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Controversies over gaps within EU crisis management policy

The Introduction sets out the structure and essential purpose of the book, and explains EUNPACK – the comparative study on which the book is based. It asks what EU crisis management seeks to address; introduces the innovative typology for crisis response that lies at the heart of the book; and highlights how much of the book is based on fieldwork, while being careful to note how difficult it is for outside researchers to authentically reflect the voices of local populations. The key findings of the book are presented, including the trend identified in a number of later chapters towards security-led approaches in the EU’s crisis response activities in its neighbourhood and further afield. The conclusion offers further thoughts on how EU crisis response has evolved and on its future role.


Just as the United Nations (UN) was not established with peacekeeping missions in mind, the European Union (EU) was not established with external security, crisis intervention, or peacebuilding on the agendas of its founders. They were initially focused on using trade to overcome nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century regional geopolitics, opening up a federal path for formerly warring states, as well as fitting into a jigsaw of regional and global ordering mechanisms. In its later iteration, the EU developed external facing orientations, policies and capabilities over an extended period, often reactively and in the face of emergencies, while developing its own problematic governmentalities for peacebuilding (Pogodda et al., 2014). A gap soon emerged in that it had little viable capacity for crisis management. As this book will reveal, there has been considerable tension between the notion and practice of conflict management as a stand-alone and often technical intervention, and arguments in favour of more expansive interventions that take into account human rights, democracy, development, trade and a vibrant civil society. Either approach, and all points in between, comes with a series of ethical and practical challenges that occupy much of this book.

This led to a controversial dance around the classic problem of whether conflict management strategies might be adequate as freestanding strategies of engagement, and whether peacebuilding responses might be retracted if they were, not to mention the ‘outmoded’ conditionalities that were previously attached to EU involvement in regional crises and conflicts (such as human rights, democracy, development, trade and a vibrant civil society).

Crises pose extraordinary challenges since they constitute events that have ‘the potential to cause a large detrimental change to the social system and in which there is a lack of proportionality between cause and consequence’ (Walby, 2015: 14). While the EU has been involved in a series of continuously morphing and deepening internal crises (Habermas, 2012; Giddens, 2014; Offe, 2015), this book focuses on the Union’s capacity to respond to crises outside of the internal market.

The EU’s recent development of a distinct interventionary practice for external crisis responses (Bátora et al., 2016) inspired this book to investigate its underlying rationales, its effects and how the new practice fits into the EU’s portfolio of foreign policy interventions. Crisis management as the best-known type of crisis response conceptually separates intervention from the EU’s normative and institutional goals, foregrounding the interests of the originating actor. Consequently, it risks a loss of local legitimacy and conflict sensitivity among the recipients of such practices. At the same time, there has been a policy-driven interest in developing more effective conflict responses approaches on behalf of the EU (Tocci, 2017) and making sure they were conflict-sensitive. This book investigates whether, and if, this paradoxical circle of norms, interests and ambitions can be squared. Is the EU’s crisis response approach conflict-sensitive, does it support or undermine local agency, or more substantive peacebuilding strategies, and does it prioritise organisational dynamics and EU stability and security or conflict-affected populations?

In its effort to evaluate EU crisis interventions, this book puts forward an innovative typology for crisis response, which goes beyond the limited ambitions of stabilising a region and containing the spill-over effects of conflicts that characterise crisis management (this typology is explained in detail in Chapter 2). By drawing on different generations of Peace and Conflict scholarship, the book assumes that crises can also be resolved (crisis resolution), transformed (crisis transformation) or tackled through critical transformative approaches (critical crisis transformation). Crisis resolution addresses the needs of crisis-affected populations and considers economic marginalisation, conflicts and ‘bad governance’ as root causes of crises. By contrast, crisis transformation deals with the structural drivers of conflict and builds a framework for emancipation from crisis conflict dynamics. In critical crisis intervention, our framework imagines an approach in which the EU jointly designs its interventions with local networks of elite and non-elite actors at the epicentre of the crises, connected with regional and international organisations with the aim of sharing resources and coordinating crisis response strategies.

The following chapters explore different elements of the problem of how to connect state and EU approaches to crisis response, and mitigate causal factors of violence in war-zones, while also attempting to accommodate local political claims for emancipation. Geographically, it examines EU engagements in the MENA, Mali, Afghanistan and Eastern European regions. It does so via different perspectives: ethnographic, institutionalist, security oriented and case-study oriented. It explores the gap between critical intentions and pragmatic politics aimed at averting crisis and conflicts. It rejects the notion that a crisis can be separated from the deeper causal factors of a longer-term conflict, and acknowledges that crisis management is thus closely related to peacebuilding. In doing so it critically demonstrates the acute problems of maintaining critical ethnography, preventing the tendency to shift analysis from the local to elite, emancipation to security and interests, substituting institutionalist priorities for human rights and needs. Performatively, this book collectively illustrates chapter by chapter the risks and difficulties inherent in the attempt to separate crisis from conflict, the constant defaulting to elite and institutional prerogatives even when engaged with ethnographic or institutionalist methods, and the ‘counter-insurgency’ style methodological tendency to equate and reduce critical intent to hegemony or interests.

