1. A new journal, an opportunity to rethink
The launch of European Law Open (ELO) provides an opportunity to rethink what it means to be European, to do law and to be open, as well as the meaning of the various combinations of these words: what would it mean for European law to be open or for one to be open to European law, for law to be open to Europe or Europe to be open to law? These questions are open enough for generations of scholars to fill the virtual pages of this bold new journal. However, the founding editors have given an important clue about their own vision for responses to these questions by assigning me ‘Europe in the world’ as the general theme for an article in the opening issue: the ELO is not just open access, but also open to seeing Europe as a piece of something bigger.
Prevalent ways of seeing Europe as part of something bigger are to consider Europe, or more specifically the European Union (EU), as a role model of regional integration,Footnote 1 as an exporter of norms (‘The Brussels Effect’),Footnote 2 or as a global power that should try to keep up in a world of changing geopolitics.Footnote 3 Continuing in this tradition risks painting Europe as a special place, compared to a rather grey and unspecified rest of the world, thus reinforcing widespread, deep-seated and sometimes subconscious eurocentrism.
This article, however, is inspired by the idea that a journal that is unabashedly focused on Europe (and in that sense ‘centred on Europe’) need not be Eurocentric. Of course, to some extent this is a conceptual matter: ‘Eurocentrism’ is still subject to hegemonic contestation.Footnote 4 The purported ways to address or avoid eurocentrism therefore also point in different directions. For some, eurocentrism can be remedied by including perspectives from outside Europe to arrive at universal ideas. For others, such an exercise is still Eurocentric if the epistemology and concepts derive from Europe – universality in and of itself being one such notion. For some, countering eurocentrism is about making the centre (for instance, of knowledge production) more pluralistic; for others, it is about getting rid of any hegemonic centre.Footnote 5 For some, a key problem of eurocentrism is presenting the European experience as universal; for others, a key problem is that it is insufficiently recognised how much the European experience was shaped by encounters with the world that it considered non-European. As a result of these diverging, and sometimes antithetical, conceptualisations, opponents can accuse each other of eurocentrism, even when taking opposite standpoints.Footnote 6 The various understandings of eurocentrism also explain, for instance, how Catherine Walsh and Walter Mignolo can speak of a ‘eurocentric critique of eurocentrism’:Footnote 7 the concept of eurocentrism that characterises the critique – eurocentrism as referring to situatedness – is not the same as that which is the subject of the critique – eurocentrism referring to an assumption of superiority.
While recognising this ongoing contestation regarding the essence of eurocentrism, this article adopts the understanding of eurocentrism as a set of assumptions about the superiority of European (or ‘western’) ways of knowing and doing.Footnote 8 On the basis of this understanding – unpacked further in the next section – the ELO’s focus on Europe need not in and of itself mean that it is Eurocentric. On the contrary, it could become an important vehicle to destabilise eurocentrism.
This article aims to launch a modest opening salvo by challenging the eurocentrism that shines through two EU policy documents on its ambitions in peace mediation. The choice of instruments – two policy documents, welcomed by Conclusions of the European Council, which are in and of themselves not legally binding – is based on a conviction that an open approach to Europe in the world also requires an open approach to the concept of law, including European law.Footnote 9 European normativity has spread across the world in forms other than those recognised as law by, say, the Court of Justice of the European Union. For instance, the quintessentially European ‘standard of civilisation’ did not require incorporation into a lot of hard law for it to have an enormous impact in the world. Norms originating in Europe have also been given effect, challenged and resisted in ways other than through treaties, statutes, secondary legislation and case law.Footnote 10 An open approach to recognising normativity is crucial to understand the spread of, and resistance to, European norms - including legal norms - in the world.Footnote 11
The two policy documents are the Concept on Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacities of 2009 and the Concept on EU Peace Mediation of 2020.Footnote 12 They are the first documents in which the EU explicitly sets forth its ambitions in the global field of peace mediation. The documents are normative in a few ways. First, they are normative in a non-legal but epistemological sense: they produce general definitions, for instance, of mediation and, implicitly, of the concept of peace, thus aiming to guide what should and what should not be considered as such. Second, they contain ‘guiding principles’ and ‘guidelines’ in accordance with which EU peace mediation should be conducted. These principles and guidelines are norms in the social science understanding of the word: ‘collective expectations for the proper behavior of actors with a given identity’.Footnote 13 One of those guiding principles, however, refers to legal norms, namely to act ‘fully in line with and supportive of the principles of international human rights and humanitarian law’.Footnote 14 Another such principle is that the ‘EU should consistently engage on the basis of its foundational values’, among which are listed democracy, the rule of law and human rights.Footnote 15 While EU treaty law refers to these as ‘values’Footnote 16 or ‘principles’,Footnote 17 the literature has also referred to them as ‘norms’.Footnote 18 The documents are thus also normative – thirdly – in that they suggest that because the EU is based on these ‘norms’, it is also in a good position to promote them outside the EU.
This article argues that if one reads these documents through the lens of the theme ‘Europe in the world’, one discerns an outward-looking EU, searching for a greater role in the world of peace mediation (Section 3). The Concepts also reflect the EU’s self-image as a normative actor, which sends EU mediators into the world with an increasingly heavy backpack filled with norms to be carried along and distributed (Section 4). But the Concepts do not consider that in many of the countries where the EU mediator arrives, this backpack filled with normative baggage comes with other associations: that of a backpack that may feel as light as the invisible knapsack of white privilege,Footnote 19 but is so light in part because a lot of baggage has already been dumped, the weight of which is still being carried in those places (Section 5). The article uses this analysis to argue for a greater reflexivity and more self-questioning by the EU on what it is and how it presents itself to the world and on how it might be seen outside the EU (Section 6). It concludes on a note of optimism (Section 7).
Like a Europe-focused journal risks being Eurocentric, reflexivity risks turning into navel gazing, thus potentially exacerbating the problem of eurocentrism. That is the opposite of what this article argues for. Indeed, Iwill show that the Concepts are so focused on the EU that they leave barely any room for ‘others’ and that, as a result, they miss an opportunity to think about mediation as a relational exercise by definition. Without others, there is little to mediate. Similarly, the Concepts make references to how the EU is seen, but the perspectives are entirely self-referential. The critical self-reflexivity that this article argues for involves bringing those perspectives of ‘others’ in, fostering a dialogue on the basis of equality that allows critical questions and for the EU to internalise any ensuing answers and to transform accordingly. In other words, reflexivity must not be a show, but lead to internal transformation. In making this argument, Ibuild upon the important work done by EU scholars, particularly Kalypso Nicolaïdis and co-authors, who have also called for more critical reflection in the EU on its eurocentrism with a view to ‘decentering Europe’.Footnote 20
The reasons to make this argument in the context of peace mediation and in this new journal are threefold. First, while other features of the EU’s external relations – the criteria for membership of the Union or access to the single market – have also been considered Eurocentric,Footnote 21 the EU’s ambitions in peace mediation are quite extreme in one sense: the activity (mediation) is intended to take place entirely outside the EU. The norms for accession to the Union or the single market are supposed to be external extensions of internal norms (supposed because it has been observed that with respect to the criteria for EU membership they are stricter for outsiders than they have ever been for insiders).Footnote 22 But, in the case of peace mediation, there is no suggestion that an internal practice (peace mediation) practice will now be extended beyond the EU. Rather, the only suggestion of such an extension concerns the objective and the actor: peace as a characteristically European norm and the EU as a peacebuilder, first in Europe, and now outside. Moreover, the EU’s ambitions in peace mediation are not linked primarily to economic or strategic interests,Footnote 23 even if the most recent Concept suggests that promoting the EU’s values in peace mediation go ‘hand in hand’ with promoting its interests.Footnote 24 Rather, the Concepts argue that because the EU is good at peace mediation, it should be doing it; it is implied that EU peace mediation is a good thing for the world. Taking the objective of doing a good thing for the world requires being seriously attentive to eurocentrism: what is the EU’s epistemic basis for knowing what the world needs? Still taking the EU’s ambitions on the EU’s own terms – contributing to international peace mediation – we also see that the EU is unlikely to achieve its stated aim of boosting its role in peace mediation if it is not more aware of its continued eurocentrism and obstinate baggage. Akey principle of mediation is that the parties must accept, and continue to accept, the mediator: they can walk away. Critical self-reflexivity will allow the EU better to see its own position from the parties’ perspectives and assess how it can or cannot make a difference. For instance, critical self-reflexivity may lead to the assessment that in a given situation it is better to act as a funder behind the scenes than as the prominent actor at the mediation table. Secondly, the call for reflexivity is timely in EU foreign policy more generally: the EU’s first foreign policy strategy, in 2003, showed a few signs of critical self-reflexivity;Footnote 25 the second, in 2016, more;Footnote 26 but the foreword to the forthcoming ‘Strategic Compass to make Europe a Security Provider’, very little again.Footnote 27 Finally, in the opening issue of a new journal centred on Europe, Ihope to encourage research that approaches Europe reflexively, in a broader global context, and that will show that a journal focused on Europe can critically reverse the gaze.Footnote 28 Given my own positionality, more on which later, this article still presents a (critical) view on Europe from within Europe, but Ihope that other articles to be published in this journal will voice what the world has to say about Europe, thus further destabilising Eurocentric self-understanding.
