In addition to supporting hundreds of long-term peace projects around the world, the EU also runs ERMES, a rapid-response network that deploys mediation experts in conflict situations. The objective of this project – made up of a consortium of organisations – is to act quickly in order to contribute to the prevention or resolution of conflicts. This is achieved by bringing parties together, providing short-term technical assistance, organising events linked to peace processes and developing training and coaching in conflict resolution.
“The whole thinking behind the project was that we needed more flexible tools, to be able to empower the EU in its role as a global peace-maker,” says Eldridge Adolfo, a Mediation Adviser at the European External Action Service (EEAS). “We make the decision today, and we move today if possible. The record for deployment is 48 hours. That is the strategic value in it. Then we find the long-term solution.”
Indeed, the key value of ERMES is its ability to deploy experts to complex situations at short notice. The aim is to become ever-more nimble in order to allow the right support to be identified and delivered as quickly as possible. For example in South Sudan, the programme successfully deployed a public finance expert to work directly on conflict negotiations, discussing the vital, line-by-line technicalities.
“Peace processes are usually very ad hoc, even if you have the best plan,” says Canan Gündüz, a Mediation Advisor at the EEAS with wide experience of ERMES projects. “So being able to send an expert in two days can be extremely important, politically speaking. ERMES has also helped us with our political commitment, such as supporting UN-led peace processes.”
In Libya, logistical support was the key to making progress in UN-led talks. “We were asked by the Special Envoy to help organise and host negotiations led by the UN,” says Gündüz. “So we had several rounds of talks in Brussels, in Rabat, and Algiers – helping a whole group of Libyans to get there on time and together.”
And in Syria, ERMES has helped the opposition to organise and prepare for the Geneva process discussions, as part of the EU’s ongoing work on the conflict. “The opposition was split, but we helped them to create a common platform for where and how they wanted to proceed,” says Adolfo.
These examples illustrate that peace-making requires direct and indirect engagement with almost anyone involved in conflict. The ERMES project will continue to organise workshops, find constitutional experts to assist civil society groups preparing for peace and bring conflicting parties together – sometimes off the record – to discuss problems safely.