Thus, the subsequent chapters are framed by a critical issue: how far is there a gap between crisis management theory, the EU’s institutionalised understanding of it and conflict sensitivity or local legitimacy on the ground? This introductory chapter outlines the structure and key findings of the book and introduces the typology that lies at the heart of the book. This typology is discussed in more detail in Chapter 2. It draws on critical Peace and Conflict Studies theory, a crisis management–crisis resolution–crisis transformation–framework through which to critically evaluate EU policy and practice. Most of the chapters point to a major gap between local legitimacy and EU practice, even if EU doctrines tend to be more critically aligned. A number of chapters (e.g., those by Raineri and Strazzari, and Osland and Peter) help outline the EU’s evolution as a foreign policy, regional and global actor. They show that this evolution was not linear, not without missteps, was often reactive, and was subject to distraction by internal politics and concerns. All of this applies to the EU’s crisis response mechanisms and stances.

While a substantial literature exists on the EU as a regional and global actor (see, e.g., Tonra and Christiansen, 2018; Schumacher et al., 2018), this book investigates the Union’s crisis responses simultaneously from an Organisational Studies and Peace and Conflict Studies perspective. Research on EU-sponsored peacebuilding is well advanced, but much of it concentrates on single case studies, reports on specific projects and neglects to examine EU mechanisms. This sustained examination of crisis response is comparative and looks at EU discourse and mechanisms, as well as the actual on-the-ground responses and their local reception. The research into the formation of crisis response at the EU level provides a detailed analysis of the evolution of the crisis intervention apparatus, its ambitions, repertoires and strategies. Moreover, it contrasts EU crisis interventions with the responses of other international organisations. These dimensions of the research examine the nature of organisations, how they respond to challenges and crises and how they can marshal capacities and project their power and resources. In the case of the EU, we are interested in how the EU constructs narratives for its actions, and how its policies are forged and orientated for the challenges the EU faces and the actions it takes. We are interested in how the organisation has navigated between constructing and maintaining a comprehensive approach to its external actions, the divergent interests of its member states and the peculiarities of different crises and locations. Important in this is the fact that the EU has adopted an ‘integrated approach’ to crisis management and has put in place considerable architecture and machinery to respond to crises in a measured and coordinated way. Yet questions remain about the EU’s actorness – or the extent to which it constitutes, and is perceived to constitute, a coherent foreign policy actor (McDonagh, 2015).

The book’s Peace and Conflict Studies components, on the other hand, locate crisis response conceptually and examine how EU intervention is perceived on the ground. This analysis of local reception of the EU as a crisis response actor contributes to the ‘local turn’ in the study and practice of peace interventions (Schierenbeck, 2015): to what extent are international interventions sensitive to local needs and aspirations or driven by institutional and/or geopolitical considerations? Who initiates and sets the agenda of the intervention? Who decides on an exit strategy? And how legitimate are EU crisis interventions within the crisis-affected population? In large part this book is about power, or the power of a large international organisation to affect its will in crisis situations on its doorstep and further afield, and the power of local actors (national or sub-states) to utilise, co-opt, resist, subvert and delay EU interventions.

In order to examine these issues of crises, intervention and international organisation we have developed a comprehensive and comparative approach through a large multipartner research project entitled EUNPACK (Bøås and Rieker, 2019). The project was comprised of a consortium of thirteen institutions (one each from Afghanistan, Belgium, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Kosovo, Mali, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia, Tunisia, Ukraine and the UK) and was able to combine desk-based study with field research in a number of conflict-affected countries – as well as Brussels. Through the research of our locally embedded partner institutions, this project has – to some extent at least – been able to avoid the dilemmas encountered by external researchers (Maschietto, 2015). The result is a state-of-the-art investigation into how the EU mobilises and projects its crisis response policies. Uniquely, this research project and book have been able to move towards a dialogue between two sub-disciplines that are often siloed and rarely benefit from intellectual cross-fertilisation: Peace and Conflict Studies and Organisational Studies. Both fit within the larger discipline of International Relations (IR), and both draw on a range of other disciplines such as Gender Studies, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology and History. Yet they rarely ‘speak’ to each other in a sustained way. This book can be read as an attempt to spark a cross-disciplinary conversation and to assess the utility of lending and borrowing between concepts, theories and vernacular that often remain in siloes.

Fundamentally, the book is also interested in the highly problematic and often glossed-over interface between international organisations’ institutionalist and geopolitical goals and their tensions with the political claims made by local populations in crisis situations. It is about the projection and reception of international intervention, and its general failure to be related to local political claims for security, human security and conflict transformation. It prompts us to interrogate apparently discrete and binary concepts like local and international, and encourages us to be mindful of the multiscalar and complex nature of conflict systems. As the chapters in this book reveal, there is considerable connectivity at work in relation to all scales involved in conflict and attempts to address it.

What does EU Crisis Management seek to address?

