Developing an EU strategy to address fragile states

The EU has enormous potential to address the issue of fragile states because is the world’s largest aid donor and a global trade giant, and because of the wide range of policy instruments it has at its disposal.

The European Security Strategy highlights ‘state failure’ as one of the five key threats facing Europe – along with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), terrorism, organised crime and regional conflicts. Yet while the EU has devoted considerable focus to addressing WMD and terrorism, it has paid less attention to state failure, which underpins all of these other threats.

Fragile states are those that are unable or unwilling to provide core functions – security, governance and public services – to the majority of their people. They directly undermine the EU’s security, as exemplified by the increasing threat of organised crime from the Balkans. They also undermine many of the EU’s other objectives – notably peacebuilding, poverty reduction and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. Indeed, as the recent report of the UN’s High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change points out, increasing the number of capable states is ‘the indispensable foundation of a new collective security’.

The EU has diplomatic muscle through its Common Foreign and Security Policy, and Delegations in over 120 countries, as well as an emerging European Security and Defence capability. Yet, at present, the EU does not apply its policy instruments effectively in fragile states. Building truly capable states requires that the EU places greater emphasis on tackling the structural causes of state failure. This means going beyond addressing the symptoms (e.g. via crisis management operations) and developing comprehensive approaches to a much broader range of ‘fragile’ states.