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Enhancing the EU’s Civilian Missions


Late last year member states agreed to reform the EU’s civilian CSDP missions. While there is potential, slow decision-making and a lack of engagement threaten to undermine these efforts, as tough decisions loom.

© REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Over the past 15 years, the European Union has undertaken many overseas civilian missions as part of its Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). For instance, the largest mission so far has been the EU Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX Kosovo), which has helped the country build an independent judiciary and law enforcement institutions and even carries out some executive functions. A more recently deployed mission is the EU Capacity Building Mission in Mali (EUCAP Sahel Mali), which trains and advises the country’s internal security forces.

With the number of crises around the world growing, the EU decided last year that it was time to take stock and discuss much-needed changes to the instrument. The Global Strategy of 2016 had set new priorities for the EU’s external action, which made a strategic refocusing of its instruments necessary. Long-standing issues hampering the missions’ effectiveness, such as understaffing, also needed to be tackled. The aim was to make civilian missions more capable, more effective, and to increase the often low engagement from member states.

As the result of a one-year process, in November 2018, all the member states finally agreed on 22 political commitments, taking the form of a Civilian CSDP Compact (CCC), to be implemented by the summer of 2023. If successful, many of these solutions could transform the civilian CSDP.

Traditional Focus, Greater Flexibility

First, on the strategic level, member states have reaffirmed the traditional strategic focus of the civilian CSDP on policing, rule of law, support of civil administration as well as security sector reform and monitoring. Although missions can now also contribute to addressing new security challenges abroad, such as irregular migration, terrorism, and organized crime, this general affirmation of the traditional focus should help to maintain the character of civilian CSDP as an instrument responding to local needs in partnership with host countries.

Second, when it comes to decision-making, the CCC introduced the possibility of flexible mandates, which could be a gamechanger for civilian missions: They could adapt to developments on the ground by increasing or decreasing the number of personnel, or by adding and taking away mission components. Also, this new flexibility could increase the tactical autonomy of heads of missions, thereby helping to limit the member states’ micromanagement in everyday mission conduct. Another important aspect, when it comes to decision-making, is that the CCC foresees an effort to foster cooperation between different instruments and programs of external action. This is important to strengthen the EU’s self-declared trademark when it comes to its engagement abroad, the integrated approach.

Strengthening Responsiveness

As a third dimension, member states have identified the key challenge of strengthening the quantity and quality of civilian personnel for missions. In terms of quantities, the low level of engagement by member states in civilian CSDP in the last years was reflected in the steadily decreasing number of personnel sent into mission (called seconded personnel, in contrast to personnel directly contracted by the EU). In order to reverse this trend, member states now want to increase the share of secondments from the current 59 percent to 70 percent. With another target aiming at quantities, member states plan to raise the number of experts on the Core Responsiveness Capacity—the closest in civilian CSDP to a standing capacity, deployable within days—from 30 to 50. They also plan to build a new capacity of 200 personnel, deployable within 30 days. Both measures could strengthen responsiveness and quick reaction.

Concerning the quality of personnel, a key issue will be the fostering of cooperation and coordination among member states in recruitment and training. Also, national structures must be reviewed and improved. Therefore, all member states will draft individual National Implementation Plans (NIPs) by the fall of 2019 to sketch how they will implement the compact commitments with reference to national capacities.

More Engagement Needed

With all these important commitments, the CCC has laid the groundwork for professionalizing further the EU’s civilian missions. Nevertheless, success is not a given, as two important issues are unresolved: first, decision-making in the civilian CSDP remains complicated. And second, it is still doubtful if the current momentum can lead to an increased long-term political engagement of a larger share of member states.

While decision-making was a topic of debate, member states were unable achieve anything beyond a general commitment to improvement. In the past, it often took months to come to an agreement among the 28 EU members to deploy a new mission. Unlike peacekeeping deployments by other organizations like the United Nations, EU missions require the member states to take several decisions before deployment and a lot of them during the mission as well. So far, most member states have not shown a great willingness to give away competences. This has led to something close to stalemate in recent years.

Tough Decisions Lie Ahead

While there is no shortage of crises in the EU’s neighborhood, it is important to note that the number of new civilian missions deployed has decreased dramatically since 2010. Responsiveness in secondment and flexible mandates are of little use, if the decision-making structures among member states are rigid and slow. Therefore, EU member states must seriously explore the range of options available to improve decision-making. From Qualified Majority Voting to the idea of a European Security Council or smaller EU coalitions supporting particular missions, all possible options should be tested for advantages, risks, and workability.

But ultimately, the best way to strengthen civilian missions as an instrument is sustained political engagement from member states. In the past, the lack of relevance attributed to the civilian CSDP by many member states was the biggest obstacle to improvement. It was, therefore, an encouraging sign that all EU member states took part in the Compact process.

Nevertheless, how many member states will truly make an effort is unclear. Tough decisions lie ahead in the second half of 2019, for example the decision on a process design for the new annual civilian capability review. Also, they must decide whether to make use of the new mandate flexibility right away, for example when possibly setting up a civilian mission in the Central African Republic later this year. Member states should aim high. To continue to rely on the smallest common denominators will no longer work.