Clearly, the EU’s internal integrity was at the heart of developments, representing a further underlying substantial controversy about the EU as a peace project (Manners and Murray, 2016) and its ability to translate and disseminate the historical lessons its very existence represented for the newer conflict zones of the late twentieth century and beyond. Indeed, its responses to regional wars, and its contributions to peacekeeping and peacebuilding have long been controversial, consistently indicating a substantial gap between policy doctrine and interests, often oscillating between a normative and humanitarian vision or a geopolitical approach, and worse, placing the stability of EU policy, doctrines and institutions over the situations of the conflict-affected citizens in its near abroad (Richmond, 2000; Richmond et al., 2011). They have also been undermined by a lack of consensus among its members and the occasional unilateral action (as with Germany’s role in the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, or the divisions between member states over the US invasion of Iraq). Its engagement with peacebuilding and development, though impressive in scale and ambition, has also been bedevilled by the same gaps, which might be described as an implementation–expectation gap which has also been transferred to what might be understood as a retrogressive interest in crisis management.

Since its legal inception in the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, any efforts to establish a joint security, foreign and defence policy were the result of a dilemma, rather than a conscious political choice. Member states’ fear of losing their sovereignty through integration has been pitched against the inevitable erosion of sovereignty that would result from the lack of integration, regionalisation, consolidation and optimisation of national military capacities (Giddens, 2014: 202). To make matters more complicated, the intervening years have seen many turning points in international relations: from the liberal hubris of the 1990s, to the War on Terror and its devastating consequences, Russia’s annexation of Eastern European territory and NATO’s first and last Responsibility to Protect (R2P) intervention in Libya. In this tumultuous political environment, the EU’s foreign policy continues to be the outcome of ‘creeping devolution’ rather than a decision to join forces against shared external challenges (Habermas, 2009: 88).

It is important to note that the conceptualisation and theorisation of ‘crisis management’ has always tended to represent a very preliminary intellectual and policy strategy in the face of an emerging threat or risk for any political system. Crisis management has implied, since the nineteenth century, and certainly during the Cold War, an attempt to dampen and mitigate war and conflict as a first step, perhaps providing a platform for political agreements to be reached later on. It represents a very distant attempt to enable emancipatory and transformatory forms of political settlement in conflict-affected societies. Academics have tended to argue that crisis-oriented epistemologies tend to be unable to move beyond pacification towards dealing with underlying causal factors, whereas policy-driven usages highlight the necessity and immediacy of a response to a dangerous threat even at the expense of peace agreements, political reforms and longer-term remedies, resolutions or transformations. Thus, there has always been a gap or blockage between crisis management and peacemaking. In general, a mistaken but convenient conflation of crisis response with transformatory political policies (such as peacebuilding) persists in scholarly literatures and policy doctrines, especially in the context of the EU. By contrast the UN has a much clearer picture of the gradations of praxis involved in sequenced approaches to crisis management and diplomacy, peacekeeping, mediation, peacebuilding and more recently towards ‘sustaining peace’ (Ponzio, 2018). Whereas in the past, it seemed that the EU followed (with some time lag) the epistemological approaches to war, violence, reform and peace that were being pioneered in the UN system, more recently, the EU seems to have struck out in its own direction, with a problematic lack of clarity about the intellectual history of the frameworks it was seeking to deploy.

Among the various institutions and policies of EU foreign policy, crisis response – as a mechanism – has only emerged as the result of Baroness Ashton’s institutional reforms since 2010 (Tercovich, 2014). The ideological basis as well as the conceptual and strategic framework of this new mechanism have remained poorly defined (Pavlov, 2015) though there is a tendency to regard it as more transformatory rather than geopolitical in the EU’s context. In practice, it was more geopolitical than transformational. Despite these ‘teething problems’, the new EU crisis response mechanism was slated to become the EU’s overarching security and emergency approach (Tercovich, 2014: 151). Hence, this book is a sustained examination of the EU’s crisis response mechanisms in conflicts in its neighbourhood, extended neighbourhood and further afield. It investigates the factors that have shaped EU crisis response, local perceptions of its interventions abroad and ultimately resulted in the failure of the new mechanism to become a paradigm-changing innovation within European foreign policy.

Ultimately, EU Crisis Management is aimed at preserving the integrity of the core Union at a primary level, patrolling its external boundaries and contributing to rather than initiating, stabilisation measures where crises on its peripheries threaten both. However, given the EU’s normative self-identity, and given the demands of conflict-affected societies drawn into this process, crisis management has inevitably morphed into something approaching peacebuilding, and a longer term more rights-based framework, which the EU has found even harder to perform in a convincing manner. Awkwardly, the result has been something more akin to counter-insurgency than peacebuilding, and certainly more like early conceptions of crisis and conflict management, rather than transformation. The latter would involve a far more longer-term, structural engagement on behalf of the EU, and the focus to move from the integrity of the EU to the human security of conflict-affected citizens. By using a framework that modifies the usual palate of conflict responses (conflict management, conflict resolution, conflict transformation and critical conflict transformation) into crisis responses (crisis management, crisis resolution, crisis transformation and critical crisis transformation) we are able to see the extent to which EU mechanisms and responses engage with security, rights and development. We are also able to use the framework to assess the geographical and temporal ambition of EU responses: the near neighbourhood or further afield, and short-term or long-term.

