EU research looks into the causes of conflict to strengthen chances for peace

March 17, 2003

Brussels, 14 March 2003

The complex causes of conflict and possible peace solutions - in areas ranging from the Balkans to Cyprus, from the Middle East to the former Soviet Union - are the focus of five EU research projects starting today.

Up until now, scholars have mainly analysed economic and political tensions, as the main roots of conflict. The new EU studies will go beyond this approach and take into consideration other elements, such as social and psychological factors.

This should contribute to the debate on new dimensions of security and the role of Europe in this field.

"With an improved understanding of what causes conflict, we will be better equipped to help solve the problems that lead to war," said European Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin. "Research is only one part of a complex response to complex issues, but the international tensions we face today are a compelling argument in support of greater efforts in this field."

The need for more research

The European Union is increasingly called upon to help prevent and solve conflicts in neighbouring countries and across the world. Research specifically aimed at understanding what can trigger conflicts and what options can be developed to prevent or mitigate them, is urgently needed. Developing knowledge in this area will help improve European capacity to anticipate and address international crises as well as preventing violent conflicts within societies. Fostering research co-operation and excellence in this field is one of the challenges for the 6 th Research Framework Programme (FP6 2003-2006) and the European Research Area at large.

The five projects, funded under the EU 5 th Research Framework Programme, involve 53 teams in 14 EU Member States (Luxembourg is not participating) and 9 Candidate Countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovenia and Turkey) as well as Israel, for a budget of around €4,280,000. In addition, this field of work is established as a priority within the research on "Citizens and governance in the knowledge-based society" of the 6 th Framework Programme with a call for proposals open until April 15, 2003.

Solving conflicts by understanding their root causes

Understanding the deep-rooted causes of conflicts and the obstacles to reconciliation is key to preventing further violence and reaching lasting peace agreements.

At a recent conference organised by the Commission, Prof. Arie Nadler of Tel Aviv University and Prof. Munther Dajani of Al Quds University in East Jerusalem pointed, for example, to "the major psychological forces relevant to reconciliation: empathy, mutual recognition of pain, acceptance of responsibility for the suffering of the other, the suffering of victims, humiliation and revenge."

They added that while social and psychological factors are often ignored in explaining and dealing with conflicts, they are not less important than economic and political factors. This is shown, for example, in the perception of boundaries as "inclusive" or as (ethnic or other) "fences". The new EU research projects will try to further develop these dimensions, and contribute to the security agenda of the EU.

Re-defining "security"

An inaccurate diagnosis of conflict causes can lead to the wrong kind of "solutions" - reducing, rather than increasing, security. At the same time the very notion of security and current security strategies need to be re-examined in view of the changing global situation and an increasingly blurred distinction between "internal" and "external" security and related threats to peace.

Professor Didier Bigo, working in one of the new projects, pointed - for instance - to the need to examine the unintended effects of anti-terrorist measures on civil liberties at domestic and international levels.

And the network on Foreign Policy Governance co-ordinated by Professor Christopher Hill will develop a "Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) Watch" to monitor and provide analytical support to the development of the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy.

For further information please visit:

under the area 'Governance and citizenship:

DN: IP/03/375 Date: 14/03/2003

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