Compared to the great ambitions that Iset out for this journal, the goal of this specific article is modest: illustrating the need for reflexivity in the EU on how it approaches and engages with the world. Iwill not propose a specific alternative EU Concept of mediation. Rather, the point is to show that Eurocentric features of the two Concepts that Ianalyse stand in the way of even recognising such alternatives.Footnote 29
Let me tackle one possible counterargument up front: these Concepts are just text – words, words, words – and of two relatively short and seldom noticed EU policy documents at that; we are not speaking of EU treaties or regulations here. Moreover, compared to other instruments of EU norm export, for instance, rules on access to the EU single market or the criteria for states to become EU members, the norms in these documents are very soft: they are not backed up by strong carrots or sticks. What is more, it is not given that the most senior EU officials who actually conduct mediation on behalf of the EU are aware of their existence, have read them or feel bound by them.Footnote 30 However, even if the most senior mediators ignore the Concepts, their existence tells us something: resources have been put into them; they were considered worthwhile; they fulfil a function and through that function they have an impact on the world. The explicit purpose of the 2009 Concept is to provide ‘a policy basis for EU engagement in the area of mediation’.Footnote 31 The EU had already been involved in some peace mediation activities,Footnote 32 but in a culture that privileges text,Footnote 33 EU peace mediation becomes more real, both practically and epistemologically, through these Concepts. As a form of worlding, they stake a claim in the international field of mediation, assert relevance and expertise, and make a bid for both epistemic and normative authority in the field of mediation.Footnote 34 Moreover, even if not legally binding, the Concepts influence modes of action: mediation trainers, technical advisers and budget holders refer to them, shaping how the EU acts in the world. Finally, the discourse that they set forth, in and of itself, is doing work: the Concepts fulfil the role of telling the EU a story about who it wants to be.Footnote 35 That narrative is then repeated and internalised by the actors producing and adopting these texts, which in turn inspires other policies, funding decisions and actions. Narratives shape the way that we see ourselves and ‘the way we see ourselves shapes the way we act’.Footnote 36 Critical self-reflexivity can thus lead to a different narrative, a different perspective and different actions.
Finally, as Iwill argue for reflexivity, Ishould dedicate one paragraph to my own position in this article. As a researcher and as an adviser – paid by the EU – in a large peace process, Inoted how peace mediation may seem like an impossible mission, but is simultaneously considered the only potential route out of continued armed violence. So, Isupport peace mediation as an activity aimed at assisting halting violence during a specific conflict. I am critical, however, of an approach to peace mediation that treats it like a product that must be exported for the sake of it. During that same work I also observed how, due to the fragmentation of international law, peace mediation needs a stronger legal framework to protect it. Some of my other, more doctrinal and normative, work is inspired by this observation.Footnote 37 As a scholar born and based in Europe (and currently again in the EU, hurray!), I am a strong supporter of the project that is the EU. But I support the EU as an organisation that transcends states and nationalism, not as an organisation promoting nationalism at the level of the EU (‘Euronationalism’) or the much older and more deeply ingrained phenomenon of eurocentrism. Eurocentrism, in some of its understandings, is also in me: when eurocentrism refers to situatedness, I, too, am Eurocentric. When eurocentrism refers merely to western ways of knowing and doing, I, both a product of and working in western academia, am Eurocentric. Indeed, my call for critical self-reflexivity may at first sight seem ironic, given that the call to think critically corresponds with Immanuel Kant’s definition of the enlightenment – sapere aude; dare to know – the very enlightenment that went hand in hand with the Eurocentric idea of Europe being a role model for the world.Footnote 38 However, the fact that modernity was instrumentalised by and for colonial power does not mean that all that it has produced should be abandoned in its entirety.Footnote 39 Moreover, the critical self-reflexivity that Icall for also goes beyond characteristics of modernity, for instance, modernity’s idea that the subject and object of research or knowledge are separable.Footnote 40 Recognising intersubjectivity, the critical reflexivity that Iargue for necessarily brings in ‘others’ in the assessment of the self: Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – ‘a person is a person only in relation to other persons’– rather than cogito ergo sum.Footnote 41 Having set out this background, Ihope it is evident that critique in this article aims to foster a reflexivity that will make the EU a qualitatively better (namely less Eurocentric) actor and also benefits the mediation practices in which it aims to be involved.
2. Unpacking eurocentrism
In this article, eurocentrism refers to ‘a set of assumptions about the superiority of European (or “western”) ways of knowing and doing’.Footnote 42 In order to assist in the identification of instances of eurocentrism in the Concepts, let me briefly unpack (1) superiority; (2) ways of knowing and doing; and (3) European (or ‘western’).
The superiority that characterises eurocentrism goes beyond ethnocentrism: the practice of assessing other cultures by one’s own standards. If eurocentrism was merely ethnocentrism, we could similarly speak of Sinocentrism, Islamocentrism, etc. What sets eurocentrism apart is that it is a sense of superiority combined with a drive to spread itself across, what it perceives to be, an inferior rest of the world.Footnote 43 This sense of European superiority manifests itself in several ways. For instance, the assumption of European superiority can lead to denial of the existence or relevance of non-European history, ideas, norms or sources of knowledge. Aclassic example is Europe ‘discovering’ the non-European world and declaring it ‘terra nullius’, despite encountering the inhabitants of the lands.Footnote 44 Thus, either the ones who are encountered are not recognised as subjects, or, more commonly, the assumption of European superiority leads to their history, values and sources of knowledge being seen as ‘behind’, inferior or of little value, while the people encountered are presented as having little or no agency. From this Eurocentric idea then stems the equally Eurocentric notion that Europeans or their descendants have the solution not only to Europe’s problems, but also to those of the world at large: they can get us to utopia, the collective good as defined by them.Footnote 45 This assumption in turn fosters the Eurocentric idea that a(n idealised) European history of progress, Europe’s values and its knowledge are ultimately universally applicable, while Europeans have the truths, experience and knowledge to make that (perceived) European progress story a universal reality. Atypical Eurocentric supposition then is, as Siba Grovogui’s has argued, ‘that the West is the legitimate legislator and adjudicator of values, norms, and institutions for the “international community” and, second, that those (presumed) incapable of producing good government, good laws, and good morals should obey the moral order bequeathed to them by the West, as a matter of deference’.Footnote 46 The assumption of superiority not only creates an inferior other, but also shores up a ‘European identity’. This aspect of eurocentrism can be understood in terms of what Edward Said captured in his concept of Orientalism: ‘[T]he Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) and its contrasting image, idea, personality experience.’Footnote 47 In this understanding, Orientalism is not merely ‘a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient’,Footnote 48 but also about the construction of the Occident itself.Footnote 49 Common to these aspects of eurocentrism – the other does not exist and the other exists as a radical other – is the denial of the connections between the European and the non-European, and especially, of the influence of the non-European on the European:Footnote 50 in Eurocentric approaches, Europe appears as a self-starter, as if everything it is proud of was ‘made (only) in Europe’.
These diverse manifestations of eurocentrism also reveal the second aspect of the definition adopted here; namely, ways of knowing and doing: eurocentrism has epistemic and practical aspects. The two need not be separated: one of the critiques of eurocentrism is exactly that it fails to recognise the knowledge contained in doing.Footnote 51 Even if one recognises Eurocentric knowing and Eurocentric doing as distinct, the two tend to reinforce each other. Colonialism and imperialism have illustrated how European action allowed European ways of knowing to dominate, while assumptions about the superiority of European ways of thinking inspired and internally legitimised European action.
The assumptions of superiority are often not limited to ‘European’ ways of knowing and doing but extended to ‘western’ ways more broadly, as the quotes from Said and Grovogui illustrate. One can identify eurocentrism in, for instance, some North-American and Australian ways of knowing and doing to the extent that the approaches consider themselves inheritors of ‘the European tradition’. For the same reason, eurocentrism can be found in the EU – even if the EU itself was never a colonial power – and in EU Member States that did not have colonies.Footnote 52 The key feature is an assumption of superiority by virtue of seeing oneself as continuing in a (assumedly superior) European tradition of doing and thinking. By way of final clarification, the set of assumptions about the superiority of European/western ways of knowing and doing that constitute eurocentrism can also be found in parts of the world that do not consider themselves continuators of the European tradition.Footnote 53 For instance, curricula in schools in former colonies can reflect eurocentrism. Eurocentrism, too, is some of European imperialism’s obstinate baggage.
