External Action Service. The EU has also engaged in mediation activities in various conflicts contexts, including the Kosovo-Serbia conflict, Ukraine, Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, and Myanmar. The scope of EU mediation activities and the diverse settings within which they take place are quite broad. The EU has acted as a direct lead or co-mediator in peace negotiations, but it has also played an important role in providing mediation support in terms of funding and operational support to international and regional organisations as well as NGOs and local civil society organisations.

EU facilitated dialogue meeting between Kosovo and Serbia in 2013, Credit: EEAS (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As part of its mediation activities, the EU relies on an impressive diplomatic infrastructure, funding resources, and networks to provide offices, enhance communication and information exchange, and facilitate agreement on joint goals between conflict parties, priorities and strategies that are key resources for mediation engagements. These resources provide the EU with significant leverage that it can employ in its efforts to move conflict parties towards agreements. In its Eastern neighbourhood and the Western Balkans, the EU has been able to use its contractual relations with countries in conflict as incentive to progress in mediation processes.

Yet, the EU’s experiences in international mediation are diverse, suggesting that there are also limitations to the EU’s effectiveness as a mediator and its impact on the settlement of conflicts. Research findings show that when the EU is considered as a biased mediator, as in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the EU has been unable to use its leverage effectively to yield substantive results towards progress. In short, the EU’s strength in terms of leverage does not guarantee the EU’s success in mediating political settlements between conflicts parties, which is also demonstrated by the current deadlock in Kosovo-Serbia relations.

Version 2.0: towards a renewed strategic framework for EU mediation

Based on the EU’s experiences within the last decade, we argue that the EU’s approach to mediation needs revisiting after 10 years of developing practices. Specifically, priorities should be set out as follows in a new strategic framework that updates the Concept.

First, an update to the Concept should develop an overarching and systematic political strategy for EU mediation, both for the EU’s own engagements and for its support to international and regional organisations in their mediation endeavours. Although the 2009 Concept provided a useful initial framework for showcasing the EU’s commitments and highlighting intended areas of strength, it is mainly descriptive. To fully realise the EU’s potential as international mediator, we need a substantive debate and strategic directions on where the EU should set its priorities in mediating conflicts and providing mediation support to other actors.

Second, an updated framework for EU mediation should include an Action Plan that sets out clear guidelines for EU mediators, institutions and member states’ engagement in crises. Although the 2009 Concept described different mediation roles EU actors can play, it is sparse on offering specific guidance to EU mediators. The Action Plan should also clarify how the EU member states can be better integrated into the EU’s mediation efforts. There is already clear evidence that member states have played an important role in supporting mediation efforts undertaken by EU institutions. There, however, needs to be more strategic guidance on how to feed member states’ resources and expertise into the EU’s mediation efforts, including better coordination and coherence among member states in their approaches to specific conflicts.

Third, the EU must include gender perspectives into its mediation architecture and practices to ensure truly inclusive processes and outcomes. Despite a commitment to gender mainstreaming, this has not always been evident in the EU’s mediation efforts. Given renewed commitment to gender issues in the Global Strategy and the adoption of the 2018 EU Strategic Approach on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) there is the opportunity for a greater and more purposeful integration of gender perspectives into the EU’s mediation apparatus.

This also links to the need to make a clear link between the EU’s mediation activities and its efforts to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Mediation can be a key instrument for the EU to contribute to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, which focuses on the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies, providing access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. However, until now no clear link between SDG 16 and the EU’s mediation framework exists, which is why an updated mediation concept should firmly establish the link between mediation activities and the EU’s contribution towards sustainable development.

Finally, the EU needs to clarify the role and status of mediation within its broader toolbox for external action. Since the adoption of the 2009 Concept, the EU has made considerable steps towards forging integrated approaches to crises. However, only if the integrated approach spells out both the distinctiveness and connection points of mediation in relation to other EU instruments of crisis prevention and conflict management, can mediation take a prominent and permanent place within the EU’s foreign policy toolbox.

This list of priorities is certainly not exhaustive. Nevertheless, the EU should take the tenth anniversary of its mediation concept as an opportunity to provide its mediation activities new impetus. It is now time for the EU to consider how to lift mediation to the centre of its foreign policy in order to fully realise the EU’s potential as a power for peace in various conflicts around the world.

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Note: This article gives the views of the authors, not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics.

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About the authors

Julian Bergmann – Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik
Julian Bergmann is a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik. His research interests revolve around EU foreign, security and development policy, the security-development nexus in EU external action, and the EU’s role as international mediator. He has extensively published on EU mediation in leading disciplinary journals.

Toni Haastrup – University of Kent
Toni Haastrup is a Senior Lecturer in International Security at the University of Kent and a Deputy Director of its Global Europe Centre. Her current research interests center on the gender dynamics and processes of institutional transformation within regional security institutions. Her major publications include Charting Transformation through Security: Contemporary EU-Africa Relations (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013); Regionalizing Global Crises. She is an Editor in Chief of JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies

Arne Niemann – Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
Arne Niemann is Professor of International Politics and Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration Studies at the Department of Political Science of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany. His research has focused on European integration processes and European Union politics and policies, especially the EU’s external relations. He has published widely in this area, including on the EU’s mediation roles in international conflicts.

Richard Whitman – University of Kent
Richard Whitman is Professor of Politics and International Relations in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent, Associate Fellow at Chatham House and an Academic Fellow at the European Policy Centre. His current research interests include the external relations and foreign and security and defence policies of the EU, and the governance and future priorities of the EU. He is also an Editor-in-Chief of JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies.

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