Key findings

A key finding ties the book together: there is an increased emphasis on security in the EU’s crisis responses (Raineri and Strazzari, 2019), which is often at the expense of strategies designed to be conflict-sensitive and critically engaged with local political claims. This trend contains much nuance and we must be careful to guard against over-generalisation. In their chapter, Debuysere and Blockmans highlight that the EU has not officially given up on the engagement with the root causes of crises as proclaimed by its integrated approach. Yet, institutionalised perspectives rarely managed to move beyond elite, state and institutional level prerogatives, goals and constraints. Moreover, EU crisis intervention is characterised by contradictory trends according to the chapter by Peters, Ferhatovic, Heinemann and Sturm, resulting from turf wars between the different EU foreign and security policy institutions. This means that there is an acute tension between critical crisis transformation discourses on the part of the EU, the short-term nature of crisis management thinking, and conflict sensitivity on the ground in practice (as Chapter 2 suggests).

At the same time, we should be in no doubt that creeping, but accelerating, securitisation is observable in EU stances, strategies and statements in relation to what it identifies as threats on and beyond its borders. As will be discussed in the chapters in this book, this does not only have implications for how the EU is perceived; it also has implications for the nature of the Union. One of the key assumptions that guided this research project is that we should judge the EU, and other international organisations, according to what they do and do not do, not just according to declarations, statements and ambitions. Case studies from the former Yugoslavia, Libya, Afghanistan, Mali and elsewhere, along with detailed study of EU statements, reveal a complex picture of an organisation that is attempting to navigate a path through a difficult and dynamic external environment while also maintaining normative standards. While the EU by no means is able to act unilaterally (it must contend with other external actors, strong states and many exogenous factors, as well as internal nationalisms) it has considerable capabilities. It has convening power in the sense of bringing multiple states under one umbrella, has significant material power, and seeks to project a normative or collective power through its statements and declared ambitions. As seen over an extended period, the EU – in some of its interventions – was aware of the complexities of contemporary conflict and particularly of the links between development, rights and conflict. Thus, in some cases, the EU was at the forefront of promoting rights and development in its conflict and crisis response initiatives. The EU – at least discursively – seemed more comfortable with emancipatory and people-focused approaches to peace than many other institutions. However, its practices are more opaque, either due to conceptual confusion or the sheer scale of the problems caused by limited political legitimacy on the ground.

As this book demonstrates, the space for interventions that championed peace and rights (two very political concepts) seems to have shrunk. In its place has been a narrow focus on security and stabilisation, which has also played out in the related epistemological framing of EU foreign policy, peacebuilding and crisis management. Crucial here too is to ask: What is being secured and stabilised? The withdrawal of focus on rights, people and development has meant that often the focus is on securing institutions and regimes overseas. These institutions and regimes may have questionable effectiveness and respect for rights and minorities (Pogodda et al., 2014). Yet they are seen as the most viable contact point for the EU and are to be shored up. Alex de Waal’s (2015) concept of the ‘political marketplace’ comes into play here, with regimes and institutions able to offer the EU the promise of security, stability and sometimes service delivery in return for material support and the symbolic affirmation that goes along with it. The danger for the EU, however, and this danger applies to other donors, is that they become captured by the regime or institution. As Raineri and Strazzari’s chapter reminds us, if an external crisis spirals into an EU-internal crisis, crisis response might become beholden to unaccountable rulers, militias and warlords. Chapter 2’s typology, drawing on older debates about the pros and cons of conflict management versus resolution and transformation theory, confirms this deficiency.

An introspective and self-serving streak of EU crisis response has become increasingly visible. There is much more awareness in the EU of the possibility of overseas crises impacting on the EU itself. This has especially been the case in relation to inward migration to the EU – with conflict and the associated economic and social dislocation being major contributory factors. For many observers, these conflicts gained and maintained the attention of EU member states not primarily because of the casualty figures in the conflict, but because it was thought that they helped generate migration towards the EU. With migration and the perception of migration fuelling populism within EU member states, external crisis response turned into a mechanism to deal with domestic political issues (see Chapter 7, this volume). Hence, from the migration crisis in the Balkans that opened the possibility for a normative EU foreign policy to the migration crisis of 2015 that closed this window, the EU has come full circle (see Chapter 8, this volume). Thus, it is no accident that ‘crisis’ discourses have supplanted peacebuilding, rights, democratisation and development frameworks, lending themselves to neo-trusteeship, counter-insurgency, stabilisation and resilience agendas. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, the emancipatory content of these agendas has remained unproven, not to say implausible.

The same applies to the rise of militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Mali. Many of these groups are covered by the ‘terrorism’ and radicalisation narratives favoured by some politicians and policy-makers. A key feature of some of these narratives is that ‘terrorism’ and radicalisation are transnational and have implications in the centre as much as the periphery. In other words, narratives about militancy in Libya (the periphery) can be quickly related to the ‘home front’ (the centre) in the form of the 2017 suicide bomb attack on the Manchester Arena in the UK. Thus for the EU and the member states that construct its policies, seemingly far-away events can constitute, or be perceived to constitute, a real and present danger to citizens within the EU. Again, similar arguments were made and phenomena observed in earlier debates on conflict and crisis management, which necessitated a move away from security and interest-oriented framing towards what became known in the 1990s as liberal peacebuilding praxis, which was multidimensional and longer term.