3. Eurocentric ambition: exporting ‘peace’ or exporting oneself?
When in 2012 the Nobel Committee awarded the EU the Nobel Peace Prize, it did so on the ground that the EU and its forerunners had advanced the causes of peace, reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe. The Committee’s explanation made reference only to the EU’s role in Europe: the EU had helped ‘to transform most of Europe from a continent of war to a continent of peace’.Footnote 54 But when receiving the prize, European Council President Herman von Rompuy and Commission President José Manuel Barroso projected the relevance of the prize beyond Europe. After setting out the values around which Europe had been reunified, the statement continued:
These are also the values that the European Union promotes in order to make the world a better place for all. The European Union will continue to promote peace and security in the countries close to us and in the world at large … This Nobel Peace Prize shows that in these difficult times the European Union remains an inspiration for leaders and citizens all over the world.Footnote 55
The Nobel Peace Prize boosted an ambition that had already been put on paper in the 1992 Maastricht Treaty and solidified in the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon: to bring peace outside Europe. As Kalypso Nicolaïdis and colleagues have argued, in its early years, the European Community had focused on ‘setting international standards to civilise Europe itself upon the discovery that the “barbarian” lay within’.Footnote 56 But 50 years of increased internal stability fostered greater external ambition. Since the 1990s, the EU has wanted to export not only machinery, computers and pharmaceuticals – its primary export products – but also its values, including peace. It is here that economic imperialism, the ambition to become a greater economic power, becomes closely entangled with eurocentrism. The Maastricht Treaty envisaged a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) through which ‘to promote peace, security and progress in Europe and in the world’.Footnote 57 Among the aims of the CFSP were ‘to promote peace and strengthen international security’ and ‘to develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms’.Footnote 58 Fifteen years later, the Treaty of Lisbon proclaimed that ‘The Union’s aim is to promote peace, its values and the well-being of its peoples’, without geographic or other limitations.Footnote 59 The Lisbon Treaty operationalised this outward orientation in providing for the ‘external action’ of the Union, the first instruction for which was that:
The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which have inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law.Footnote 60
Lisbon can thus be read as the moment that the swan that had been inspecting its own nest for 50 years and had begun to stretch its neck since the Maastricht Treaty, turns it head, looking out into the world, its wings lifted for an ambitious flight.Footnote 61
The two Concepts on peace mediation illustrate this renewed and now publicly displayed external ambition. The Concepts appeared in a period in which mediation had risen to prominence as a means of promoting peace in the world. The dominant challenge to peace was considered to come from the types of conflict that had been most prevalent since the end of the Cold War: conflicts not between states, but about the state; conflicts between governments and rebellious armed movements or between armed movements themselves. But making peace in such situations had proven to be harder than purely ‘keeping’ the peace between states. By the 2000s, international peacekeeping and peacebuilding agendas and practices had been scathed as too ineffective, too risky and too ambitious. Mediation emerged a more attractive option: a delimited area of intervention that seemed less costly in terms of human life and finances.Footnote 62
But this increased attraction also meant that in addition to the United Nations (UN), many other organisations became involved in mediation, including regional organisations such as, in Africa, the Inter-Governmental Agency for Development (IGAD) and the African Union (AU), and in Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), as well as non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, Conflict Mediation Initiative, IKV Pax Christi and St Egidio. The mediation world has become crowded.Footnote 63 As one UN mediator put it, referring to competition from regional bodies and NGOs: ‘There is not enough conflict to go around. There used to be a few dozen mediating institutions. Now a couple of thousand.’Footnote 64 The proliferation of institutions offering mediation services has spurred fierce competition for the role of mediator, providing conflicting parties with opportunities for forum shopping.Footnote 65 In the same year that the EU issued its 2020 Concept on peace mediation, scholars observed ‘a mismatch between supply and demand in the international mediation “market”’.Footnote 66 They noted that the supply of mediators had increased, while more and more conflicts were beyond the reach of mediation; for instance, as a result of terror-listing, prohibiting engagement with actors involved.Footnote 67 There could thus be stiff competition among mediators for those conflicts that were not beyond reach. One observer of a specific conflict cynically dubbed such a battle for the role of mediator: ‘The war for the Nobel Peace Prize’.Footnote 68
The 2009 and 2020 Concepts are about the EU respectively entering and enhancing its position in this competitive peace mediation ‘market’. Aiming at more influence, whether political or economic, is imperial, but not by definition Eurocentric: one can have such ambitions even if not assuming one’s superiority of ways of thinking and doing or not desiring to spread these; possibly, one just wants to sell products or services. The entire approach to peace mediation as that of a product or service on a competitive market is Eurocentric in that it subjects peace mediation to the rules of capitalism. But let us for a moment adopt this capitalist approach in order to see other, stronger, forms of eurocentrism. In the ideal version of the market, eurocentrism could not survive: if, on the level playing field where supply and demand meet freely, the ‘product’ is not actually superior, buyers will just refuse to pay for it.Footnote 69 So, in the context of peace mediation, if those involved in a conflict do not want EU-style mediation, there is little for the EU to do – end of story. However, like most other markets, the peace mediation market is not like the ideal; it, too, is distorted by political and economic power. In the analysis of the Concepts below, it will become clear that while they read in part like a marketing strategy – setting out why the EU is good at this – there is very little interest in the ‘competition’, letalone the ‘consumer’ of peace mediation. In fact, while sometimes seemingly oriented towards ‘selling’ the EU mediation product, these Concepts are in fact narratives by the EU, for the EU, about the EU. The eurocentrism that will become apparent is not constituted by this focus on the EU per se, but by the apparent assumption that it is natural for the EU to play a role as global actor, to help and ‘capacity build’ others and to serve as a role modelFootnote 70 – assumptions that correspond with that of the civilising mission during colonialism and assumptions that get internally naturalised, over and over again, through texts such as these Concepts.Footnote 71
A. The 2009 Concept: an unreflected bid for epistemic authority
Practice had preceded the EU’s first policy on mediation, adopted in 2009. The foreign ministers of the European Commission had been involved in mediation attempts in the early years of the war in the former Yugoslavia, but adopted a lower profile after the apparent failure in Bosnia in 1994.Footnote 72 In the early 2000s, however, the EU had some successes: its first High Representative, Javier Solana, co-brokered the 2001 Ohrid Framework Agreement for Macedonia and initiated the mediation of the 2002 Belgrade Agreement on Principles of Relations between Serbia and Montenegro.Footnote 73 The EU also provided financial support to an NGO led by a former Finnish President that successfully brokered the 2005 Aceh Agreement. The purpose of the 2009 Concept on Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacities was to provide a policy basis for such practice.Footnote 74
The aim was also to expand such practice.Footnote 75 By the time the EU issued its first policy document, the UN, AU, some key NGOs and states such as Norway and Switzerland had developed more experience in mediating, or supporting mediation, than the EU. The UN, aware of the increasing competition in the field and the adverse consequences of peace processes that go wrong, had already begun ‘professionalising’ its mediation practices from the mid-2000s. It did so by highlighting the relevance of expertise, skills and norms, setting up a specialised Mediation Support Unit and issuing reports such as the 2009 report of the UN Secretary-General on ‘Enhancing Mediation and Its Support Activities’.Footnote 76 In an epistemological culture in which practice and experience alone count for little unless accompanied by written, abstracted knowledge, the EU’s 2009 Concept, too, should be seen as a bid for epistemic authority: we count, because we have published on this.
The 13-page Concept consists of four main sections. In the Introduction, it sets out the rationale, overall aim and provides definitions. The rationale provided in the document’s opening sentence is that:
The EU, as a global actor committed to the promotion of peace, democracy, human rights and sustainable development, is generally seen as a credible and ethical actor insituations of instability and conflict and is thus well placed to mediate, facilitate or support mediation and dialogue processes.Footnote 77
After identifying policy bases for this document, it turns to defining mediation as ‘a way of assisting negotiations between conflict parties and transforming conflicts with the support of an acceptable third party’.Footnote 78 However, the Concept uses the term more broadly, also to encompass ‘facilitation’ and ‘dialogue’.Footnote 79 Similarly, the Concept has a broad understanding of the actions that amount to mediation: acting as a lead or co-mediator; promoting mediation; leveraging mediation; supporting mediation and funding mediation. In other words, funding somebody else’s mediation counts as mediation for the purposes of the Concept. This is important: the objective of enhancing mediation can thus be achieved by operating in the background, for instance, bankrolling the initiatives of other actors. The Concept emphasises that the various aspects of mediation are ‘equally important’ as acting as a lead or co-mediator. Still, the Concept at times also gives the impression that ‘acting as a mediator itself’, presented first, is the main ambition.Footnote 80
The second section is about the ‘EU and mediation’, covering ‘mediation as an EU policy tool’, ‘EU as an actor in mediation’, ‘Types of EU mediation involvement’, ‘Guiding principles’, ‘EU cooperation and coordination with other international actors’, ‘EU financial instruments to support mediation initiatives’ and ‘EU mediation support capacities’. The third section then focuses on ‘Measures to strengthen EU Mediation capacities’, while the final section states only that the Concept will be reviewed.
As is clear from these headings, the Concept is focused on the EU. It is unsurprising that an EU policy document focuses on the EU and, as explained earlier, that in and of itself does not make it Eurocentric. But aspects of the way in which it focuses on the EU are Eurocentric in the understanding set out earlier. Ihighlight four: (1) an unreflected sense that it is appropriate for the EU to play a bigger role in peace mediation simply because it can and wants to; (2) a hyperagentic self-presentation compared to barely described or supposedly inferior others; (3) an impression of the EU as an oasis of peace compared to a violent rest of the world; and (4) the presumption that there is universal agreement on the primacy of a technical approach to mediation and on the EU’s understanding of the concept of peace.
First, the rationale for the policy seems to come down to the EU’s wish to play a greater role in peace mediation and its conviction that it is in a good position to do so.Footnote 81 Although some expressions implicitly recognise that one cannot be a mediator if the parties do not accept one as such,Footnote 82 the Concept does not pay attention to the question of who would like the EU to play a bigger role apart from the EU itself. The Concept’s opening sentence perhaps makes an allusion to requests that the EU receives: ‘The EU … is generally seen as a credible and ethical actor insituations of instability and conflict.’Footnote 83 Yet, none of the Concept’s 13 pages reveal through whose eyes the EU is seen or what evidence the statement rests on. The rationale that seems to run through the text is: we can and therefore we must. There seems to be no doubt about the appropriateness. See, for instance, the text in which the Concept explains why, even though the UN is recognised internationally as the primary authority in peace mediation, it is appropriate for the EU to play a bigger role in this field:
Even though the UN plays a pre-eminent role in international peace mediation, other actors, like the EU, have important roles to play. The EU is a global actor and its political, developmental and security interests go well beyond its neighbourhood.Footnote 84
The assumption throughout is that, given who the EU is, it is natural for it to play a role in the international field of peace mediation. This lack of interest in who would like the EU to play a bigger role, other than the EU itself, is hard to explain through anything else than a sense of superiority.Footnote 85
A second and related aspect of eurocentrism is that the Concept vests all the agency in the EU. As recognised before, it is not by definition Eurocentric if an EU policy document focuses on the EU. What is Eurocentric, though, is that throughout it portrays the EU as a hyperagentic actor operating in an apparently passive rest of the world – the world in which the EU intervenes as a mediator. Conflicting parties or their societies do not feature. The already quoted opening sentence is one of the few sentences in the entire text that alludes to the relevance of perspectives of actors other than the EU. However, even though this is a sentence about how others see the EU, it still makes the EU the subject through the use of passive voice: ‘The EU … is generally seen as a credible and ethical actor insituations of instability and conflict.’Footnote 86 So even where the EU is not the agent but the acted-on noun – in this case the one who is being seen – the text shows only the EU. The invisibility of the supposed beneficiaries of the EU’s action combined with the hyperagency of the EU reflects what Meera Sabaratnam has referred to as protagonismo: ‘a political relation in which intervention is understood as a kind of space for actualising the identities of specific interveners and their world views, rather than working towards a common agenda set by the government or community’ where the intervention occurs.Footnote 87 This Concept is all about the EU actualising its identity and its world views.Footnote 88
The Concept acknowledges that there is a ‘multitude of potential actors in international peace mediation’,Footnote 89 but the only actors that the Concept explicitly recognises as other relevant actors are ‘other international actors’. Thus, of all the actors who are also involved in peace mediation – states, church organisations, international NGOs, social movements, community leaders – the Concept mentions only the UN and regional actors, including the OSCE and the AU, as relevant ‘other international actors’. With respect to these ‘other international actors’, the EU is deferential to the UN.Footnote 90 The Concept next mentions ‘[r]egional actors, including the OSCE and the AU’. The sequencing of the text suggests that the EU considers itself more like the UN, a fellow ‘global actor’, rather than in the same category as the ‘regional actors’.Footnote 91 The final sentence confirms this presumed superiority by indicating that the EU will support the first actor in the training of the third: ‘The EU will continue to co-operate closely with the UN and its Mediation Support Unit, including in such areas as training and support to regional organisations in their efforts to strengthen their mediation capacities.’Footnote 92 Thus, in a document titled and focused on ‘Strengthening EU Mediation and Dialogue Capacities’, including through training,Footnote 93 the EU still presents itself as supporting the training of (other) regional organisations. The option of such (other) regional organisations training the EU is not mentioned,Footnote 94 despite another section recognising that they have resources and expertise, which the EU will make best use of.Footnote 95
A third Eurocentric feature of the Concept is that it suggests that peace mediation intervention is necessary only outside the EU, while leaving that outside world otherwise undescribed. The objective of a ‘more active international role’ refers to a more active role outside the EU.Footnote 96 Perhaps the drafters of the Concept think that EU peace mediation necessarily takes place outside the EU because it could not be a neutral third party in conflicts that take place either between its Member States or between the government of a member state and an opposition movement in that state (pre-Brexit Northern Ireland, Catalonia, Cyprus). But the Concept does not mention that rationale; it leaves its entirely outward focus unexplained. That is notable because the EU’s outward orientation is the opposite of that of the other regional and international organisations that the Concept refers to: the OSCE, AU and – more obviously – the UN, have focused their mediation activities on conflicts among their Member States, and, most of all, within their Member States.Footnote 97 The Concept does, however, hint at a different rationale for its outward focus, namely that the conflicts that require mediation exist (only) outside the EU.Footnote 98 The construction of a need for mediation in an unspecified rest of the world re-inscribes the Enlightenment image of Europe, and here more specifically the EU, as an oasis of peace and reason in a wild and turbulent world.Footnote 99
A final Eurocentric feature that Ihighlight here is the Concept’s focus on the technical, expertise-requiring side of mediation, a ‘tool’ in a ‘toolbox’,Footnote 100 without speaking of the big political questions inherent in peace mediation.Footnote 101 The few explicit references that the Concept makes to the term ‘political’ are in negative contexts, namely that of ‘political risks’ for the EU and (presumably the parties’) ‘lack of political will’.Footnote 102 Politics appear as an unwelcome interference with the technical project of mediation.
