The EU and Somalia – Counter-Piracy and the Question of a Comprehensive Approach

By Dr Hans-Georg Ehrhart and Kerstin Petretto (Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy, Hamburg)

Conflict ridden and failing states like Somalia as well as the scourge of piracy emanating from its coasts are textbook examples for the truism that dealing effectively with today’s transnational threats demands strong international cooperation and a functioning multi-level governance in the field of security. While the political process on tackling the intractable Somali crisis has been staggering over years, the increasing attacks on merchant vessels in the Gulf of Aden, the Somali Basin and the wider Indian Ocean have resulted in unprecedented activities of a multitude of international actors in the maritime sphere and beyond.

The European Union and its Member States play a significant role in this endeavour. Root causes and symptoms of the Somali crisis shall be tackled by making use of the variety of instruments the EU has at its disposal, all interlinked together in what has been called a comprehensive approach. This approach aims to strategically combine political dialogue, humanitarian and developmental aid with efforts to increase security within the country. Security assistance is firstly provided by the training of security forces via the European Training Mission (EUTM) in Uganda and secondly by deterring, preventing and repressing acts of piracy via EU Naval Force (EUNAVFOR) Atalanta – the first naval operation ever implemented within the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Furthermore, capacities of Somalia as well as its neighbouring states to prosecute and detain pirates ought to be enhanced and strengthened. The “Strategic Framework for the Horn of Africa”, adopted by the Council in November 2011 as well as the appointment of a Special Representative for the Horn of Africa is furthermore to interlink the engagement in Somalia with the EU’s policies in the region.

Despite all these efforts and despite close cooperation with many partners such as the United Nations, the African Union, and the United States, the Somali crisis is however not even close to being solved. Somali pirates continue to pose a risk to global maritime shipping. It is also more than doubtful whether – after more than a dozen similar events – the London Conference on Somalia that took place on February 23rd will be a significant game changer in this regard.

Reviewing the EU’s approach

Based on this account, a newly released study, commissioned by the Greens/EFA Group in the European Parliament and written by Hans-Georg Ehrhart and Kerstin Petretto from the Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg aims to provide an in depth assessment of the EU policies towards Somalia in general and piracy in particular and to identify opportunities, challenges and limitations of tackling such a complex crisis. As such a compilation and critical evaluation of the diverse areas of EU engagement does not exist so far, the study wants to contribute to a better understanding of the EU’s activities in and off Somalia as well as to find ways to improve the response towards the Somali challenge.

The authors based their research on three questions: Firstly, is there such a thing as a comprehensive approach towards Somalia – not only in terms of an overarching strategy but also in terms of interlinking all the actions of the diverse actors within the European Union as well as those actions of its main international partners and those within Somalia. Secondly, what are the effects of the ongoing activities and can they really live up to the self-set aims of the European Union – particularly when taking into consideration that the EU is the main donor for Somalia with regard to humanitarian and development aid and, specifically via EUNAVFOR Atalanta, is also in the front lines of the fight against maritime piracy. And thirdly, to what extent do these self-set aims of the EU match with expectations and structures onshore: It is common sense by now that the solution to any problem emanating from Somalia such as piracy but also international terrorism and other forms of violence and crime will be found in the sociopolitical sphere. Solving the Somali crisis means effectively dealing with political and social problems, hence means the need for building up a viable and stable “state”. Ownership is a word that is being used a lot in the context of these kind of international state-building efforts. Thus, the study also deals with the question if ownership is really a thread followed thoroughly in the EU’s engagement and if the solutions pursued are really as tailor made as one would expect them to be from an optimistic point of view.

Troubles with the EU’s approach: Improving the EU’s policy

Contrary to the EU’s repeated claims that it is following successfully a truly comprehensive approach with regard to Somalia, the study’s main findings are less positive:

Firstly, despite all documents and speeches published by EU institutions highlighting the comprehensive approach, it is still nascent. Of course, the EU is engaged in a diverse set of issue areas that are all in themselves very important, however, a piecemeal approach is still prevalent. This refers to both the institutional set-up as well as the actual engagement. What is still missing is active internal coordination and an alignment of the diverse activities. Foremost, the EU is still lacking an overall strategy to tackle the Somali challenge. The recently adopted strategic framework for the Horn Region with its specific focus onSomaliaas well as the appointment of a special representative for the region can be considered a right step in this direction. Yet, it can only have an impact if the drafting and implementing of projects in the various areas of engagement are coordinated across the different departments of the Commission as well as the EEAS – and not least: with the Member States, something which so far is not being done to a sufficient degree.

Secondly, the study concludes thattoo much emphasis has been laid upon military means. By putting a lot of effort into backing up a dysfunctional transition government in the capital via EUTM and support for the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) the EU not only makes itself a party to a yet to be resolved violent conflict. It furthermore neglects one lesson that can be drawn out of the history of the Somali conflict: At whatever stage of the conflict, no conflict party, neither insurgents, nor Somali government soldiers or external actors were able to claim a lasting military victory. Quite the contrary, particularly external military intervention usually led to a worsening of the situation and the current developments on the ground again seems to proof this finding. The same finding applies to the EU efforts to counter piracy: although Atalanta can be applauded for protecting the vessels of the World Food Program and reducing the success rate of pirates, the military mission suffers from deficits of the land based approach of the Union: Efforts to enhance regional and local capacities with regard to prosecution and detention and particularly to go after the organizers of the pirate business are still not showing considerable results as the continued practice of catch and release by EU Naval forces demonstrates.

The third deficit of the EU’s Approach identified in the study is the focus of the EU and its major international partners on propping up a national government that does so far not deliver what it is expected to. Although local forms of governance are increasingly being taken note of, the general approach is still aiming at reconciliation and state-building on the national level, via international conferences initiated and driven by external actors. The concept of ownership seems to be used predominantly as rhetorical component, but not as a firm base of EU’s policies and activities. The study thus concludes, that the EU thus should become more actively engaged with local partners from civil society, the clans and local administrations and thereby strengthen its multi-track approach inSomalia.

However, the authors also point to the fact, that potential success of the engagement of external actors in other countries’ crisis is always limited: coherent politics and approaches are only a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for effective external security governance and for engagement with and in so-called failing or failed states like Somalia: even if the EU had a perfect comprehensive approach, this would not guarantee success given the manifold local, regional and international intricacies of the Somalia issue. Nonetheless, improving its own strategies and mechanisms of engagement could raise the odds for a more stable Somalia in a more stable region.

It is furthermore common sense that, because it is primarily rooted in Somalia’s political and socio-economic conditions, the solution for the piracy challenge is to be found on land. Therefore the EU should follow an explicit “Somalia first” approach – in contrast to a possible “piracy first” point of departure – whereby the lead has to be in the hands of the Somali people themselves. In this regard, the EU should critically assess the practices and outcomes of its previous state-building efforts and use the insights gained from this for future sound strategy-building. It should consider supporting alternative approaches to centralized forms of governance and de-facto trusteeships such as decentralized systems of governance or non-state oligopolies of power if this better suits local power relations – because, in the end, it is up to the Somali people themselves to decide on the form of governance they wish to establish.

The study can be downloaded at http://www.greens-efa.eu/the-eu-and-somalia-5416.html

For further inquiries the authors can be contacted directly:

Dr Hans-Georg Ehrhart – ehrhart@ifsh.de

Kerstin Petretto – petretto@ifsh.de