21st Feb 2024


EU 'security and aid' mantra: Hollow words?

  • Cairo protester: The Court of Auditors has criticised EU aid spending in Egypt (Photo: gregg.carlstrom)

Numerous EU documents have said security must be coupled with development as a guiding principle for the Union's external action.

The 2003 European Security Strategy and the 2012 Agenda for Change - the EU's security and development bibles - promise to enhance coherence between development co-operation, humanitarian aid, and the common security and defence policies (CSDP and CFSP).

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It is more than mere rhetoric.

In recent years, we have seen the EU roll out an impressive range of new funds, such as the Instrument for Stability or the African Peace Facility, as well as new institutions, not least the European External Action Service (EEAS), in this regard.

It holds great potential. But at the same time it runs a great risk of EU policies working at cross-purposes or delivering counterproductive results

In Egypt, the Court of Auditors' report of 18 June paints a bleak picture of EU confusion.

The court says the European Commission and the EEAS allocated a budget of approximately €1 billion in aid between 2007 and 2013, without tackling the country's endemic corruption and poor human rights record.

Criticism of the EU's dubious relations with the regime of former president Hosni Mubarak is not new.

But the report shows nothing was done to address the shortcomings after Mubarak's fall in early 2011, meaning that EU money, in effect, entrenched Egypt's problems.

The court makes clear that it is impossible to isolate development co-operation from political concerns.

The Egyptian army's later overthrow of former president Mohamed Morsi and the violence that continues to unfold on Egypt's streets also underline the need to evolve EU diplomacy in order for it to become an influential actor in neighbourhood crises.

Another instructive example is the EU's work on disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of former combatants in post-conflict societies, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo or Libya.

The EU has booked good progress in the first two elements, but the reintegration aspect is considerably more difficult.

This risks creating a pool of disarmed, unemployed and frustrated ex-soldiers who could seriously undermine stability.

One simple problem, is that, for all its fine words on joint-up policies, the way the EU institutions crave up their turf, works against EU doctrine: the European Commission does the main EU-level work on development and humanitarian aid, while the EEAS and EU member states do intergovernmental work on security building.

As a result, we see improvisation, duplication, fragmentation and inter-institutional tension.

Looking back to 2005, the Council and the Commission even ended up before the Court of Justice in Luxembourg in a dispute on whether disarmament support to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a development or a CFSP measure.

Disputes like this make a mockery of the EU's big promises.

The Lisbon Treaty in 2010 created the possibility to move beyond the ad hoc approach by creating the EEAS and giving it some degree of competence over development as well as security policy.

But the intricacies of so-called inter-service agreements show that treaty change does not automatically yield results.

The EEAS "guides" and "steers" development "strategy," but the commission still decides which cheques to sign.

The Court of Auditor's Egypt report shows that the advent of the EEAS is no panacea.

For its part, the Council already in 2007 tasked the Commission and the Council Secretariat with drafting an action plan on "Security, Fragility and Development."

It is supposed to set out a strategic vision, co-ordination mechanisms and a detailed allocation of tasks.

It is more necessary than ever to have such a blueprint in the EEAS era.

Without it and without its implementation, the EU mantra that "all good things" - security and development - "should go together" risk being hollow words.

Hans Merket is a fellow at the University of Ghent, currently working at the Ethiopian Civil Service University in Addis Ababa


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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