As will be explained throughout this book, the EU’s slide away from rights and more optimistic views of peace has not been consistent. A key nuance in this picture has been a spatial differentiation between the near and extended neighbourhoods. The fact that the EU has an extended neighbourhood is, in itself, worthy of comment. It shows, on the one hand that the organisation has (or perhaps had) ambitions to be a global development and pro-peace player. It equipped itself institutionally and programmatically to have a global reach and project its material and symbolic resources. On the other hand, the notion of an extended neighbourhood shows an understanding of the extended nature of conflict and crises. Thus, crises were unlikely to be contained: they had the potential to have spill-over effects and unintended consequences that were likely to reach the EU itself.

To interpret this shift between different types of crisis response, the project developed an analytical framework that drew on a key conceptualisation from Peace and Conflict Studies in Chapter 2. The widely accepted framework of conflict responses (Richmond, 2010) – conflict management, conflict resolution, conflict transformation and critical conflict transformation – has been useful in helping to conceptualise, categorise and understand how states and other institutions have attempted to deal with conflict. The framework has been useful as a way of thinking through the actions involved, the extent of those actions and the motivations behind them. Under this framework, conflict management is the least ambitious response and is respectful of the institutions (often states) and structures (often sovereignty and political economies) that contribute to conflict. It aims to manage the cost of conflict rather than directly confront the conflict. Conflict transformation is regarded as a more ambitious conflict response, and one that is people-focused and willing to address the underlying drivers of conflict such as the construction of identity. As part of the EUNPACK project, the conflict management–conflict resolution–conflict transformation analytical framework was extended to crisis response as a way of stimulating and ordering our thinking on how the EU responds to crises. Throughout this book, we can see how crisis response has been shaped by different ideological forces, moving interventions between different levels: from the potential of a comprehensive approach to crisis transformation to the limited ambition of crisis management.

Other arguments and findings

One issue that recurs in this book is the extent to which crises are constructed, maintained, narrated, minimised and time-limited. The definition of a crisis and the design of its response are seen as exercises of power (Hay, 1996; Gamble, 2014; Walby, 2015). Part of this is connected to the ‘naming power’ of political and social actors to designate, formally or informally, a certain phenomenon as a crisis. The concept of ‘crisis’ maintains a short-term epistemological frame for any response, and confines it to negative peace methods, heavily constrained by interests and power relations. It offers a conservative response to risk and systemic destabilisation, rather than the human rights framing the EU gloss tends to assume is to be delivered. Ironically, it appears to have been misapplied in EU policy and academic circles, or alternatively has been used to constrain the political substance of peacemaking and peacebuilding, leaving EU norms somewhat undermined. In relation to perceptions of inward migration to Europe in particular, it was interesting to see the co-constitution of the crisis. On the one hand, there were the conflict-related drivers of migration such as the wars in Afghanistan and Syria. On the other hand, there were the public discourses and political mobilisations in a number of European states that emphasised nativist sentiments. These discourses and mobilisations often became manifest in anti-incumbency and anti-institutional political movements and so threatened sitting governments and existing institutions. In short, the plight of the refugees was constructed as a threat to member state governments and the EU itself. So, in the case of migration, it is worth noting that it was the complex interplay between the risk of incomplete agreements (Scipioni, 2015), an actual phenomenon (inward migration to and through the EU) and the perception and political utilisation of that phenomenon that led to a tipping point in the evolution of the EU’s crisis response in some of our cases. While crises can provide windows of opportunity for wide-ranging political change (Gamble, 2014), the migration crisis of 2015 has constrained the transformative potential of EU crisis intervention. It should be noted, of course, that non-EU member states (e.g., Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan) have been, by far, most impacted by migrant and refugee flows.

Another finding that runs through this book is that many of the categories that we routinely use to explain the social and political world are worthy of interrogation. On the one hand, it is understandable that we have a ‘short-hand’ of phrases and categories that we use to explain social phenomenon in an efficient and comprehensible way. Yet, on the other hand, many of these categories do not bear scrutiny. Consider, for example, the notion of ‘the local’: it is not immediately clear if the term relates to the national government (and elites within it) or any of a number of sub-state levels. When we further interrogate the term ‘local’, then more problems appear. In a networked and transnational world, and one in which commerce – not to mention peacebuilding and development programmes – mean a mobility of ideas, people and capital, then it is difficult to conceive of a hermetically sealed local, but such issues are also present within the categories of ‘international’, ‘regional’ and ‘state’ (Richmond and Mac Ginty, 2019). The point of engaging with the local, the everyday, as well as with subsequent frameworks such as hybridity in critical genealogical terms, is to lay bare the workings of power relations from a subaltern perspective in order to produce sustainable, rights-oriented and justice-based systems of political order (which one would assume for the UN and EU, for example). Such systems, by their very nature, face challenges in their crisis transformation and peacemaking capacities, whose legitimacy depends on the way they reorder power relations and respond to subaltern claims.

