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Accountability and added value in EU security and defence activities

Carolyn Moser, one of the two 2020 ECA Award winners. Source: Carolyn Moser.

2020 ECA Award winner

Carolyn Moser is one of the two winners of the 2020 ECA Award, with EU added value as the theme, for her book Accountability in EU Security and Defence — The Law and Practice of Peacebuilding. In her book she looks closely at the accountability framework in EU security and defence policy, an area for which intergovernmental cooperation is key. Her research shows that through coordinated and coherent decision-making the EU could grow as a substantial player in peacebuilding activities, thereby providing added value at EU level. Carolyn Moser has trained in both law and political science and holds an interdisciplinary PhD . She currently heads the research group ‘borderlines’ at the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. Below she gives us some insights into the key issues of her book.

By Carolyn Moser, Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International, Heidelberg

Diving deep into international peace and security

What is actually the EU’s contribution to international peace and security? I remember asking myself this question as a postgraduate student back in 2009 when attending a course on peace operations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. Peacekeeping being by and large a UN business, the literature about UN efforts was abundant, while almost nothing had been written about the EU’s ‘blue helmets’. I therefore decided to dig a little deeper and explore the EU’s way of doing peacebuilding in a term paper. This term paper marked the beginning of an intense academic journey that culminated years later in the publication of my book Accountability in EU Security and Defence — The Law and Practice of Peacebuilding with Oxford University Press (2020).

Accountability flaws and merits of EU peacebuilding

In my book I offer the first comprehensive study of the law and practice of accountability concerning the EU’s peacebuilding endeavours, a still understudied area of EU external action. Given the burgeoning integration and operational track record of the Union’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), in particular its civilian dimension that accounts for two-thirds of its activities, this negligence is surprising. Since 2003, the EU has launched more than twenty civilian missions under the CSDP framework in conflict-torn regions in Europe, Africa, and Asia with the aim of restoring stability and security. Currently, some 2000 experts — including lawyers, police and customs officers, as well as security sector specialists — serve in eleven ongoing civilian crisis management missions, as the activities are termed in EU jargon. Their mandates cover a broad range of tasks, such as rule of law support, police training, law enforcement capacity building, border monitoring, and security sector reform.

Yet, judging by the growing number of governance issues and management incidents from the field, the Union’s civilian missions suffer from serious institutional and procedural shortcomings related to accountability. This, in turn, begs the salient question: who is accountable (to whom) for the EU’s manifold extraterritorial peacebuilding activities. To answer this question, the book employs an interdisciplinary method that combines legal analysis with political science tools: next to an in-depth study of legal sources, the research also draws on semi-structured interviews and case studies.

My inquiry into accountability arrangements of a political, legal, and administrative nature, in the intricate setting of civilian missions, leads to the following conclusion: when scrutinising the institutional and procedural framework set out by law, the accountability assessment is sobering, but when approaching it from a practice angle, the verdict is promising — in particular as regards accountability at EU level.

Indeed, my core finding is that while there is a considerable accountability deficit existing in law, this deficit has incrementally been countered by practice. Several EU players — notably the European Parliament, the Court of Justice of the EU, the European Ombudsman, and the European Court of Auditors — have through practice significantly increased parliamentary scrutiny, judicial review, and administrative oversight in civilian CSDP. In addition, the civilian crisis management structures themselves have — also due to outside pressure — modified internal processes and institutional arrangements to improve framework conditions, notably regarding administrative issues. As a result of this de facto readjustment of accountability, checks and balances are stronger at EU than at Member State level, and individuals have de facto better — even though not perfect — judicial and administrative redress options at the supranational level.

Three-fold EU added value

This leads us to EU added value in engaging in peacebuilding, which is in my opinion three-fold. The first dimension of EU added value relates to the international impact of EU peacebuilding. Even if the EU’s contribution to global peacekeeping efforts implemented under the UN umbrella remains comparatively modest in numbers — both in terms of staff deployed and budget spent — the Union’s peacebuilding activities undeniably carry a significant political weight: many stakeholders view them as particularly ‘high profile’ expressions of the Union’s political and security commitments. What is more, EU peacebuilding is said to considerably help to stabilise crisis zones and, in this way, to prevent further deadly conflicts from erupting. Although civilian missions tend to fly under the public radar, they provide the EU with a truly unique and effective external action tool. Through a range of activities, these missions pursue a long-term perspective, that is the consolidation of the conditions necessary for sustainable peace in a post-conflict environment, and thereby offer both the EU and host states a distinctive tool for crisis stabilisation and conflict prevention. Hence, the EU contributes to global stability and security by engaging in a panoply of CSDP activities, most of which are civilian in nature.

The second dimension of EU added value concerning peacebuilding lies in the beneficial bundling of resources at EU level. Civilian crisis management is essentially a joint endeavour by EU Member States: the planning, steering, and implementation of these missions is in the hands of a dedicated and highly specialised Brussels-based bureaucracy that national governments have incrementally bestowed with functions along the entire crisis management cycle. The book therefore advances the claim that most Member States would not possess the necessary peacebuilding know-how or ministerial structures and would therefore not be able to provide civilian crisis management expertise to the international community on their own. In other words, the book underscores that EU peacebuilding missions are delivered more economically, efficiently, and effectively under the EU framework than by Member States acting alone.

The third aspect of EU added value in the realm of peacebuilding is about fostering governance standards. Many observers regularly deplore the EU’s seemingly deficient governance system, which is said to lead to a democratic deficit or, even worse, a lack of legitimacy.

However, the book quashes the received wisdom about a (general) lack of accountability in and by the EU. It clearly demonstrates that the Union actually scores higher than its Member States when it comes to peacebuilding: there is more parliamentary oversight, more judicial review, and more administrative scrutiny at EU level than in most Member State systems. This finding might come as a surprise to (EU) sceptics who tend to believe that national constitutional frameworks offer higher governance standards. Yet, at the national level, the dominance of executive players in security and defence — especially in civilian crisis management — is hardly ever challenged. The same cannot be said for the EU, whose institutions have found the codified framework inappropriate and have therefore — through practice — significantly improved accountability arrangements in civilian CSDP. In my book I thus conclude that the EU is far better than her reputation, also when it comes to accountability in sensitive policy areas.

In sum, in my book I offer a three-fold response to the question of the EU’s contribution to international security:

  • in addition to providing crisis stabilisation and conflict prevention, EU peacebuilding activities;
  • offer gains in terms of efficiency, effectiveness, and expenses as they bundle expertise and resources, and
  • set higher governance standards thanks to the quest for accountability by EU institutions.

With this I hope to offer important insights that should inform both academic debates and policy discussions on EU security and defence activities, hopefully leading to further improvements in EU activities in this policy area.

This article was first published on the 3/2020 issue of the ECA Journal. The contents of the interviews and the articles are the sole responsibility of the interviewees and authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Court of Auditors.

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