The EU and conflict prevention: some problems of the development track

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Lister, M. (2000), "The EU and conflict prevention: some problems of the development track", European Business Review, Vol. 12 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

The EU and conflict prevention: some problems of the development track

The EU and conflict prevention: some problems of the development track

Marjorie Lister

Dr Marjorie Lister is a Lecturer in European-Third World Relations at the University of Bradford, UK.

Keywords: European Union, Conflict

The on-going negotiations for the Convention to replace LomÉ IV, which began at the end of September 1998, will be likely to add conflict prevention for the first time as one of the areas for European Union (EU) cooperation with the 71 African, Caribbean Pan Pacific (ACP) States. On the one hand, this addition is in keeping with the international community's growing sensitiveness to the problems of conflicts in areas like the Horn and Central Africa, and it is also in keeping with the tradition of expanding EU-ACP cooperation into more and more areas of activity such as environmental, gender and democracy programmes.

However, on the other hand, everybody agrees that one of the key faults of the LomÉ system (along with the difficulties of conceptualizing the "partnership" supposed to be at its heart) is its excessive complexity. This complexity militates against the Conventions being either comprehensible, easy to administer or particularly effective (Maxwell, 1998). Despite this, conflict prevention seems to be very much on the post-LomÉ agenda.

Using the EU's development policy, particularly the renegotiated post-LomÉ Convention for a "development track" approach to conflict-related activities raises a number of issues or problems:

  1. 1.

    The EU's track record of international conflict prevention is not very good. The EU's humanitarian interest in the serious problems of developing country conflicts, many of which have some kind of connection with European colonialism, is to be welcomed. But the EU's ability to contribute to the solution of these conflicts may be limited. While the EU has aspired to conflict prevention in conflicts from Bosnia to Chechnya and Algeria, its success rate has been low. In the Middle East peace process, for instance, the EU is a very secondary player to the USA. Moreover, the activities of at least one EU member state, France, are much more often discussed in terms of contributing to the 1994 conflict in Rwanda rather than solving it. This doesn't mean that the EU cannot improve its conflict prevention skills, but it might not wish to sacrifice other development activities en masse for conflict prevention.

  2. 2.

    The EU has particular difficulties related to its common foreign and security policy (CFSP). The EU may no longer be the "civilian power" it was in the 1960s, but neither has it developed the military abilities of the EU's nebulous security arm. Will the WEU then be phased out, allowing the EU to develop a full military capacity? It could be argued that the correct place for the high-risk problems of conflict resolution and conflict prevention is not in the low politics arena of EU development cooperation, but in the emergent (and potentially better funded) common foreign and security policy. The EU might wish to borrow some criteria for actively intervening in conflicts from the "just war" debates prominent in Europe through the seventeeth century. The requirements of the Ius ad bellum or the just resort to war included using war as a last resort, having a just cause, a just motive, the confidence that the war would do more good than harm, and reasonable grounds for believing the cause would be achieved (Fixdal and Smith, 1998). The last two criteria might arouse special concern in terms of EU conflict-related activities.

  3. 3.

    (3) The EU's existing development funds are limited. The Fourth LomÉ Convention bis (1995-2000) has a total of 14,965 million ecus (just over US$14,000 million) of available funds. But such levels pale into insignificance compared to the demands of financial peacemaking, as Nigeria found in supporting ECOMOG operations in Sierra Leone or in comparison to the extensive operations such as clearing landmines. The OECD estimates that this part of the conflict prevention programme alone could cost from $33 to 85,000 million US dollars. Clearly, if conflict prevention costs are to be drawn from existing development funds, there is a danger that traditional development projects in sectors ranging from education to health and rural development will be badly squeezed. Making good policies for development in poor countries, and good policies for conflict prevention is a demanding job. So far the EU has been more impressive in its rhetoric than in its development results or in the depth of its policy-making process.


Fixdal, M. and Smith, D. (1998), "Humanitarian intervention and just war", Mershon International Studies Review, Vol. 42, Supplement 2, November, pp. 283-312.

Maxwell, S. (1998), "Does European aid work? An Ethiopian case study", in Lister, M. (Ed.), European Union Development Policy, Macmillan, Basingstoke and London, St Martin's Press, New York, NY.

Related articles