Monitoring community conflict in Europe: Peace-Com

Researchers within the EU-funded Peace-Com project have identified the different ‘dimensions’ of community conflicts and created a monitoring tool that can show whether a conflict is escalating
or de-escalating. The team used 12 case studies from around Europe, but believes that the results could be applied to any conflict around the world.

The Peace-Com project was one of the first in the areas of peace, conflict and human rights to receive funding under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The project recently came to an end,
but as the researchers explained to CORDIS News, they do not expect the results to now be locked away in a cupboard.

Indeed, while the project looked at 12 case studies of conflict situations around Europe, the results can be applied to disputes and tensions around the world. The team looked at a variety of
situations, from the non-violent clashes between Wallonia and Flanders in Belgium, and involving the Slovene minority in Austria, to the more violent conflict experienced in Northern Ireland
and the former Yugoslavia.

The 40 Peace-Com researchers identified 12 contributors to community conflicts, which can be divided into four clusters:
– the cultural dimension – covers religion, identity and language;
– socio-economic and geographic dimension – covers economic discrimination and economic privilege, demographic factors and territory;
– political dimensions – covers the centre-periphery cleavage, the security dilemma, the role of the elites (who sometimes construct or sustain a conflict to serve their own interests, although
not always consciously), and access to political citizenship;
– external dimensions – covers decolonisation and the aftermath of both World Wars, as well as the influence of neighbouring countries and diasporas.

‘Some dimensions are more salient than others, but the level of violence is not increased by the number of dimensions involved,’ stressed project participant Elise Féron from the
Interdisciplinary Centre for Comparative Research in the Social Sciences (CIR) in Paris, France.

These ‘dimensions’ should not be regarded as causes of a conflict, Dr Féron added. Instead, ‘they are to be used to understand the current shape of a conflict and to set up accommodation

The Peace-Com monitoring system uses a number of indicators to evaluate community conflicts. The indicators were selected following a critical review of existing monitoring techniques that
identified any gaps and weaknesses, and using data gathered by the different working groups within the project.

The resulting monitoring system takes three different kinds of data into account. It assesses how a conflict has manifested itself over time, triggering factors that induce change within the
conflict situation, or indeed prevent it; and perceptions from those communities involved in the conflict.

The system was given to expert groups for each of the 12 European conflicts. For objectivity reasons, some of the case studies had two groups of experts using the system, while others had a
group representative of both sides in a conflict. The groups were asked to score each of the indicators according to whether they perceived the situation to be worsening or improving. For
example, if the group judged religious differences to be having a ‘high escalating impact’ they would award this indicator 4. If the group found that religious differences were having a ‘high
de-escalating impact’, it would award -4. Indicators were weighted according to how salient they were for each individual conflict.

Testing on the Belgian case resulted in a score of 26, suggesting that the conflict is escalating. Testing on the Northern Ireland case resulted in a score of -41, suggesting that the conflict
is de-escalating. Kosovo is still being assessed by the relevant expert group.

One aspect of the project was to look at how conflicts are affected by ‘Europeanisation’ – described as a multi-level process involving legal and administrative structures and domestic, social
and security policies.

The team found that Europeanisation can introduce changes at the grass root level, but that change can be a long process when identities are entrenched. ‘We have to be careful as
Europeanisation could lead to further identity withdrawals, as happened in Northern Ireland in the 1980s,’ said Dr Féron.

The granting of economic aids, for example to economically deprived regions, can be an incentive for cooperation. And the EU can provide an incentive during a territory dispute associated with
material wealth. When the dispute is more symbolic, the EU’s influence is reduced.

The EU’s impact on the political dimensions associated with a conflict can be considerable. The EU has developed several instruments for ensuring the protection of minorities, and candidate
countries must meet strict criteria before acceding to the Union. In spite of this largely positive take on how Europeanisation can impact upon conflicts, Dr Féron emphasises that the
phenomenon will not affect all conflict situations in the same way.

The results of the Peace-Com project can be regarded as a fully fledged policy instrument. ‘We don’t want them to die with the project. We have to be useful and we have to be policy-relevant,’
says Dr Féron, adding that the monitoring tool is very much policy-relevant. The team is now hoping to disseminate the results of its work as widely as possible so that the monitoring
system can be put to use both in Europe and elsewhere.

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