At first sight, the technical rather than political approach may seem to reduce the risk of displaying eurocentrism: the Concept is not explicitly about exporting European values, but about enhancing technical capacity to offer a neutral service. But it backfires. First, the primacy of the technocratic is in and of itself an expression of eurocentrism: the technocratic approach is an aspect of the European progress narrative. Second, the focus on the means (mediation) presupposes that the ends (probably ‘peace’) are evident. But taking the ends for granted risks implying that the EU’s idea of peace – whatever that is precisely – is necessarily the objective to be pursued in the rest of the world. Research in the field of peace and conflict studies has shown how people across the world have been working towards ‘peace’, but all with radically different understandings, for instance, peace as law and order, peace as human rights, peace as democracy and the rule of law, peace as social justice.Footnote 103 These differences do not necessarily reflect cultural differences and do not stem from the usage of different dictionaries. Rather, they reflect diverging political aspirations: a government may insist on peace as law and order; the opposing armed movement on peace as social justice. The World Trade Organization may aspire for a peace that facilitates free trade; its opponents for a peace that has overcome global inequalities.Footnote 104 States that have been involved in ‘peacebuilding’ abroad have often shifted in their understandings of the concept. For instance, Devon Curtis has shown how after 9/11 western states moved from promoting a liberal peace, based on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and liberalisation of the market, to one of stabilisation, based on law and order.Footnote 105 Others have observed how Europe, since its ‘migration crisis’, has turned from liberal peacebuilding to peace as border control.Footnote 106 The varying conceptions of peace come with varying avenues of pursuing them. For instance, the liberal peace often requires more checks and balances, whereas peace as law and order usually strengthens the executive. The promotion of liberal peace and peace as law and order usually legitimises existing international institutions, but requires stronger ones; a conception of peace as social justice is often seen to depend on a radical overhaul of existing institutions. By not explicitly engaging with the political question about what peace as an objective of mediation means, the EU risks suggesting that it knows what peace is supposed to mean across the globe, probably based on its own experience.Footnote 107 In practice, Europeans among themselves will disagree about how to characterise that peace or, indeed, whether it qualifies as such. But the ideal pursued is not the lived peace as it is embedded in particular societies, but an idealised and putatively agreed-upon peace, just like the civilising mission was not inspired by civilisation but an idealised version of the self.Footnote 108
The 2009 Concept had an impact: it led to the institutionalisation of mediation in the EU.Footnote 109 Two years later, the EU External Action Service (EEAS) had its own division dedicated to conflict prevention, peacebuilding and mediation and its own Mediation Support Team (MST). As per the model of the UN’s MST, which had been created in 2006, the aim of the Unit is not directly to mediate itself, but to provide operational support to EU actors, to provide coaching and training, to ‘manage’ knowledge, and to build partnerships with organisations with similar mandates.Footnote 110
B. The 2020 Concept: more assertion, more norms
In December 2020, the EU published a new Concept on peace mediation, to replace the one of 2009. It is more extensive: 14 denser pages accompanied by Council Conclusions and followed by a 34-page annex titled Peace Mediation Guidelines of the European External Action Service.Footnote 111 The Introduction explains that the Concept ‘aims at further boosting the EU’s role as a leading peace mediation … actor’Footnote 112 and that it ‘sets out an assertive stance for the EU in the practice of mediation’.Footnote 113 It reflects a heightened sense of competition:
The sheer number of mediators and mediation actors has … increased significantly. An increasing number of countries have developed their own mediation capacity or structures. EU Member States … have built up mediation support structures and have gained experiences in role sharing in mediation. International and regional organisations, private actors and civil society also populate this field. The world of mediation has changed through the introduction of new international actors that have gained relevance in the mediation domain, some of which are taking more directive approaches.Footnote 114
The Concept presents this ‘evolved context’ of more mediation actors as ‘requir[ing] an adapted and firmer EU posture in mediation’.Footnote 115 While still listing mediation activities such as accompanying, supporting and funding mediation, the Concept first openly angles for the ‘top job’ of mediation: ‘The EU can increasingly get involved as a third party in helping to address conflicts at the track Ilevel, engaging the top leadership of a country and the most senior-level representatives of parties.’Footnote 116
The 2020 Concept consists of sections dedicated to ‘Key definitions’, ‘Advancing peace and security through EU mediation and preventive diplomacy’, ‘EU mediation principles’, ‘The facets of EU mediation’, ‘EU mediation figureheads and key actors’, ‘EU frameworks for coordinating mediation and mediation support’ and the ‘Path ahead’. The attached Peace Mediation Guidelines are meant to ‘translate in practice the EU’s core principles in peace mediation’.Footnote 117
Unlike the Concepts, the Peace Mediation Guidelines have an explicit addressee: ‘Dear EU Peace Mediation practitioners’, writes Helga Schmid, then Secretary General of the European External Action Service, in her foreword. On the one hand, the audience is explicitly internal, addressed as the Foreword is to EU Peace Mediation Practitioners. On the other hand, the audience is broader than EU officials. The Introduction explains that the Guidelines are meant to ‘provide guidance for implementers and partners of EEAS mediation and mediation support’, as well as serve as a ‘source of inspiration to the broader community of practitioners in EU peace mediation, including the EU Member States and regional and non-governmental organisations’.Footnote 118 The Guidelines are therefore not just instructions for EU mediators, but also, like the UN’s 2012 Guidance on Effective Mediation and the Concepts, a bid for epistemic authority in the field: the EU presents itself as mastering peace mediation.
Many of the Eurocentric aspects identified in the 2009 Concept return in the 2020 Concept. For an unreflected sense of superiority, take Schmid’s foreword to the Guidelines:
The EU’s role as a peace mediator is enshrined in our strong commitment to the rules-based multilateral order. Promoting international peace and security is part of the EU’s DNA and the EU is uniquely placed to do so. We are seen as a credible actor, an honest-broker and a “smart power” that can deliver on its commitments in a comprehensive, sustainable and inclusive way.Footnote 119
Similarly, in 2020, as in 2009, there is no mention of who outside the EU sees the EU as a ‘credible actor, an honest-broker and a “smart power”’. The only appearance of those outside the EU is a reference to ‘the conflict-affected population’, which the EU will ‘constructively engage and support’.Footnote 120 The grammatical structure of the sentence places the agency in the EU: the EU engages, the EU supports.Footnote 121 In terms of recognising other actors, there is one significant difference with the 2009 Concept: the 2020 Concept explicitly recognises the NGO community and civil society actors as ‘a further dimension in the family of EU mediation actors’.Footnote 122 However, the roles ascribed to them are those of ‘opening up space for mediation’, ‘build[ing] capacity’ and ‘generating incentives for actors to engage in talks’.Footnote 123 That NGOs can also lead a mediation is not contemplated. The EU does considers such a potential role for ‘insider mediators’. However, even though it recognises that these actors do work that others cannot, thanks to ‘to the unparalleled access in particular in high-intensity conflicts where other actors cannot engage’,Footnote 124 the Concept presents them as requiring capacity-building by the EU.Footnote 125 Indeed, the EU seems to imply that if other actors had access, they would be the mediators, which still presents insider mediators as second best options, denying their epistemic authority.
Similarly, the 2020 Concept gestures at departing from the explicitly a political approach to mediation adopted in the 2009 Concept, but it does not really. The gesture is the sentence: ‘The EU recognises that mediation is driven by politics’.Footnote 126 This line resonates with the slogan ‘the primacy of politics’ that had just emerged in the UN.Footnote 127 The UN’s adoption of that slogan was largely a response to critique of the UN’s technocratic approaches to peacemaking – relying on tools and theoretical expertise. That critique had come, in part, from African mediators, who had presented peacemaking as being primarily about politics: about ideals for the future and about compromises to realise these.Footnote 128 But whereas the African mediators had portrayed the political as something positive, in the EU’s Concept ‘politics’ is still something that is ‘recognised’, an issue to be contended with. Moreover, beyond the recognition that it is a relevant factor, the Concept barely engages with the substantive questions that arise from mediation being political, for instance (and as elaborated above) the specific understanding of peace that is being pursued.
