The EU’s Integrated Approach to Crisis Response: Learning from the UN, NATO and OSCE

This empirical analysis critiques the EU Integrated Approach to External Conflicts and Crises, a strategic concept meant to coordinate the various civilian and military actors for enhanced effectiveness in crisis management. The authors empirically analyse the EU Integrated Approach with some comparison to the other organisations, and draw out four problems: difficulties in multilateral coordination; too much focus on EU institutions, thus undermining local ownership; insufficient conflict sensitivity; and excessive focus on migration control at the expense of other values and interests.

Though this study nominally compares the EU Integrated Approach to similar models with other intergovernmental organisations, its primary thrust is an empirical analysis of the EU Integrated Approach, and produces valuable criticism for EU policymakers

The first issue it draws out is that, though EU has better internal cohesion than an entity like the OSCE, it still has issues with conducting effective multilateralism. For instance, some of its members not recognising Kosovo despite the rule of law mission stationed there, which prevents a clear institutional logic from taking shape. Difficulties within the EU structure can compound with external issues among other actors in the mission field, as in Iraq and Afghanistan where the US, positioned itself as the unilateral gatekeeper of all other international actors. A poorly coordinated international environment is felt by host countries, as judicial workers in Kosovo were said to be suffering from "training fatigue" due to an excess of training providers that did not coordinate with each other. 

The second problem faced by the Integrated Approach is insufficient local ownership. Conceptually, the Integrated Approach focuses on EU actors and activities, and though internal cohesion is important, it also requires inclusion of local actors in each environment, and can founder on a lack of strong local institutions. In the case of Mali, the EU works with the state and international actors, but not with lower-level community actors, leading to an on-the-ground information deficit on EU activities and goals. In Afghanistan, the EU supported Afghan-led projects, but the absence of strong institutions on the national level meant these activities had little staying power. 

These ownership issues feed into the next problem: lack of conflict sensitivity, meaning an awareness of the varied actors and interests involved in conflict and how interventions interact with them on-the-ground. The EU does publish documents on the importance of conflict sensitivity, but evidence from Libya, Afghanistan, Mali, and Iraq does not support that it is effectively practiced. Without conflict sensitivity, funds are embezzled by corrupt officials or diverted to state-affiliated militias who perpetrate war crimes, thus rendering even attempts at local ownership irrelevant. This is contrasted with the OSCE, which specifically targets its integration efforts around enhancing conflict sensitivity.

As a cause of this trouble with the EU's relationship to local actors, the researchers cite the fourth problem: the EU gives far too much weight to the operational goal of controlling migration, and so mission activities aim at controlling borders and rather than resolving the conflicts within them. This self-interested approach is contrasted with the UN, which is more values-focused in its own activities. The overall picture the analysis illustrates is that of a one-size-fits-all approach to crisis management that struggles with multilateral coordination and pursues EU goals at the expense of local needs.  

Reference: Debuysere, L. & Blockmans, S. (2021). The EU's integrated approach to crisis response: learning from the UN, NATO and OSCE. The EU and crisis response, 86-114. DOI: 


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