The dangers of distraction: EU crisis management beyond the euro

The case for cooperation in EU crisis management

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Syria, Libya, Mali, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen – a new generation of civil wars and humanitarian crises is emerging along Europe's southern flank. While the EU is focused on the Eurozone crisis, these crises threaten Europe's interests too: Islamist bases in Somalia and Mali, or a war-torn Syria, offer bases for future terrorist attacks.

Yet, constrained by austerity and intervention fatigue, European governments are increasingly reliant on the United Nations and organisations like the African Union and Arab League to manage the crises in its unstable periphery. Although the EU has been building up its own security structures over the last decade, it may now find it more cost-effective and politically expedient to prioritise helping these other actors manage looming threats.

In a new ECFR policy brief, Richard Gowan argues that strengthening the EU's web of partnerships with the UN and regional organisations is essential for Europe's security. The paper also suggest concrete steps how to improve the EU's role in civilian and military crisis management:

  • Flexibility: The EU should make its own crisis management missions more flexible and integrate them into the efforts of other organisations ('plug and play approach'). There is a need for a mix of conceptual steps – to build consensus for cooperation – and “learning by doing”, to see what will work on the ground.
  • Increasing the readiness of others: European officials should consider making strategic investments in sharing ideas and lessons from the EU's past experience in crisis management with new potential partners. The EU can offer partners like the Arab League 'crisis management scholarships' and help provide basic equipment.
  • EU External Action Service: The consolidation of the EEAS – and especially its delegation in countries affected by conflict – offers opportunities to strengthen the EU's partnerships with other organisations.
  • Effectiveness: The EU has a huge amount to offer other organisations dealing with crisis management. Yet interactions with external  partners have often been complicated by the complexity of the EU's institutions and practices. Streamlining internal processes and better cooperation within EU institutions is key for developing more effective partnerships with external partners.

“The EU has to what it can with its constrained resources to manage crises as they arise through whatever channels are available. In crisis management – as in many other policy areas –  the EU needs all the friends it can get.”– Richard Gowan

Contact details

Richard Gowan: [email protected], Mobile: +1 917 975 6629 twitter: @RichardGowan1

Notes for Editors

  • This paper, like all ECFR publications, represents the views of its author, not the collective position of ECFR or its Council Members. 
  • The European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) is the first pan-European think-tank. Launched in October 2007, its objective is to conduct research and promote informed debate across Europe on the development of coherent and effective European values based foreign policy.


The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.

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