”Never again.” The European Union was set up as a union of peace that would prevent wars from ever again occurring in Europe. In addition to creating peace and stability within its own borders, the EU has battled conflicts abroad. It is the world’s greatest aid donor and has been part of multiple conflict prevention and peace building operations. According to the Treaty on the European Union the EU’s aim is to ”promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples” (TEU Art 3(1)). As a sign of the EU’s success in promoting peace, it received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.
The EU has, however, had a limited role in one of the biggest conflicts of late, the one in Syria. It has moreover lacked the capacity to truly influence the conflict in Ukraine and Member States have been accused of arms trade with countries such as Saudi Arabia. Is the EU thus a successful peace provider or not?
Shortcomings in Syria
The Syrian conflict started in 2011. There are numerous external actors involved in the conflict. One could argue that one reason for the lack of solution is indeed the vast number of players involved and their different interests. Despite this large number of actors and the gravity of the conflict in question, the EU’s role has been limited.
The EU is not involved in Syria in military means nor has it taken up on a possibility to be a mediator. The EU could in fact become a very successful mediator in the conflict exactly because it is not militarily involved in Syria. All other mediators are somehow affected or involved in the conflict and this makes peace process difficult. The EU has, however, yet to emerge as a mediator in the Syrian conflict.
Problems at home
While many of us tend to nowadays forget that there is a war in Ukraine, as it is not covered in the media that much anymore, there is still an ongoing war within our own European borders. Unlike in Syria, the EU has been involved from the beginning and condemned Russian actions. Together with the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) the EU has sought to reach a settlement and has taken part in the negotiations.
The EU has, however, been unable to influence the conflict to any greater extent. This has much to do with problems to hold Russia accountable and with the vastly differing interests of the Member States. Thus, the Ukrainian conflict is fast turning into a frozen conflict that could take years, or even decades, to be solved.
Arms trade issues
The conflict in Yemen begun in 2015. There is a severe humanitarian crisis going on with countless of people, especially children, starving. There have been almost 3000 dead civilians and over 14 million people need food aid. One of the main belligerents is Saudi Arabia and the coalition it leads.
There are several EU Member States (for example the UK, France and Germany) who have arms trade deals with Saudi Arabia. The European Parliament and some Member States have called for an embargo to stop the trade to this country that is participating in the conflict and is in addition the second largest destination for armaments after China. The arms trade to Saudi Arabia has increased 275 per cent over the last few years. In 2014 Saudi Arabia was also Finland’s second biggest arms trade partner. Finland has in addition sold armoured vehicles to United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
Thus, given that the EU seeks to be a significant peace provider, it is a curiosity that its Member States have acted in such a manner. The EU should hence create a common policy over the matter.
[bctt tweet=”Given that the EU seeks to be a significant peace provider, it is a curiosity that its Member States have acted in such a manner, and traded arms to conflict areas. The EU should hence create a common policy over the matter.”]
Providing for peace both in the European neighbourhood and global world
Currently the EU is a main actor in multiple projects that seek to make the whole world more peaceful and stable. We are one the key actors in the Iranian nuclear deal and were the representative of the global community in these negotiations. We have also helped in stabilizing Somalia and the Horn of Africa. The EU is also rising to become a key global actor in the battle against the climate change that could in the future create more conflicts and suffering. As already mentioned, we are also the greatest aid donor in the whole world.
The EU has had multiple successful peacekeeping and mediation operations in multiple hot spots. One significant effort was the Georgian war where the EU helped Russia and Georgia to negotiate a ceasefire. The EU has moreover sent observers into the area as well as officers to Kosovo to help with legal affairs and to maintain order.
One key aspect of the EU’s peace policy is the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The goal of the policy is to strengthen EU’s relationships with 16 countries in the Eastern Neighbourhood and in Africa and the Middle East. Especially the Eastern Partnership with the former Soviet Union countries has helped to stabilize these states and to promote human and civil rights. Hence, it has helped to promote peace.
In addition, the EU provides funding for the victims of the conflicts. For example, the EU has supported the victims of the Syrian conflict with over 3 billion euros since the beginning of the conflict. The EU has also sought to help Libya while the state suffers from political turmoil and weak security situation.
In the Middle East, the EU advocates the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel. Together with the UN, the US, and Russia it tries to bring all parties around the same table so that a peaceful solution can be found and the region can be stabilized.
A success story after all?
In conclusion, despite some of the EU’s shortcomings in providing for peace, for example in Syria and Ukraine, one cannot argue that the EU is not a significant peace provider, builder and keeper. It is not for nothing that the EU won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012. One should never overlook the significance of six decades’ of peace and stability in Europe. The EU has moreover successfully helped and promoted democracy and human rights in our neighbouring regions.
There remains work to be done if the EU hopes to be as successful peace actor abroad as it has been internally. However, the EU is still one of the main peacekeepers and providers in the world. It has successfully promoted human rights and helped states with their internal issues, thus creating stability and peace. We should be proud of what has been achieved. We should also look ahead in order to become even better in the future. Hopefully one day we will be able to say ”never again” in the regions now struggling with conflicts. One must always strive for a better world.
TEXT Peppi Heinikainen
PHOTO Unsplash / Sunyu
The author has a BA degree in European Studies from the Maastricht University and a MA degree in International Peace and Security from King’s College London. The author has specialised in the EU defence and security policies, peace processes and negotiations, and Russian politics. // @peppi_h