Many factors contribute to conflict – poverty, economic stagnation, uneven distribution of resources, weak social structures, lack of good governance, systematic discrimination, oppression of minorities, the destabilising effects of refugee flows, ethnic antagonism, religious and cultural intolerance, social injustice and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and small arms. To control these factors and ensure that they do not lead to conflict, the Commission has drawn up a list of potential causes of conflict to monitor.

The EU Communication is divided into three sections referring to the Commission’s priorities: long-term prevention, short-term prevention and enhanced international cooperation. An annex contains a list of recommendations for the three priorities.

Long-term prevention: projecting stability

As a promoter of integration, the EU has for decades maintained special relations with its neighbours, which have helped to maintain a high level of stability and prosperity. This regional cooperation has not stopped at the EU’s borders, and could also serve as an example to bodies such as Mercosur, the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) and the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), which already receive EU support.

Trade is an important aspect of cooperation and development and contributes to conflict prevention. Through the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP), the EU facilitates access to the European market for most products from developing countries. The system is based on tariff preferences at variable rates, accompanied by trade-related capacity building. Since February 2001, the Everything but Arms initiative has given duty-free access to the European market, without quotas, to all products from the least developed countries (LDCs) other than arms. These preferences may be suspended if a country’s political situation deteriorates.

Conflict prevention must be incorporated in cooperation programmes, since violent conflict rarely springs out of nowhere, but is the result of a gradual deterioration. Development policy and cooperation programmes are therefore effective instruments for dealing with the root causes of conflict. Their emphasis is on reducing poverty.

It is, however, not enough for the EU to be a major supplier of aid to the world. It’s approach must also be integrated, i.e. take account of each country’s specific conditions while seeking sustainable or structural stability, as in Salvador and Guatemala.

Country strategy papers (CSP) are an essential part of this integrated approach. They include an evaluation of potential conflict using the indicators referred to above. Conflict prevention measures will thus be incorporated in the cooperation programmes of countries with obvious risk factors.

For sustainable stability and conflict prevention, a healthy macroeconomic environment is also necessary. The Commission therefore provides financial support for appropriate economic reform programmes in highly indebted poor countries (HIPC).

A democratic deficit goes hand in hand with the potential for conflict. Countries at risk therefore tend to have a poorly developed democratic process, making external support difficult to implement. To support democracy, the rule of law and civil society, the EU conducts operations in the fields of transition, democratic elections, civil and political rights, freedom of expression and of the media, good governance, the development of civil society and gender equality. Particular emphasis will be placed on support to electoral processes, parliamentary activities and the administration of justice.

Measures to support security reforms (police, armed forces, etc.) and specific measures for post-conflict situations are also necessary. The latter include demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration (DDR), demining operations, particular attention to children affected by armed conflict, and measures to promote the reconciliation process.

A third aspect of long-term prevention is more effective handling of cross-cutting issues such as drugs, small arms, the management of natural resources, environmental degradation, communicable diseases, massive population flows, human trafficking and private-sector interests in unstable areas. The Communication gives examples of EU initiatives to combat the negative impact of these practices and explains the importance for conflict prevention of eliminating them. Private businesses in unstable areas have a responsibility in terms of a country’s socio-economic development and also in terms of their possible contribution to maintaining, or even creating, structural causes of conflict. Guidelines therefore encourage businesses to behave more responsibly. This includes respect for the human rights of local people, and non-interference in the political process.

Short-term prevention: reacting rapidly to incipient conflicts

In parallel with the long-term strategy, early-warning and rapid reaction capacity is also needed. Two classic EU instruments, of which optimal use must be made, are emergency economic assistance and election observers. It also has political and diplomatic instruments at its disposal, such as political dialogue, Special Representatives and the use of sanctions. In its recommendations the Commission proposes making political dialogue more focused and flexible, giving Special Representatives the role of full mediators and using sanctions preventively as well as reactively. It also considers that the civilian and military crisis-management tools developed in the context of the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) could be used in pre-crisis scenarios.

The EU also has a Rapid Reaction Mechanism with a single financial and legal framework, which facilitates Commission action in this field.

Enhancing international cooperation on conflict prevention

The Commission considers that the “Friends of” approach, bringing together a country’s suppliers of aid, is a good method for coordinating action with partner countries in post-conflict situations. Prevention also occupies an important place in the EU’s dialogue with industrialised countries.

In terms of international organisations, the Commission advocates enhanced cooperation with the United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions (World Bank and International Monetary Fund), the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Cooperation and Economic Development (OECD) and the G8 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States). Such cooperation will take account of the specific characteristics of each organisation.

The Commission recognises the essential role of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), particularly on the ground, and states its intention of emphasising conflict prevention in its dealings with them.


The Commission considers that the advantage of conflict prevention has been demonstrated, and is determined to mobilise Community instruments more effectively and with better coordination. It intends to direct its efforts towards:

building the objectives of peace, democracy and political and social stability more clearly into assistance programmes;
ensuring that account is taken of political and social exclusion, social and regional marginalisation and environmental degradation;
bringing added value to international initiatives on cross-cutting issues which are potential sources of conflict;
making effective use of other means such as trade and social policy;
developing new approaches and instruments.
In conclusion, the Commission states that the EU’s capacity for action is dependent on three factors: a clear definition of objectives, the capacity to act and, most importantly, the political will to act. A list of recommendations derived from the Communication is annexed.

This article is derived from European Union public sector information. EU public information is reproduced pursuant to Commission Decision of 12 December 2011 on the reuse of Commission documents (2011/833/EU) (the EU Decision).

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