A key finding from across the project related to data and information, or the extent to which local and international actors were able to understand each other with any sense of accuracy in the light of such imbalances and challenges. The EU, in keeping with many international and transnational actors, faced challenges of gathering and collating information from national settings. At times, this was constrained by the security situation and ‘compound living’. At other times, there was information overload and capacity issues (Read et al., 2016). These problems extended to within the EU itself where there was not always adequate lesson-learning within the institution, a factor often relating to the ‘churn’ or turn-over of mission and headquarters staff. At the local level, there was often confusion as to who or what constituted the EU. In a number of cases, local actors tended to conflate the EU with other international actors or its member states. Nuances in EU strategy that may have been the result of pained negotiations and trade-offs in Brussels were not readily perceived by local ‘beneficiaries’. In Mali, for instance, over half of respondents who had contact with the EU did not know if it was the EU or another organisation who was operational. All of this points to the value of transparency and communication within and between institutions and other actors. It also illustrates the importance of communication through actions. While local and external actors can invest considerable energy into messaging and declarations, it is action and inaction (e.g., delivery of programmes or follow-through by local actors) that are often most noticeable.

In all of the cases, the complexity of intervention and crisis response is apparent. Intervention is not a discrete exercise that is limited in terms of time, space and impact. Instead, it is part of a set of wider political, social, economic and cultural interventions – many of which have unanticipated outcomes. Actors – whether local or international – are not standalone. Instead they will have complicated and intersectional hinterlands and relationalities that are not always easily observable by others. Crucially, there will be unanticipated outcomes. For example, EU outsourcing of the management of migration in Libya resulted in the empowerment of non-state armed actors and the further development of a political economy around migration. Clearly, this was not the aim of EU policy but it is one that is likely to have long-term effects.

A recurring theme in the book is temporality or timing. The notion of a crisis suggests urgency and the need for a fast response. As already noted, there is a sense that crises are socially constructed, maintained and de-escalated with some actors having greater agency than others. In other words, temporality is a social construction (Read and Mac Ginty, 2017). What was very noticeable from a number of the case studies was that the EU and various sites of intervention operate according to different timeframes. For the EU, there are a mix of technocratic timeframes (connected with budgetary cycles, programmatic log-frames and the tenure of staff) and political timeframes (connected with political machinations within the EU and electoral cycles within member states). Yet these timeframes may have little resonance or meaning at the site of intervention. Here national and local political machinations are likely to matter more and they may not always synchronise with those of external actors. In some cases, external actors arrived, delivered programmes and left with an almost robotic disconnection with the local rhythms of life. The breadth of the EUNPACK project has meant that it has been possible to capture a range of EU crisis interventions and responses – at inception, planning, implementation, monitoring and post-implementation evaluation. Indeed, such a timeline suggests a linearity that does not always seem consistent with events in Brussels or in the receiving country. In virtually all of the EUNPACK case studies, it was clear that there were tensions between the urgency of crises and the longer term timeframes required for development and peacebuilding.


It is worth bearing in mind that fieldwork in conflict-affected contexts requires considerable sensitivity. The safety of the researched and researcher need to be considered and all EUNPACK fieldwork was conducted in accordance with a strict ethical framework. Fieldwork in conflict-affected contexts faces multiple problems (in addition to any physical dangers faced by the researcher and the researched): gatekeeping by those who want to promote an institutional or party narrative, surveillance by states or neighbours, the sometimes invisibility of women and minorities, the risk of re-traumatising victims of violence and the risk of using concepts and language that might betray bias or offend. Fundamentally, it is not always clear that social science researchers are well equipped to access the opinions and thoughts of people living through crisis situations and who may have a very different cultural and social ethos. Attempts to have ‘partnerships’ with scholars and practitioners in the Global South are often unable to escape North–South structural imbalances and political economies associated with research, publishing and dissemination.

With these points in mind, the EUNPACK project engaged in extensive fieldwork in a meta context in which there is a doctrinal and policy confusion over terms and concepts like crisis management and peacebuilding, and a blurring of the line between the sensitive engagement of external actors with local elites and social movements and responding to subaltern political claims. We sought to investigate the emancipatory agenda that the EU claims through approximately thirteen hundred interviews, perception surveys and documentary analysis in Afghanistan, Mali, Iraq, Libya, Kosovo and Ukraine. There was an attempt to access ‘bottom-up’ voices – the very voices that are often difficult to access and easy to overlook (Spivak, 1988; Lederach, 1997; Firchow and Mac Ginty, 2017) – although such attempts must come with caveats. The fieldwork was conducted by local organisations (sometimes partnered with others from the EUNPACK team). The premise behind using local researchers was that local actors are usually best-placed to access and understand local institutions and narratives. Of course, we were aware of the opportunities and challenges associated with insider and outsider statuses but, on balance, calculated that local researchers would have many advantages in relation to gatekeeping, access and context. While EUNPACK sought to have an overarching analytical framework (as outlined in the next chapter) this could not be too rigid given local circumstances. Thus, in consultation with local project partners some methods were modified (e.g., the terminology used in questionnaires) to suit particular cases.

Structure of the book

All of the chapters touch on conceptual issues (many discussed above) and draw on original primary material.