The recognition of the political is linked to an area in which the 2020 Concept more substantively differs from the 2009 Concept: the emphasis on inclusivity. As an extension of the recognition that ‘mediation is driven by politics’, the EU now ‘considers inclusive political solutions a key component in conflict prevention and sustainable peace’.Footnote 129 The Eurocentric aspect of this emphasis is the statement that opens the section: ‘A further defining feature is the emphasis that the EU places on inclusivity.’Footnote 130 The presentation of this as being defining of EU mediation, in comparison to other mediation actors, fails to recognise that in the world of mediation more generally, inclusivity has become the norm of the 2010s. The inclusion agenda has probably been the UN’s most prolific peacemaking agenda since the 2000s.Footnote 131 Recognising the wide, almost constitutional, scope of many peace agreements in non-international armed conflict, especially the so-called ‘comprehensive peace agreements’, the exclusionary nature of elite deals became increasingly seen as problematic. The UN thus started to call for the inclusion of various groups into peace processes: children, women, youth, ‘other marginalised groups’. Some of these inclusion agendas have become independent thematic items on the agenda of the UN Security Council, for instance, the Women, Peace and Security agenda, and more recently, that of Youth, Peace and Security.Footnote 132 African mediators, too, had promoted inclusion, albeit sometimes in a more radical way: rather than ‘including’ all kinds of categories into elite-driven processes as civilian ‘add-ons’ to talks between a government and armed groups, some African mediators argued for moving away from the horseshoe negotiation table to dialogue in communities, marginalising the armed movements, in the hope that communities would push their leaders towards peace.Footnote 133 In its 2020 Concept, the EU adopts the inclusion mantra of the UN, and makes that understanding of ‘inclusivity’ one of its guiding principles. It does not adopt the radical inclusion agenda where horseshoe mediation is replaced by a form of bottom-up politics.Footnote 134 Rather, in the EU’s understanding, inclusivity is something that ‘complement[s] the centrality of an official mediator’.Footnote 135
Despite African mediators’ key roles in pushing politics back in the approach to mediation and in promoting inclusivity, Africa does not feature as a source of knowledge in the Concept. Nor does any other region other than the EU.Footnote 136 The only source of influence that is recognised is the UN Guidance on Effective Mediation.Footnote 137 Eurocentric epistemic hierarchies are likely to be part of the explanation. Although the African Union has, like the UN and EU, adopted (semi-) policy documents of mediation,Footnote 138 much of the rich African experience in mediation has not been (officially) documented or is not widely circulating. As a result of the Eurocentric primacy of text-based knowledge,Footnote 139 that experience is either ignored, or (partially) adopted without attribution, further entrenching eurocentrism.Footnote 140 This vicious cycle of knowledge production is illustrated by the following anecdote. Asenior African mediation advisor with decades of experience had often given me in one-on-one conversations his sophisticated vision on the pros and cons of inclusivity. His assessment contained many more nuances than the prevailing mantra of inclusivity. However, when invited to give an official lecture on mediation for students, he mostly referred to UN policy documents. When I asked him afterwards about the seeming discrepancy, he explained that he felt that ‘in academia’ he had to refer students to the official, documented, narrative.
While containing several of the Eurocentric features of the 2009 Concept, the 2020 Concept also contains indications of some critical self-reflexivity. For instance, the adoption of the ‘conflict sensitivity, “do no harm”’ principle implicitly recognises that the EU could do harm.Footnote 141 The Concept also recognises that the ‘EU’s specific comparative advantages and entry points … are context specific’ and that a ‘series of circumstances influence this, including the EU’s and Member States’ historical engagement in a country, the EU’s current relations with the host Government and how the EU is perceived locally by peace and conflict stakeholders’.Footnote 142 Although hidden behind euphemisms – ‘historical engagement’ for colonial presence; ‘comparative advantages’ for what could just as well be ‘absolute no-go’s’ – the sentences do reveal awareness that the EU may not always be seen as an ideal mediator.
Still, the most notable difference between the 2020 and the 2009 Concepts is that in 2020 the EU self-consciously moves in a more normative direction, speaking of the ‘normative trajectory of EU mediation practice’.Footnote 143 Seeking to distinguish itself in a field of increased competition,Footnote 144 the Concept identifies its commitment to values as ‘the defining feature in EU mediation’Footnote 145 – a Eurocentric move, as the next section (Section 4) will elaborate. One indicator of the normative direction is that the 2020 Concept has a far longer list of ‘EU Mediation principles’ than the 2009 Concept. The ‘guiding principles’ of the 2009 Concept were primarily internally oriented. Of the five ‘principles’, three were focused on whether and how EU mediation fits with other EU actions: ‘coherence’, ‘comprehensiveness’ and ‘assessment of risks’. Only the last two principles – ‘transitional justice and human rights’ and ‘promoting the participation of women’ – were oriented towards changing the world outside the EU, indicating what should be negotiated and addressed in a peace agreement and who should be involved in peace talks. The 2020 Concept, by contrast, has a list of 12 ‘EU mediation principles’, six of which speak to the contents and process of the peace talks: ‘the EU as a value-based actor’, ‘inclusivity’, ‘human rights’, ‘promotion of gender equality and women’s empowerment’, ‘climate and natural resources’ and ‘cultural heritage’.Footnote 146
Most of these EU Mediation principles also appear in the annexed EU Peace Mediation Guidelines. These Guidelines are intended to set out what is normatively specific about EU mediation. The Introduction defers to the UN’s 2012 Guidance, which contains seven ‘mediation fundamentals’, but adds that the EU’s ‘are meant as an EU-specific reference document that should be consulted as a complementary tool’.Footnote 147 Some of the substantive areas of the UN and EU guidelines overlap, for instance, inclusivity, human rights (though labelled more broadly in the UN document as ‘international law and normative frameworks’), and coordination. The EU Guidelines’ repetition of some of the UN Guidelines could be read as an endorsement. A contrario, then, the lack of repetition of some of the UN Guidelines – specifically: ‘impartiality’ and ‘national ownership’ – can be read as the EU downplaying them: these the EU did not want to copy/paste, suggesting they are not characteristic of EU peace mediation.Footnote 148 The EU also has normative concerns that do not appear in the UN Guidance: cultural heritage, climate and religion.
The fact that the ‘EU mediation principles’ in the 2020 Concept and the nine ‘thematic priorities’ of the annexed Guidelines do not entirely overlap could be explained by the fact that the Guidelines were developed ‘as a parallel process’ to the Concept.Footnote 149 Paradoxically, given the title, the ‘Guidelines’ are in some ways less normative than the Concept. Whereas many of the ‘principles’ in the Concept appear as instructions, the thematic priorities in the Guidelines – on the same topics – seem more like issues for consideration. The Guidelines also show more of the complexities in some of the thematic areas. One explanation may be that practitioners had more of a voice in the development of the Guidelines and pointed to the difficult choices that peace mediation can require.Footnote 150
However, the nuances in the Guidelines notwithstanding, a comparison between the 2009 and 2020 Concepts suggests that the EU sends its mediators into the world with an increasingly heavy normative backpack.
4. A heavier and heavier normative backpack
The EU’s 2009 and 2020 Concepts both envisage the EU Mediator, whether in the lead or as a supporter of mediation processes led by others, as going into the world beyond the EU with norms that they should promote. As explained in the introduction to this article, the concept ‘norms’ is used broadly here, encompassing values, principles, definitions and expected behaviour. Afirst set of ‘norms’ that one can find in the backpack are norms in the sense of peace, liberty, democracy, rule of law and human rights (Section 4, A).Footnote 151 Asecond type of ‘norm’ relates to what peace mediation is all about. Without referring to them as norms, the Concepts’ explicit definition of mediation and implied definition of peace are both normative (Section 4, B). The third type of ‘norm’ are norms in the dominant social-science sense of the concept: ‘collective expectations for the proper behaviour of actors with a given identity’.Footnote 152 These expectations relate either to the substantive norms that the mediator should be advancing in mediation (Section 4, C) or the process of mediation (Section 4, D).
A. EU principles/values as norms
At the bottom of the EU mediator’s normative backpack are the heaviest items: the EU’s own foundational principles/values. The eurocentrism is already apparent in Article 21(1) of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), containing ‘general provisions on the Union’s external action’. In that article, democracy, the rule of law, the universality and indivisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for human dignity, the principles of equality and solidarity, and respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter and international law are claimed to be both European heritage (‘values which have inspired [the EU’s] creation’) and universally relevant (‘The Union’s action on the international scene shall be guided by the principles …’). The Mediation Concepts in a similar vein claim that these values ‘set the EU apart as a mediation actor’ while also being universally relevant. See, for instance, the Concept’s description of the first EU mediation principle, ‘the EU as a value-based actor’:
The defining feature in EU mediation is that the EU is a value-based actor. The EU’s foundational values, as set out in Article 2 TEU … set the EU apart as a mediation actor. The EU should consistently engage on the basis of its foundational values which include respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities as well as pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity, and gender equality.Footnote 153
In the Concepts, the EU appears indifferent to the question of whether other parts of the world share these values, either as a reason not to claim them as particularly European or as a reason to think about whether it is appropriate to refer to them. In other words, it is assumed natural that they are both specifically European in origin and of universal application. Moreover, in presenting its ‘value-based actor[ness]’ as that which sets it apart from other mediators, the EU suggests that other mediators are less committed to values. The Concept does not recognise that other mediators may also be committed to values, whether the same or different ones. As Thomas Diez has argued with respect to the EU’s self-definition as a ‘normative power’, this self-presentation is possible only by simultaneously constructing an image of an outside world of others who are presumed to be less normative.Footnote 154 This self-representation reinforces the Eurocentric idea of being at the top of a hierarchy of moral sentiments.Footnote 155
In the 2009 Concept, the EU values/principles are the most prominent type of norms. They primarily appear as the rationale for why the EU would be such an ideally placed mediator. The implied idea is that merely by being devoted to these principles/values, the EU promotes them when acting internationally.Footnote 156 But this idea is challengeable, for several reasons.
