EUNPACK Final Conference: synthesising three years of research on the EU’s crisis response

Conflict sensitivity in focus as the three-year NUPI-led research project on the EU’s crisis response (EUNPACK) organised a final conference in Brussels in March.

The EU’s crisis response has gotten a thorough scrutiny by a NUPI-led research consortium the last three years. In Brussels last week, from 18-20 March, results were synthesised in a varied program where EUNPACK researchers engaged with policy makers.

Policy implications of research results

As the EUNPACK project neared its end, the Final Conference provided an opportunity to look back at three years of research and fieldwork and to consider the policy implications of the findings. The conference provided an opportunity for EUNPACK researchers to share insights and discuss findings with relevant policy makers, other scholars as well as representatives from civil society.

Prevention and conflict sensitivity

Project coordinator Morten Bøås (NUPI) opened the event, presenting key findings from the three years of research. His main emphasis was on the need for greater conflict sensitivity in the EU’s crisis response.

Read the sum-up of the key findings and insights from the EUNPACK project:

Giving the keynote speech was Hilde Hardeman, Head of the European Commission's Service for Foreign Policy Instruments. Hardeman agreed with Bøås on the necessity for greater conflict sensitivity and suggested this was of even greater importance given the heightened focus on prevention of conflict in recent years – both by the Pathways to peace-report by the United Nations and the World Bank, and especially by UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Conflict sensitivity and lessons learnt

Hardemann mentioned three ways in which conflict sensitivity relates to lessons learnt in her work: the need for independent and quality conflict analysis, analyses of potential negative consequences on conflict dynamics, and involve local country stakeholders in order to do no harm. 

Taking place at the premises of EUNPACK partner CEPS, the two-day conference consisted of panels that together synthesized key findings: ‘Concepts and policy planning’ which focused on the EU and its crisis response mechanisms and capacities; the EU in Eastern Europe; and the EU in the Southern Neighbourhoud. Throughout, EUNPACK researchers engaged with relevant policy makers from the European External Action Service in particular, but also other EU institutions as well as the policy planning unit at the Office of the Secretary General of NATO.

Scholarly and policy implications

The discussions varied between putting specific case countries under scrutiny and discussing larger scholarly perspectives along with concrete implications for policy makers. Scholars and policy makers had often similar perceptions of EU effectiveness in different countries and ways in which to improve this, but did at other times disagree, engaging in a constructive exchange of perspectives.

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Combining institutional understanding and in-depth knowledge

The event ended with a wrap-up session on lessons learnt for EU policymakers and the way ahead. Morten Bøås and Pernille Rieker (both NUPI), in discussion with Steven Blockmans (CEPS), discussed ways in which EU policy makers in Brussels can exploit EUNPACK findings to enhance the effectiveness of its crisis response. As such, the Final Conference, and the EUNPACK research project as a whole, delivered on its aim to combine an institutional understanding of the EU with in-depth knowledge of the crisis response context. Said in the words of the moderator of the panel on the EU in Eastern Europe Jozef Bátora (Comenius University), EUNPACK put up a mirror up to the EU, showing them how people on the ground perceive it, their intentions, interests and actions.

EU’s internal and external challenges

At the end of EUNPACK’s final conference, two further panels were organised to exploit other recent research findings as well as to tap into the relevant topic of refugees and migrants.

The first roundtable, ‘Assessing the EU’s Toolbox in Handling Internal and External Challenges’, was in collaboration with three other H2020-funded projects: EU-STRAT, which has studied the relationship between the EU and countries in the European Eastern neighbourhood; FEUTURE, which has mapped the dynamics of EU-Turkey relations; and INFORM, which has studied interactions between formal and informal institutions in the Western Balkan societies.

Pernille Rieker (NUPI/EUNPACK) chaired the panel, which consisted of Morten Bøås (NUPI/EUNPACK), Antoaneta L. Dimitrova (Professor, Leiden University/EU-STRAT), Eric Gordy (Professor, University College London/INFORM), Eduard Soler (Research Fellow, Barcelona Centre for International Studies/FEUTURE), and Kyriacos Charalambous (Member of EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn’s Cabinet, Department for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement Negotiations).

Although the projects have evolved around different research topics, a mutual finding is that there is a mismatch between what happens on the ground and the debate within the so-called ‘Brussels bubble’. A policy recommendation that could be derived from the panel was therefore that the EU should break out of this bubble by paying greater attention to and interact more with citizens on the ground both in capital cities but also beyond.


Building walls and fueling global crisis?

The second roundtable, ‘The EU, Migrants and Refugees: Building Walls, Fuelling Global Crisis?’, consisted of EUNPACK researchers Morten Bøås (Research Professor, NUPI), Roger Mac Ginty (Professor, University of Durham), Sandra Pogodda (Professor, Universisty of Manchester), and Luca Raineri (Research Fellow, Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies), as well as the Director of Norwegian Refugee Council Europe, Edouard Rodier. The panel was chaired by Kari M. Osland (Senior Research Fellow, NUPI), also part of EUNPACK.

While the panellists recognised the importance of the EU’s humanitarian efforts in areas where migrants and refugees come from as well as transit countries, they also agreed that there is need for a new approach. While Bøås stressed the need to separate refugees and migrants in order to secure the former’s right to protection, Pogodda argued that the so-called refugee crisis was a result of lack of solidary among European communities. Mac Ginty highlighted that the EU is talking more about fences and borders than ever before, which Rodier underlined has fundamentally denied the most vulnerable inside Syria, for example, the right to seek refuge.

Interests vs. values

This must be seen in connection with the fact that the EU’s actions have become less need-driven than interest-driven, as Raineri pointed to in his presentation. Despite this, the panel agreed that there can be an EU-based solution to these imminent challenges. To achieve this, a turn away from the currently more realist/pragmatic approach may be needed and with a greater emphasis on values over interests.


For more information on NUPI's research on Europe and the EU, please visit NUPI Centre for European Studies (NCE).