The book starts by presenting its analytical and conceptual framework in Chapter 2. Here, the authors are investigating the possibilities inherent in crisis response. By developing a framework that identifies, explains and illustrates four potential levels of crisis intervention, Pogodda, Richmond and Mac Ginty demonstrate the limitations of the pervasive concept of crisis management. Indeed, it is seen as the least advanced of all levels of intervention, as its ambitions are limited to containing the crisis. Instead, the authors argue, crisis resolution, crisis transformation and its critical variant would be better suited to accommodate the normative ambitions of EU foreign policy, while also providing more useful approaches to the crisis. This means that crises needed to be seen as a long-term dynamic requiring strategies more normally associated with peacebuilding, because conflict management cannot be maintained after the short term without political progress. After all, crisis management is limited to shielding the EU from the effects of a crisis, but does not engage with the root causes of instability, conflict or other man-made disasters. While different chapters show how the complex interaction of member states’ interests, external interference and the tensions between different EU institutions ultimately limit the standard EU response to mere containment, Bøås, Drange, Ala’Aldeen, Cissé and Suroush (Chapter 6, this volume) agree that crisis management has ultimately failed and needs to be replaced with a transformatory approach in order to avoid further erosion of the EU’s legitimacy.

Crucial to understanding the EU’s crisis response mechanisms and actions is the fact that the EU does not act unilaterally. Instead, it is merely one of a number of multilateral and transnational actors that are often at work in conflict-affected and humanitarian settings. As Debuysere and Blockmans observe in their chapter, the EU strives towards a comprehensive approach, covering all cycles of a crisis and coordinating the response of all EU institutions (as set out in the 2016 EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy). Yet attempts to integrate all aspects of the EU crisis response system into a comprehensive approach seems complicated by there being a crowded field of actors, and the fact that formal, elite, state-level and regional actors are favoured over social movements, citizens and local frameworks of legitimacy. Moreover, the attentions and resources of member states are divided between their own national strategies, the EU, the UN and other international organisations (e.g. NATO or OSCE). This has implications for policy coherence. In this forcefield of coordination, the integration of local partners is normally deprioritised. Debuysere and Blockmans show a range of challenges facing the EU in its attempts to construct and maintain a coherent stance. These include the sheer variety of crises facing the EU, varying understandings of conflict sensitivity by EU personnel and the difficulty of including national stakeholders in most phases of the policy cycle. Their chapter points to the limitations of determining conflict sensitivity via the perspective of elites, states and institutional viewpoints. It offers an organisational and institutional logic that places the EU in relation to ‘conflict sensitivity’ rather than conflict-affected societies. This presents a historical and political problem for the EU’s aim to become more conflict-sensitive.

Raineri and Strazzari (Chapter 8, this volume) investigate the crisis which has proven to be at the heart of recent EU crisis response in its neighbourhood and extended neighbourhood: the migration crisis of 2015. Here, the intertwining of external and internal crises has limited the ambitions of crisis response abroad. ‘Constructive ambiguity’, that diplomatic tool derived from the geopolitical balance of power, they argue has helped the EU to bridge consensus gaps across different configurations of interests and fears. However, the resulting realist approach to the crises in the EU’s neighbourhood was focused predominantly on the containment of irregular migration. Moreover, they show how the ‘othering’ that emerged from the discursive construction of the migration crisis overrides the relationship between proximity and normativity, which had traditionally characterised EU engagement outside of the internal market.

The chapter by Osland and Peter examines EU activities in the Western Balkans over a two-decade period and thus is able to show the evolution of EU strategy over time. It shows, with particular reference to the EU’s rule-of-law support programme in Kosovo (EULEX), how the often benign intentions of the EU to move towards a conflict transformation agenda were thwarted by short-termism (see also Davis, 2015, on short-termism in a different context). The result was that policies and actions usually fell within the conflict management paradigm. Indeed, the case study bears out much of the wider story of the book. The case is one of a slide towards securitisation over the longer term aimed more at preserving the core than assisting the periphery, perpetuating negative forms of peace. There is also evidence of miscommunication between local and external parties with all sides harbouring suspicions of the other, or narratives developing about the other based on a lack of complete information, and problems of coordination within the EU itself. The proximity of the Western Balkans to the EU also makes this a controversial case and explains the tendency towards conflict transformation approaches, at least in the earlier part of the period (Shepherd, 2010).

The study by Peters, Ferhatovic, Heinemann and Sturm on EU crisis response in Afghanistan, Iraq and Mali reflects upon the effectiveness of the EU as a crisis response actor and raises questions about the nature of effectiveness and how we might go about measuring it. The chapter focuses on Security Sector Reform (SSR) and its comparative approach – across three cases – allowing a broad view of EU responses. The chapter is able to draw on EU and organisational studies and thus covers key topics like the actorness of the EU (what sort of actor is it) and the perceptions of international organisations (see also Rieker and Blockmans, 2019). One factor that shines through from the chapter are the disparities between strategy as set out in EU documents, and on-the-ground realities of how those strategies are manifest and perceptions of those strategies in case study countries. The chapter shows that mission mandates and core EU documents show a consistency from the EU in relation to SSR strategy. While core documents might show that the EU remains ‘on message’ in terms of key principles, there is not always institutional coherence across EU institutions, within EU institutions and with member states. This becomes manifest in attempts to translate policy into tasks especially when beholden to a claim to be producing comprehensive responses. Programmes and projects do not always reflect the original intentions of those who designed them. What becomes clear from the chapter, and in keeping with the overall argument of the book, is that EU crisis response has seen an increasing emphasis on stabilisation and securitisation – something that is not lost on host populations.