First, there is little ground for the assumption that peace at home means peace abroad or that internal norms more generally translate into a predisposition to uphold them abroad. European countries have a long history of invoking different norms for the relations among themselves and for their relations with those considered outside. During colonialism, the liberal peace was a warmongering ‘peace’: peace in Europe went hand in hand with violence, conquest and predation beyond its borders. Foundational principles of international law – respect for which is one of the EU’s values - such as sovereignty were developed, as Tony Anghie has argued, on the basis of the distinction between ‘civilised’ and ‘non-civilised’.Footnote 157 The same distinction shaped who was considered as enjoying international legal personality, entitled to land or covered by the laws of war.Footnote 158
Secondly, that which is to be exported – whether ‘civilisation’ in the days of colonialism or the values stated in the TEU – has always been the projection of an ideal, not a photograph. As Kalypso Nicolaïdis and Robert Howse have argued with respect to the idea of the EU as a civilian power, the export product ‘is not the EU as is, but an EUtopia’: it is not what the EU is, but what it wants to be.Footnote 159 Internally, this abstract EUtopia serves a unifying function: it is perhaps the only vision on which all EU institutions and Member States can agree.Footnote 160 However, those who encounter the EU are more likely to perceive the norms as they are reflected in practices. And, as will be elaborated in the next section, these practices, both at home and abroad, are not isomorphic with the espoused norms. What to the EU may appear as a continent of peace, human rights and the rule of law, can from the outside also be seen as a political power that pushes migrants back out to the sea,Footnote 161 that allows immigrant labourers to die due to exploitation,Footnote 162 and to which the biggest fish are exported even at times when there is hunger in the areas where they are caught.Footnote 163
The list of ‘foundational values’ that the EU ‘should consistently engage on’ has expanded since 2009. The 2009 Concept mentioned peace, democracy, human rights and sustainable development. By 2020, foundational values include respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities as well as pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and gender equality.Footnote 164
B. Definitions as norms: the 2020 backpack’s new normative colour
Another way that the 2020 Concept normatively differs from the 2009 concept is in its definition of ‘mediation’. The 2009 Concept provided that ‘[a] primary goal [of mediation] is often to prevent or end violence through cessation of hostilities or cease fire agreements’.Footnote 165 In the 2020 Concept, this sentence has disappeared. Instead, the Concept provides: ‘In order to ensure peace and stability in the long-term, mediation should aim at a process that is inclusive of peace constituencies and be cognisant of and, as appropriate, address the root causes of conflict.’Footnote 166 Thus, whereas in 2009, the EU still valued peace as the absence of violence, the 2020 Concept implicitly dismisses it as not enough. Instead, mediation requires identification of ‘root causes’,Footnote 167 which then must be addressed. While the EU thus makes the objective of mediation more ambitious, it shifts its definition of success from the outcome of the process to the conduct of elements of the mediation process. For instance, promoting the inclusion of marginalised groups in a peace process is in and of itself an indicator of ‘success for EU mediation’.Footnote 168 The process of mediation thus becomes more and more an end in itself.
C. Norms to be promoted in a peace process: an increasingly heavy backpack
In the 2009 Concept, the EU mediator’s primary substantive normative agenda to be promoted is that of ‘transitional justice and human rights’. The ‘principle’ is explained as requiring some topics to be on the agenda of peace talks and in the table of contents of a peace agreement: ‘Issues such as holding human rights violators accountable in justice for their actions, reparations to victims, reintegration of ex-child-soldiers, restitution for property and land as well as the return of IDPs and refugees have to be tackled during the peace negotiations and the drafting of peace agreements.’Footnote 169 The explanation of the principle also guides the EU as to how it must approach some of these topics: ‘EU mediation efforts must be fully in line with and supportive of the principles of international human rights and humanitarian law, and must contribute to fighting impunity for human rights violations.’Footnote 170 Some have commented on the fact that the 2009 EU Concept did not explicitly ban EU support for the use of amnesties for international crimes and human rights violations, unlike earlier UN internal guidance.Footnote 171 But in a way, the 2009 Concept goes further than the UN guidance: ‘fighting impunity’ is a more interventionist agenda than not supporting amnesties. The 2009 Concept does acknowledge, however, that there can be tensions between this instruction and the objective of peace mediation where it states: ‘Although it is widely acknowledged that it is only through justice to victims that enduring peace can be achieved, there are often tensions between these two objectives, and the EU should consider on a case by case basis how best to support transitional justice mechanisms, including addressing impunity.’Footnote 172 As the structure of this sentence suggests, in the 2009 Concept, transitional justice is still presented as a field of tension between peace and justice: the main clause of the sentence is an assertion about existing tensions, while the message that ‘it is widely acknowledged’ that they often go hand in hand is in a subordinate clause.Footnote 173
However, by 2020, this political tension is no longer acknowledged. Rather, transitional justice appears as only one aspect of a broader human rights agenda in peace negotiations, which must be dealt with in accordance with the EU’s specialised ‘policy framework on transitional justice’ of 2015.Footnote 174 According to this policy framework, ‘[t]he EU firmly believes in the principle that there cannot be lasting peace without justice’.Footnote 175 The EU has thus replaced its empirical observation about tensions between peace and justice in the 2009 Concept with a normative principle: peace without justice is no good peace. This loads the backpack, because the consequence that the EU attaches to this observation is that it ‘supports the established United Nations policy to oppose amnesties for war crimes, crimes against humanity or gross violations of human rights, including in the context of peace negotiations’.Footnote 176 In fact, the EU’s policy goes a step further than the UN report to which it refers. Whereas that report recommends the UN to ‘[e]nsure that peace agreements and Security Council resolutions and mandates reject any endorsement of amnesty’ for such crimes – it does not mention gross violations of human rights – the EU speaks in the abstract of opposing such amnesties. The UN policy has meant in practice that the UN does not sign agreements that contained such amnesties; the UN has not opposed agreements that contained them if the UN was not a signatory itself. Thus, when the parties in Yemen insisted on an amnesty, the UN’s policy prohibited it from witnessing the agreement, but the UN could continue assisting in other aspects of the peace process.Footnote 177 The EU’s policy of having to oppose amnesties is more likely to be tied to withdrawing support altogether.Footnote 178
The final principle of the 2009 Concept, namely that EU mediation activities should at all stages of the process incorporate the principles of UN Security Council resolutions 1325 and 1820, has both a procedural and substantive aspect.Footnote 179 Procedurally, the EU specifically commits to women’s participation in peace processes and ensuring that ‘gender expertise’ is available from the early stages of the process. Substantively, it requires that ‘[m]ediation processes must adequately account for sexual violence as well as the need to protect civilians from it and to fight impunity’.Footnote 180
By 2020, this commitment to women’s participation and attention to sexual violence and gender expertise is updated to what by then has emerged as the full ‘Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda’. The 2020 Concept also contains more specific guidance: ‘The EU has set a target of minimum 33 percent women participation in all EU actions related to peace processes’.Footnote 181
The 2020 Concept also introduces new substantive areas to be considered by the EU mediator in a peace process: climate and natural resources as well as cultural heritage. The Concept does not go as far as presenting these as issues that must be addressed in peace talks or in an agreement.Footnote 182 But these are factors that the EU mediator must consider when approaching a mediation. It states that ‘[t]he EU should … draw on its extensive climate and environmental experience’.Footnote 183 This experience is presented only in a positive light: as a resource, as expertise. There is no reference to possible complicity, in other words, to the EU’s history of contributing to climate change. With respect to cultural heritage, it is presented as a given that this is of ‘strong symbolic importance for local communities’ and that ‘[c]ultural heritage is key to restoring the social fabric that sustains peace agreements and reconciliation’.Footnote 184 There is no reference to all the cultural objects in the territory of the EU that have been looted from outside the EU. The annexed EU Mediation Guidelines add some further areas that the mediator must consider, such as religion and the psychosocial dimension.
There is probably no harm in having a mediation team that is fully aware of, and up to speed with, all these matters. But the question does arise as to how much scope there is for truly engaging with the specifics of the conflict at hand if so much textual, political and mental space has been dedicated to issues that have been predetermined to be ‘key’. Before a mediation team begins to understand a conflict, it has already been determined that women’s participation, climate, cultural heritage and transitional justice must be considered as part of the solution. The toolbox has already been packed, and as we know from Maslow’s law of instrument (‘if the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail’), tools shape how problems are understood.
