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19th Jan 2019

EU could do more for peace, Ahtisaari says

The EU should be more active in peace mediation and boost its expertise in that field, former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari said on Wednesday (1 April), suggesting that setting up a European Institute for Peace could be one way to do this.

"I have been a bit surprised that the EU has been less pro-active than others in the field of international peace mediation, although it is a political machinery of negotiation and mediation," Mr Ahtisaari said at a debate in the European Parliament in Brussels.

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  • Kosovo: Mr Ahtisaari's work is largely seen as having paved the way for the independence of the former Serbian province (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU's ability to broker deals is something it should in particular make full use of, according to the diplomat.

"Very often I face the argument that the EU is not impartial, but I have to argue against that notion, because of course we have our values, our policies, but I argue that the EU can be an honest broker – I think that to be its strength," he said.

In some areas of peace mediation, however, the EU still lacks the needed expertise, he added.

"We have to develop professional expertise in mediation and also in mediation support, like the other actors in this field are doing – like the UN at the moment. And of course we have to get our decision-making working faster than it does at the moment," he said.

"We need to act quickly and swiftly, we need to [also] have technical expertise, we have to have necessary logistical support and we have to use much more reflective practices rather than conferences," he added.

Mr Ahtisaari, 71, was president of Finland from 1994 to 2000 and a UN diplomat and mediator both before and after his time as head of the Finnish state.

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October "for his important efforts, on several continents and over more than three decades, to resolve international conflicts," contributing to "a more peaceful world and to 'fraternity between nations'."

Learn from past mistakes

According to Mr Ahtisaari, one way for the EU to boost its mediation capacities, would be to follow the US example and create an Institute for Peace.

"When I look at the US system, they have created the US Institute of Peace endeavours. And I sometimes wonder why we are not yet thinking about the setting up of a European Institute for Peace," the Finnish diplomat said.

The US Institute of Peace was set up in 1984 as "an independent, nonpartisan, national institution established and funded by Congress" aiming to prevent and resolve international conflicts, as well as increase conflict management capabilities and promote post-conflict development.

In addition to boosting its expertise, a European Institute for Peace could push the EU to finally start learning from its mistakes, according to Mr Ahtisaari.

"Actually to reflect on our lessons learnt – something the EU is not particularly good at at the moment, at least in the foreign policy domain – it is interesting to note that so far we could not come up with one single ‘lessons learned' paper in terms of mediation or specific peace purposes. A European Institute for Peace could do something like this," he argued.

He explained that such an institute would be "a welcome extension" and "a logistical development" of the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) – a Paris-based agency of the EU, working to "find a common security culture for the EU, to help develop and project the common foreign and security policy, and to enrich Europe's strategic debate."

The EUISS also works as a think-tank, researching security issues relevant to the EU.

Proud of Kosovo work

Mr Ahtisaari, whose many missions throughout the world also included trying to find a mutual agreement between Belgrade and Pristina to the issue of Kosovo's independence, said he was "proud" of his work in Kosovo.

"Did I open the Pandora's box? No. I am still very proud about my team's work on Kosovo. If we hadn't done what we did, I would hate to be a European," Mr Ahtisaari said.

Mr Ahtisaari was appointed as the UN's special envoy to Kosovo in 2005. He favoured independence for the then breakaway Serbian province, but could not get the two sides to agree on his proposal, with Belgrade categorically opposing an independent Kosovo to this day.

Kosovo eventually declared unilateral independence from Serbia on 17 February 2008, with the plan put forward by Mr Ahtisaari in February 2007 largely seen as having opened the way for this to happen.

On Wednesday, the diplomat again stressed that it "was clear from the first moment" when he started working on Kosovo that its return to Serbia was "not a viable option."

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