This stakeholder analysis is also found in the chapter by Rieker and Gjerde who examined more than seventy thousand press releases from the European Commission (EC) and the Council of the European Union to produce an official narrative on EU crisis response. They then compared this official narrative with perceptions in target countries, breaking this down in terms of proximity to the EU: the enlargement area (Kosovo/Serbia), the neighbourhood area (Ukraine, Syria, Libya) and the extended neighbourhood (Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali). They place their examination in the context of the EU’s foreign policy repertoire, or the total sum of foreign policy instruments at its disposal at any given point. Rieker and Gjerde’s mix of qualitative and quantitative work shows a spatial differentiation in EU crisis response stances and actions. They find a shift towards a greater focus on security rather than integration in the enlargement area and in the neighbourhood area; and an increase in a harder security agenda in the ‘extended neighbourhood’ region – especially in the Mali crisis, which is closest to the EU; but also to some extent in Afghanistan and to a lesser extent in Iraq. Another key finding is the general lack of understanding of the local situation, and poor conflict sensitivity, both of which are likely to limit the impact of EU crisis response. This indicates that the EU has not yet implemented a crisis response approach that can be characterised by crisis transformation.

Concluding thoughts

The EU was formed partly in view of the post-war logic of delegating conflict management – and later peacebuilding – to regional actors, as in the UN Charter’s Chapter VIII. During the 1990s and into the 2000s as the UN’s peacebuilding agendas became more multidimensional and were applied across the Global South and the Balkans, it was apparent that the EU was following suit in its near abroad (Kappler, 2014). It was for the first time now able to fulfil its role in this respect. The peacebuilding framework was a logical outgrowth of the EU’s place in the UN and international system, its normative identity and its needs to address political instability, violence and war on its periphery.

The frameworks that it developed initially followed the UN’s paradigm of liberal peacebuilding, adopting a more active stance not just on issues of democratisation and human rights, but on development, the rule of law and civil society. In other words, it moved from a limited conflict management towards the more expansive conflict resolution or conflict transformation stances. The EU became a major diplomatic, donor and peacebuilding actor around the world, with all of the engagements this entailed. This rapid expansion, however, drew it into serious external conflicts and underlined its deep limitations, which where both material and normative, and reflected the growing gap between the development of sophisticated policy (Tocci, 2014) and Eurocentric self-interest (which also has led to tensions within the internal process of integration). The EU’s presence had a powerful appeal, despite its security deficiencies because of its normative alignment that was appreciated among conflict-affected societies as being anti-war, in support of democracy, human rights and civil society, as an ambitious donor and because its diplomacy appeared to check predatory political elites.

Criticism of the deficiencies of EU policy engagement and their alignment with its internal normative framework, but most notable in their security dimensions, soon appeared. They perhaps spurred the EU’s interest in the obvious lacuna of crisis management (previously a prerogative of great powers and the UN Security Council). Thus began a journey into a conceptual and policy dead-end, one well known in European, Cold War history. Crisis management was to become a retraction in practice (though not on paper) of the democracy, rights and civil society elements of EU engagement, in favour of its even more limited security capacity. As many of the chapters in this book show, the retreat into more securitised and limited foreign policy activities meant a reduction of the organisation’s normative ambitions to make peace. These were already under criticism for a tendency to revert to Eurocentric understandings of political order and geopolitics over a more detailed understanding of the political claims of subalterns outside of the EU and indeed the West. The EU fell into a trap, partly of its own making, this suggests.

A longstanding lesson of international history has been that the rationality of political order and the crises state-like organisations face tends to make crisis management incompatible with the social and political advances the EU was mainly associated with. An interest in conflict sensitivity, local data and political claims in conflict-affected societies around the EU’s periphery has followed a similar path. The chapters in this study show that, through its different logics of securitisation, institutionalism, supranationalism, integration, liberalism and ethnography, it remains trapped in a near-nineteenth-century, Eurocentric logic of geopolitical balancing, underestimating the risks of peripheral wars via short-termism and self-interest.

Strategies of conflict sensitivity thus appear expedient, much like UN policies for local ownership. The EU crisis management framework cannot bridge the gap between geopolitics and the preservation of core institutions, states and their borders, with inequalities, human rights, democratisation and development in conflict-affected countries. The attempt to produce a more critical understanding of crisis engagement the EU has implicitly engaged in in order to provide a platform for peace and security, has muddied the waters between peacebuilding and crisis management, and been deflected towards inwards concerns about preserving integration. This study has shown how this move, rather than filling the gap between peace and crisis, co-opted more sophisticated EU peacebuilding, development and association ambitions, returning them to short-term stabilisation measures, themselves barely successful and rarely locally legitimate. This has produced a political void to some degree in many of our case studies, in which crisis management actually means stabilisation before withdrawal (in line with first-generation UN peacekeeping doctrine, which had to be abandoned in the 1960s because wars tended to restart upon withdrawal). It risks becoming a prelude to further conflict.


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