There is one reference in the entire 2020 Concept to ‘local contexts’. The Guidelines, however, speak more often of ‘the local’: of efforts at the ‘local level’ that need to be connected to the ‘global level’, of ‘local views and ownership’, of ‘international and local experts’, of ‘integrating local perspectives to [sic] the overall analysis’, and of ‘maximis[ing] local ownership’. But as the juxtapositions between global and local reveal, these descriptors portray the ‘international’ and ‘global’ as a strongly interconnected centre of expertise, in which the local can only feed in. There is no reflection of the fact that ‘the locals’ may be at least as - if not more - globally interconnected than the ‘internationals’. In the Concepts, like Ole Sending has argued in the context of UN peacebuilding, ‘the local’ ‘is a product of and systematically made subordinate to the concept of the international’.Footnote 185 Illustrative is the Guideline’s reference to ‘the need for mediation strategies that … help generate broad national ownership’: even national ownership is something that is expected to be generated by outsiders.Footnote 186
Accompanying the 2020 Concept’s lonely reference to ‘local contexts’ is a crucial word: humility. But both terms come literally as an after thought: they are textually buried under a paragraph that sets the EU apart as a value-based mediator:
The defining feature in EU mediation is that the EU is a value-based actor. The EU’s foundational values, as set out in Article 2 TEU … set the EU apart as a mediation actor. The EU should consistently engage on the basis of its foundational values which include respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities as well as pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity, and gender equality. The value-based actor principle is implemented hand-in-hand with a sense of humility and respect for local contexts.Footnote 187
The EU values and ‘a sense of humility and respect for local contexts’ are said to go hand in hand, but one hand appears much bigger than the other. Moreover, the need for humility and respect of local contexts seems to kick in only at a second, less principled, stage: whereas the values are presented as universally relevant in general, humility and local contexts become relevant only in the implementation of those values.Footnote 188
D. Norms on the process of peace mediation: an increasingly heavy backpack
The Women, Peace and Security agenda, discussed above because it closely interknits substantive and procedural concerns, illustrates the increasingly heavy backpack of procedural norms. The EU commits itself to at least 33 per cent women participation in all EU actions related to peace processes. However, as mentioned above, the 2020 Concept includes a more general principle of ‘inclusivity’ in peace processes. According to the EU mediation principle: ‘the EU favours all-of-society approaches to sustaining peace that focuses [sic] on giving voice to all groups and leaving no-one behind. Women and youth draw particular attention from the perspective of meaningful participation.’Footnote 189
In its embrace of the ‘inclusivity agenda’, the EU follows a more general trend in the world of peace mediation and beyond. At the UN, the inclusivity agenda can be seen as having replaced that of democracy.Footnote 190 Having emerged soon after the end of the Cold War, in a time that some in the West thought that history had ended and everybody agreed upon democracy as the only acceptable way of governance, the democracy agenda has been quietly disappearing since the late 2000s. With the re-emergence of geopolitics and explicit contestation of the universal prescription of western forms of governance, democracy became harder for the UN to promote. The UN, and in its footsteps the EU, have shifted to the seemingly more technical and neutral agenda of ‘inclusivity’.
Critical reflexivity would reveal, however, that the frame through which and from which this value of inclusivity is preached remains contingent and contested. As Sara Kendall has argued in a different context: ‘Inclusion takes arrival within the frame as its objective without questioning the ontology of the frame itself, which harbours traditions of knowledge-production and dominant approaches that may accompany membership within it.’Footnote 191 In peace mediation, too, the frame in which people are being included is politically contested: who should be involved in decision-making and how? Who has the power to include and exclude? What does it mean to be included? While the inclusion agenda seems to be all about enhancing marginalised groups’ agency in society, the fact that the categories to be included (here: women, youth) have been predetermined also denies agency, namely the power to decide how to organise political representation.Footnote 192 The inclusivity agenda cannot avoid the contingency and contestation that characterises the discussion about democracy.
The rise of inclusivity as the seemingly technical substitute for the politically too contested value of democracy could point to a more general explanation for the increasing weight of the EU’s mediator normative backpack. At first sight, the increase in normative weight between 2009 and 2020 is surprising. By 2020, norms that the West considered during the 1990s to have been universally accepted – democracy, rule of law, human rights, refugee law – were under attack again, both from outside and from within the EU. The UN and western states retreated from their ambition to promote the liberal peace abroad, instead focusing on stabilisation.Footnote 193 But in the EU’s mediation agenda, we see norms become more prominent. The explanation may be that compared to the other activities of the war-to-peace transition industry (peacekeeping, peacebuilding), mediation appears less ambitious and more neutral: mediators are mere go-betweens who do not impose anything. The backpack provides an opportunity still to bring along some of the contested concepts, now in the technical, seemingly neutral, language of effective mediation.Footnote 194 However, no matter how technically the baggage is wrapped, in large parts of the world, people will recognise the backpack: there are the Europeans again, with their standards. Through critical self-reflexivity, the EU would be able to recognise this obstinate baggage.
5. Obstinate baggage
The EU’s role as a peace mediator is enshrined in our strong commitment to the rules-based multilateral order. Promoting international peace and security is part of the EU’s DNA and the EU is uniquely placed to do so. We are seen as a credible actor, an honest-broker and a “smart power”.
Helga Schmid, Secretary General of the European External Action Service.Footnote 195
‘A peace project in itself, support to peace is inherent to the EU identity and reflected throughout its actions’ (2020 Concept).Footnote 196
The Concepts give the impression of the EU arriving as a mediator (whether as lead mediator or supporter) with a clean slate, as if Europe has not already been present in the situations where it offers support for mediation, or they present the EU as an actor that has been present for a long time and in that way has built up trust.Footnote 197 But in many places, the EU is seen to arrive with baggage that challenges the EU’s self-understanding of having international peace in its DNA, as an honest broker, or more generally, as a force for good in world politics: the EU is the successor to the Europe that came to conclude treaties that led to dispossession, exploitation and humiliation and whose norms and standard of civilisation led to subjugation. It is also the same Europe as that which had the sense that it was right and proper to govern others at a distance.Footnote 198 Of course, there are significant differences between then and now. The EU and the European imperial states do not isomorphically overlap.Footnote 199 Moreover, the EU’s foreign policy is not out to occupy territory or enslave people. In the field of peace mediation, the EU recognises that the UN, not Europe, is the global standard setter. And the norms in the Concepts are more procedural than substantive and primarily serve as standards for EU mediators as opposed to the rest of the world. Yet, in many places in the world, and not only the parts that were officially colonised, there are deep running memories of a Europe that felt itself superior and acted accordingly.Footnote 200 These memories are not just stories about the past that pass through generations; the legacy of the encounter with ‘Europe’ is present like obstinate baggage. This obstinate baggage shapes how Europe is seen when it arrives as a mediation actor.
The EU Concepts show very little awareness of the impact that this baggage has for any role that the EU may wish to play in mediation beyond Europe. The EU’s acceptance speech at the occasion of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize symbolises how the EU more generally ignores the weight of the past interventions of Europeans, then unified in a self-image of civilisation, now as a political community. Before turning to the EU’s ambitions for promoting peace in the world, Von Rompuy and Barroso started with the EU ‘at its origins’, asserting that the EU in its first 60 years had reunified Europe around ‘values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights’.Footnote 201 Perhaps unsurprisingly for a Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, the EU duumvirate made no reference to another project that had driven the European Community in the 1950s and 1960s: Eurafrica. Peo Hansen and Stefan Johnsson have argued that the plan behind Eurafrica was that pooled European sovereignty would translate into collective European colonialism, producing a European power that could counterbalance the United States and USSR, and could assist the European Community Member States in their struggle to keep the reign over their colonies.Footnote 202 By recalling only the history of a European Community that wanted to break with, rather than continue, its Member States’ past, the EU statement in response to the Nobel Prize fits under the umbrella of what Kalypso Nicolaïdis has labelled the EU’s ‘selective amnesia’ about its own origins, leading to a story of the ‘virgin birth’.Footnote 203 But no matter how often the EU repeats this story to itself, a large part of the world that ‘sees’ the EU as a mediator is unlikely to subscribe to it.
For a better understanding of its own position, the EU should thus ask more critical questions to itself: how does ‘the world’ – in all its diversity – see the EU as a mediation actor? What does the EU look like in the bigger picture of the field of mediation? How do its mediation practices relate to those of other actors and how have they been shaped by them? What can it learn from (undocumented) practices elsewhere? How can the EU avoid an autobiographical understanding of itself? Such critical reflexivity and the ensuing humility are important not only to recognise the associations of the normative backpack in the eyes of the beholders; they are also essential to recognise continuities between European colonialism and the present. The text of the Concepts illustrates that the end of European colonialism has not heralded the end of eurocentrism: the sensibilities that fostered eurocentrism still do important work.Footnote 204 The EU sees itself as epistemologically and normatively superior, while adopting understandings of key notions – peace, mediation – that are based on an idealised version of itself: peace as it is ideally exists within the EU and mediation as a supposed apolitical space that suits the EU’s own technocratic approach. Neither understanding reflects European realities and neither reflects how the world sees and knows the EU.
The sense of superiority that underpins the eurocentrism identified in the Concepts limits the EU’s potential actually to make a contribution to the world of peace mediation. Colonialism has shown how a mistaken belief in holding the truth and doing the right thing stands in the way of recognising that policies have the opposite of intended effects and that the invoked norms, principles and values may serve only to legitimise internally the pursuit of crude political and economic interests.Footnote 205 The Concepts risk doing the same: while they highlight the EU’s values, they do not reflect that the EU is often already present, or indeed, part of the conflicts for which it is offering its mediation services, for instance, through its trade policies and practices, its funding instruments and its common foreign policy, or the lack thereof. If the focus was less on superiority of values, more attention could be paid to questions such as: what else – other than mediation – does the EU tend to export? Is peace really in the EU’s DNA if EU Member States are collectively the second largest supplier of weapons in the world?Footnote 206 What is the impact of the EU’s externalisation of migration control on conflicts?Footnote 207 What is the link between the EU’s objection to free trade in agricultural products or land grabbing by European companies and grievances that fuel conflicts? What is the impact of the EU’s demand for metals, minerals and forest risk commodities on the social, political and environmental situation in which conflicts take place?Footnote 208 Finally, what is the impact of the EU’s lack of a common foreign policy with respect to conflict situations on mediation efforts (for instance, in Libya, where some EU Member States provided backing to one party and other EU Member States to the other)?Footnote 209 The Concepts do identify a guiding principle, namely coherence, that offers an opportunity for considering such questions,Footnote 210 but have not grasped the opportunity … yet.Footnote 211
Critical self-reflexivity by those who author, discuss and adopt these texts through a dialogue based on equality with intended beneficiaries of the EU’s mediation activities can help identify lingering Eurocentric sensibilities, challenge them, and produce better texts. It would also allow the EU to be more effective in its stated aim of promoting peace, no matter how it is defined. More generally, reflexivity and the ensuing decentring of Europe could prevent the EU from sleepwalking into the civilising mission. To have this decentring effect, reflexivity must be genuinely self-critical. Superficial reflexivity risks only shoring up eurocentrism: Narcissus is alive and staring. Rather, the outcome of critical reflexivity must be integrated and turn existing logics of paternalism and governing on their head. In other words, the reflexive focus on Europe must not enhance eurocentrism but decentre Europe. As I have argued at the opening of this article, that opportunity also exists for this new journal: Europe-focused, and yet decentring it.
6. To be open to the world, the EU needs to decentre Europe
Several scholars have proposed how best (and how not to) decentre Europe.Footnote 212 Drawing on that scholarship, Isuggest combining at least three related perspectives: geographical, historical and relational.
