EU Approach to Conflict and Crisis in ME. MERI Forum 16, S7

In this panel

Morten Bøås, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Norway
Steven Blockmans, Centre for European Policy Studies, Belgium
Tine Gade, Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, Norway
Athanasios Manis, Middle East Research Institute (Chair)

This is a summary of the panel discussion, please find the full video of the debates and Q&A above.

This panel sheds light on the ongoing research conducted in the European Union Horizon 2020 project (EUNPACK) related to the EU’s role in the Middle East. The main question addressed was how and to what extent the EU crisis response mechanisms have been designed to enable responses that are sensitive to the political and social context in the different crisis areas? The project takes a comprehensive approach that covers the whole crisis cycle, the full EU toolbox, and the EU ability to respond to different types of crisis in different regions. This allows analyses of the EU approach, how it is implemented and how EU crisis-management policies can be improved. The panel aimed to focus on EU involvement and support to state-building, good governance and the rule of law, as well as the fight against IS and humanitarian assistance. Moreover, the EU’s political and economic dealings with non-state and sub-state actors such as the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) was assessed.

Athanasios Manis began the panel by presenting the EUNPACK research project which MERI is involved in along with various other partners. The study aims to identify the gap between implementation and local perceptions of EU assistance to Iraq and the region.

Morten Bøås then focused on the MENA geopolitical order post-ISIS suggesting that “no matter the outcome of the Mosul offensive there will be a new geopolitical order in the Middle East”. Using Clapham’s (1998) framework of degrees of statehood, he suggested that institutions such as the EU will have to learn to relate to new hybrid regimes, sometimes involving fragile or illegitimate states. He argued that there was a need for a conflict sensitive and holistic approach by the EU and that “it is important for international actors to understand the complexities on the ground”.

Steven Blockmans argued that a principled pragmatic approach was the most realistic approach to EU foreign policy. Although he acknowledged that “the EU is conscious of its weakened position on the world stage”, he suggested that “the US cannot help to solve these issues [in the Middle East] by themselves, but with the help of the EU they have a chance”. He presented the EU as a trusted institution which can back and engage actors including Saudi Arabia and Iran at various levels to help tackle their current zero-sum dynamic.

Finally, Tine Gade discussed the EU’s work in counterterrorism. After outlining some of the EU’s counterterror work in the region, for example technical support and non-binding resolutions, she examined various causes of jihadi radicalisation: grievances, ideology, networks, and geo-strategy, suggesting that “we need to understand the causes of radicalisation in order to develop policy”. Following this, she highlighted some of the “many political dilemmas” that the EU must face in their counterterrorism strategy, for example their relation with Saudi Arabia, the Assad regime, and the difficult of reassuring Gulf states without risking the Iran Deal.

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