Making the Case for Peacebuilding in Europe

forumZFD and PAX at the SIPRI Stockholm Peace Forum

„It is our task as civil society to raise issues of public concern. And we are indeed concerned about the state of peace and peacebuilding in Europe“, said Oliver Knabe in his opening remarks for a roundtable-session in this years Stockholm Forum of the Swedish Peace Research Institute SIPRI, that tried to outline the ingredients for a successful and inclusive peacebuilding strategy for Europe, that would include both institutional and citizen-driven approaches.

Stockholm Peace Meeting
© forumZFD

The debate was kicked off with four scenarios on the future of Europe as a peace project in 2040 [LINK], combined with a poll among the more than 100 participants from the development, humanitarian, peacebuilding and security spheres, who gave a rather negative assessment: 54% of the audience expected EU to fall apart into lose networks due to internal disagreements. Another 26% saw the EU in 2040 as a “Paranoid Android” with EU-values being increasingly disregarded, prioritising security over civil liberties focusing on military strength.

Nevertheless, Christian Danielsson, Director General for Enlargement and Neighbourhood at the European Commission, had a more optimistic view, beginning with the current crisis: he pointed to the extraordinary cooperation of EU and both Western Balkan countries and states of the Eastern Neighbourhood to fight Covid-19. Also after the recent EU-Western Balkan summit in Zagreb he saw the door “wide open” for future members from South-East-Europe, after what Vladimír Bilčík, Member of the European Parliament for the Group of European People’s Party and Raporteur for Serbia and Montengero in the EU-Parliament, called a “historic mistake”, when the EU failed to start negotiations with North-Macedonia and Albania in October 2019. Jovana Radosavljevic, Executive Director of New Social Initiative, a Kosovo-based NGO, contrasted this view, since she felt a “broad perspective” is not enough – the EU needs to be predictable and “step up its peacebuilding efforts”. She also criticized populism from leaders in the region that diminish the role of EU and make use of geopolitical interests of other actors in the region. She demanded a closer monitoring of restrictions of civil liberties during the pandemic from the EU.

Danielsson and Bilčík said that from EU side there is now clear political willingness for enlargement, at least enough to “muddle through” the further process of integration and urged the political elites to take the opportunity, fight corruption and improve administration.

Ganna Bazilo, an independent expert from Ukraine reminded the audience that in Ukraine, EU’s peacebuilding capacities is needed in an active conflict – in contrast to many frozen conflicts on the continent. In her view, clear and comprehensive communication and a local perspective are key for a successful peacbuilding from the EU as well as a coherent strategy how to deal with the Russian approach that uses both hard- and soft-power tools in the conflict.

Stella Sabiiti, UN Advisor to the African Union Network of Women in Conflict Prevention and Mediation, reminded of the ability of the EU to be a reliable partner for peace for the African Union, that helped to substantially strengthening mediation capacities. At the same time, Sabiiti made the sober analysis that the EU had neglecting its values over time, concluding: “The European Union has lost its spirit”.

For the hosts, Europe Programme Lead Dion van den Berg called upon the European Union to operationalise its peacebuilding goals like “reconciliation” and connect, for reasons of credibility, the internal challenges of upholding the European values with its external policy to promote peace and democracy.

forumZFD’s Oliver Knabe commented on the discussion: “For the EU it is not enough to point to governments in the Western Balkans to ‘do their homework’. It needs to understand and influence the societal preconditions for responsible leadership for peace. That needs dialogue with civil societyAnd this is where civil peace service comes in.”

Dutch PAX and German forumZFD both cooperate with a broad range of partners in civil society both in the Western Balkans and in Ukraine – and they have been critically accompanying the European Unions‘ development as a peacebuilding actor. Together they delivered more than 23.000 signatures to the EU-parliament supporting an appeal to “Save the European Peace Project”, urging the Union to advocate peace and human rights unconditionally.