Geographically, decentring Europe requires constant and explicit acknowledgement of what should be obvious: that Europe is only one among many places on the globe and that the EU is only one of many forms of political organisation. ‘Provincialising Europe’, as conceptualised by Dipesh Chakrabarty, involves recognising that thought that has emanated from ‘Europe’ – whether, for instance, liberalism or Marxism – is, no matter its universal relevance today, inextricably connected with a specific place.Footnote 213 Key concepts that have organised that thought, for instance, property, capital, sovereignty, rationality or, indeed, the concept of ‘Europe’ itself, are similarly provincially rooted. And that province is somewhere on this globe’s surface: a surface without any natural centre. For the Concepts on mediation, such a geographic approach would mean bringing that enormous part of the world that is not Europe into the text. It would situate the EU’s efforts amidst numerous mediation practices, including ones that are unwritten, based on practical wisdom and social relations as opposed to technical guidelines, and recognise that the EU’s practices are a relatively small part of all of these. Ageographic approach would also lead to a question of appropriateness: as Barney Afako has argued, the nature of the EU, its essentially European structure and personnel, also limits what it has to offer – because of these limitations, parties may turn to others as primary mediators.Footnote 214 Such awareness also forces one to interrogate why the EU, unlike for instance the AU, assumes that its mediation practices are primarily intended to be applied outside its own territory. If it aims to mediate outside the EU because it cannot act as neutral third party in its own territory, it should presume reciprocity: the EU should be able to envisage, for instance, the AU mediating Brexit or between Spain and the Catalan independence movement – if the AU was willing to. For future articles in this journal, this geographic approach could mean showing alternatives to ‘the European’ way of doing things, including alternatives to European law(s).
A historical perspective is also inherent in Chakrabarty’s concept of provincialising Europe. For specific places have their own specific histories, including their own intellectual histories. While power, technologies and ideas may travel the world and shape the histories of specific places, the history of one place – Europe – need not predict, either empirically or normatively, that of the rest of the world. Ahistorical approach would also address Europe’s obstinate baggage and would show that the EU’s narrative of a peace project is one of aspiration – for instance, in the area of the norm of inclusivity – where leading by example is a work in progress. This means that the goals set for external policies are also still goals for internal policies. Such recognition is an additional reason for refraining from projecting one’s own teleology onto the rest of the world. Ahistorical approach would bring the political back into mediation: how did Europe’s own peace project evolve? Ahistorical approach would also allow conflicts to be understood on the basis of their own complex, often global, historical reality, rather than through the prism of predetermined ‘root causes’. And for the journal, the historical approach would show that while this journal may make a fresh start, there can be no clean slate for Europe or its law.
To see Europe in its larger context, the geographic and historical perspectives must be supplemented with a relational one.Footnote 215 Arelational perspective reveals how Europe – as an idea and as an ever-shifting empirical entity – has always been co-constituted by its imagined ‘others’. The province was never created and formed only by whom Europe now usually recognises as its ancestors.Footnote 216 For the EU and mediation, a relational approach would recognise that mediation depends to a large extent on the mediator’s relations with the parties. These relations are formed by history and that history has on-going effects – obstinate baggage – also on material relations, replete with asymmetries of power and interest.Footnote 217 Arelational approach would also address problematic epistemological hierarchies, for instance, by recognising that in the world of mediation, the EU has much to learn from others, not just the UN and not just those who publish their practices in mediation guidelines. To overcome eurocentrism, the foundation of the relational approach must be equality and reciprocity. When issuing Concepts, the EU should consider whether it is open to being described as a potential object of mediation in the same way as it describes the rest of the world as an object of its mediation services. Arelational approach could also foster ways of learning together, as opposed to extractive learning where the European mediator needs to get information from the ‘locals’. Arelational approach would recognise how ‘the local’ and ‘the international’ are mutually co-constitutive. Following Sanjay Seth,Footnote 218 these reflexive approaches could also counter eurocentrism by interrogating the analytical categories that stand for the presumed shared aspiration: what understanding of peace is being pursued and whose understanding is this? How did that understanding come about? EU texts cannot bring all of those with whom the EU is related in, but they must protect a space for those who are part of the relation to speak, representing ‘their own wills, desires, and interests, on the one hand, and their political imaginaries, moral systems and notions of identity, politics, community (or society), and law (also obligations), on the other’.Footnote 219 Rather than always suggesting that the EU knows what and how to, the texts could protect a space for asking questions. Such questions then, could also drive this journal. Research published in these pages could bring Europe’s ‘others’ as equals into a story of mutual constitution or indeed, analyse Europe in the world from the perspective of the diverse world around it. Or, one can explore the world in Europe. Either way, it will be difficult to draw boundaries: like most regions, ‘Europe’ and the world are inextricably interwoven.
7. A note of optimism
Some seeds for critical self-reflexivity can already be found in the EU.Footnote 220 Texts and comments by one of the EU’s most experienced mediators, former High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, both in office and out of office, reveal such reflexivity. Some of her comments during a panel at the European University Institute’s State of the Union in 2021 are illustrative.Footnote 221 When asked how the EU could better use its leverage across the world, she emphasised the importance of respect and humility:
Because of the colonial past of Europe, we have to be cautious … We have to know that the first step is listening, understanding and serving, if Ican use a word that is not always, often used. But Ithink it is important for Europeans to understand that they have to apply respect and humility whenever they go mediating or facilitating processes.Footnote 222
Experienced mediators know that humility and empathy are key for mediators in general, and in her comments Mogherini argues that humility may be required specifically on the part of the EU.Footnote 223 Such humility may also translate into the EU’s role in mediation: in many situations the EU supports the mediation efforts where others, for instance, the UN, the AU or IGAD are in the lead. It supports these by leveraging its own strengths: financial resources – mediation enterprises can be costly undertakings –, diplomatic backing for the mediators, and economic and political incentives for parties to stick to the peace process and the agreement. The Concepts could recognise that these supportive roles are at times the most appropriate role for the EU to fulfil.
Experienced mediators, including those representing the EU, also know how to deal with the normative backpack subtly. The issue is not that its contents are normatively problematic in and of themselves: some of the values may actually be true values. Rather, the problem is the presumption that the EU (uniquely) holds that truth and that it must bring up the values that it claims as ‘European’ as incontestable truths during peace talks.Footnote 224 In other words, the real question is not so much whether or not the EU travels with a normative backpack but how to carry it, when to open it and what to expect afterwards. As Katia Papagianni of the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue observed during the same State of the Union panel:
There is a lot of experience in the mediation field that shows that in a strategic and pragmatic way an experienced and sophisticated mediator is able to pursue possibly in modest ways a normative agenda and still be an effective mediator, meaning pursuing conflict resolution goals … That is the approach of humility, modesty, engagement with local actors and a long-term engagement.
Papagianni advises not to use the normative backpack as a ‘list of requirements and demands that need to be implemented tomorrow’.Footnote 225 Less subtle mediation actors see peace talks as the moment immediately to offload the entire backpack, demanding women’s representation in all delegations and trials for all those who have committed human rights violations, while writing draft agreements on climate change and cultural heritage. As Barney Afako commented during the panel, putting the backpack on is the easy part: taking it off needs to be reflected upon and needs to be sensitive to context.Footnote 226
The fact that a former EU top mediator, Federica Mogherini, is more sophisticated than the EU as it comes across in the Concepts does not make the eurocentrism of the Concepts less problematic. First, when asked how she dealt with the normative backpack in her role as facilitator of what is popularly known as the Iran Nuclear Deal, Mogherini argued that in that role she did not have to bring the backpack along. This meant that she did not have to insist on women representation in the Iranian delegation, or raise issues of transitional justice. One of her arguments for not carrying the backpack was that the Security Council had appointed the High Representative of the EU as an individual, rather than as representative of the EU.Footnote 227 But the fact that the High Representative of the EU did not voluntarily carry the backpack along does suggest it is sometimes considered too heavily loaded to be carried along to all mediations in which the EU is involved. While the Concepts suggest that in scenarios that the EU cannot mediate because of its normative commitments, other actors may be better placed to mediate, Mogherini’s account may also indicate that the EU goes nonetheless and simply leaves the backpack at home.
Secondly, even if the most senior mediators never read the Concepts, they do influence modes of action: mediation trainers, technical advisers and budget holders refer to them, shaping how the EU acts in the world. Moreover, the discourse that they set forth in and of itself does work: the Concepts fulfil the role of telling the EU a story about who it wants to be. With texts that reveal the internalisation of more critical reflexivity, the texts may be more effective in getting towards its ideal. The EU has an opportunity when it revises the Concept on mediation. And the now inaugurated European Law Open can show from the outset that, while being focused on Europe, it is open to the world by decentring Europe.
This article has benefitted from valuable feedback. Much of this came from people at, or during events at, the European University Institute in Florence. Irina Muñoz Ibarra was a terrific research assistant and also provided most insightful comments on an earlier draft of this paper at the workshop Politics, Peace and Paperwork, organised by the International Law Working Group at the European University Institute on 26 November 2021. Sara Kendall, Devon Curtis, Sharath Srinivasan and other participants in that workshop also generously shared ideas that found their ways into this paper. The European University Institute Faculty Seminar of 19 January 2022 confirmed why it is such a blessing to be a member of that department: Martijn Hesselink was the best discussant I could have hoped for and several other colleagues, too, raised points the paper needed to address. At the European University Institute’s School of Transnational Governance, Kalypso Nicolaïdis turned from a prominent name in my bibliography into a real interlocutor. I am also grateful to the journal’s reviewers as they pointed out some key issues and to managing editor Harm Schepel for a perfect combination of exhortation and patience. I thank former colleagues in Sudan and South Sudan for opening my eyes and making me see the EU – and myself – in a new light. I alone am responsible for any errors in this piece. The article builds on research done on peace mediation in the context of a larger research project titled ‘Peacemaking: What’s Law Got to Do with It?’, the beginning of which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ES/L010976/1), the Leverhulme Trust (PLP-2014-067) and the Isaac Newton Trust (RG79578). The funders have had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.