EC Checklist for Root Causes of Conflict

Primary purpose

Awareness raising / early warning and pro-active agenda setting

Intended users

Decision makers and desk officers in bilateral and multilateral donor organisations. It is most relevant to diplomatic and development actors.

Levels of application

Country and regional levels

Main steps and suggested process

The checklist is filled in by European Commission desk officers and delegation staff, on the basis of their general knowledge of the country and other open sources of information. Subsequent statistical analysis allows the addition of other quantitative data (e.g. UNDP Human Development Index) and the clustering of results according to category.

Guiding questions / indicators

The checklist uses the following root causes of conflict / early warning indicators:

1. Legitimacy of the state: are there proper checks and balances in the political system? How inclusive is the political/administrative power? What is the overall level of respect for national authorities? Is corruption widespread?

2. Rule of law: how strong is the judicial system? Does unlawful state violence exist? Does civilian power control security forces? Does organised crime undermine the country’s stability?

3. Respect for fundamental rights: are civil and political freedoms respected? Are religious and cultural rights respected? Are other basic human rights respected?

4. Civil society and media: can civil society operate freely and efficiently? How independent and professional are the media?

5. Relations between communities and dispute-solving mechanisms: how good are relations between identity groups? Does the state arbitrate over tensions and disputes between communities? Are there uncontrolled flows of migrants/refugees?

6. Sound economic management: how robust is the economy? Is the policy framework conducive to macro-economic stability? How sustainable is the state’s environmental policy?

7. Social and regional inequalities: how are social welfare policies addressed? How are social inequalities tackled? How are regional disparities tackled?

8. Geopolitical situation: how stable is the region’s geopolitical situation? Is the state affected by external threats? Is the state affecting regional stability?

In the original tool, each question is further specified by two to four sub-questions.

Required resources

Mainly desk-based tool, limited resources required.

Current applications

In preparation for the January 2002 debate on potential conflict issues, conflict assessments were carried out by Commission desk officers and EC delegations for more than 120 countries, on the basis of the indicators. The objectives were:

  • To increase awareness, within the EU decision-making forums, of the problems of those countries/regions with the highest assessed risk of an outbreak, continuation or re-emergence of conflict
  • To heighten efforts to ensure that EU policies (and in particular EC ones) contribute to conflict prevention/resolution
  • Used when drafting the political analysis section of the Commission’s country and regional strategy papers, risk factors contained in the checklist are systematically reviewed by the Commission’s geographical services and, on the basis of the conflict analysis, attention is drawn to conflict prevention focused activities that external aid should target.

Lessons learnt

  • EC desk officers and delegations are positive about the usefulness of the tool. It is regarded as an important step forward for mainstreaming conflict prevention and addressing structural causes of conflict through EU policies and programmes. In order to streamline the procedure further, a web-based platform is under development.
  • In order to further improve the efficiency of the checklist, the following actions are being considered:
    • a review of the appropriateness of the indicators and the clusters, with a view to identifying whether more indicators should be added or whether indicators should be further adapted to specific geographical regions.
    • more specialised training for desk officers and delegations on the root causes checklist – using the checklist requires allocating a rating to each indicator (from 0-4) and thus involves a certain measure of personal perception. The training would help ensure that the results of the analysis can be assessed consistently and comparatively.

Commentary on the tool

  • The checklist exercise needs to be placed in the context of the Communication from the Commission on conflict prevention and the EU programme for the prevention of violent conflicts, which highlighted the need to move the timescale for EU action forward, becoming progressively more pro-active and less reactive. It also promotes the notion that an early identification of risk factors increases the chances of timely and effective action to address the underlying causes of conflict.
  • The checklist is only one of the tools that the Commission has at its disposal for monitoring and early warning. Others include regular reporting from Delegations and desk officers on issues related to the economic and political developments in concerned countries, open source information via the Commission’s crisis room, and ECHO’s disaster monitoring system, known as ICONS (Impeding Crisis Online New System).

The Check List

Root causes check list