The Contribution of European Civil Society to the Establishment of European Civilian Peace Corps, to End the War in Ukraine and to Prevent the Perpetuation of the Conditions that Caused it. Three proposals.

In the face of Russia’s war of aggression, members of the European Nonviolent Action Movement, together with members of Ukrainian civil society and in tune with the voice of the Russian opposition to the war, have long discussed and reflected on two questions, “How could we have prevented it?”, “What to do to end the war as soon as possible without perpetuating the conditions that made it possible?” 

Our reflection aims to bring pacifist civil society out of a polarized debate on whether or not to send arms, so that it can regain the much-needed unity of purpose and action necessary for the path to a just peace.  

A little history on the Civilian Peace Corps

Since 1994 onwards, that is, since Alex Langer first proposed to the European Parliament the establishment of Civilian Peace Corps with the task of intervening in crisis territories to prevent the escalation of conflicts, the European government and parliament have continued to work on this idea and along the lines of the ECPCs, have promoted more than twenty civilian “missions” of which twelve are ongoing (e.g., in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2003,in Georgia in 2008 and most recently in Armenia in February 2023).   

OSCE action in Ukraine since 2014 and the failure of the Special Monitoring Mission (SMM)

In 2014, as part of the Minsk agreements, the OSCE launched a “Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine.”

The mandate of this mission, approved by the 57 member countries of the OSCE, was to reduce tension and promote stability and security in Ukraine by promoting and facilitating dialogue among all parties and ensuring in particular respect for minority rights throughout the country. The mission, consisting of 700-1000 civilian units, covered all of Ukraine but focused particularly on the Donbass. It ended on March 31, 2022 after Russia’s aggression when its mandate was not renewed due to Moscow’s veto.

In order to answer the above two questions, it is absolutely essential to understand what has not worked in the arrangements for civilian peacekeeping interventions as they have been conceived and implemented so far by the European institutions, and what needs to be changed in order to frame them in a coherent and permanent Civilian Peace Corps project, capable of truly fulfilling their assigned and always reiterated task, which is the complex and very delicate one of preparing the ground and promoting the implementation of peace agreements.  


Between superficial appeals and failures of previous agreements

As members of a European civil society that stands resolutely by the side of the Ukrainian people, in the midst of an aggression aimed at terrorizing civilians and subjugating an entire people to the will of an atomic superpower, we find unbearable the reiteration of calls for the resumption of negotiations that are not a harbinger of a concrete capacity for implementation. 

The history of Ukrainian independence, from 1991 to the present, is punctuated by pacts and agreements that have remained on paper, and frankly, given that the result is destroyed homes and lives, we think it is pointless to reduce the discourse to the dichotomy, reassuring only for the media debate, peace/war, as if in European 

pacifism there were one diabolical people in favor of the continuation of war and another virtuous people who, by objecting to the sending of weapons, automatically stand for peace. If the scenario before us were so easily resolved, there would be no need for the critical thinking of pacifism and nonviolence. 

We consider it vital, instead, that the entire peace movement unite, alongside the battles and campaigns for disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation, to urgently mobilize today so that the European Council finally decides on the establishment of authentic European Civilian Peace Corps, equipped with all the tools and means to ensure their authority and strength necessary to fulfill their mission. This requires that – also for the purpose of drawing up a balance sheet of the Civilian Missions so far implemented by the EU – we give a voice to the practitioners who have experienced reconstruction and rehabilitation in crisis zones, whether of war or urban disaster, over the past decades. The daily bulletins of the SMM in Donbass, regularly posted online, and the dynamics between their observations and the responses, or non-responses, of the various institutional bodies involved, are a crucial piece of knowledge that goes far beyond the vain and naive blame game of “who started first.” 

First proposal

Our first proposal is the convening as soon as possible of a “European Conference on the Criteria for the Establishment and Operationalization of European Civilian Peace Corps” with both institutional and non-governmental peacebuilders as protagonists (as indeed was Alex Langer’s intention) with significant experiences in the field. A conference promoted, in a city in Ukraine, by a Steering Committee made up of members of European civil society and chaired by members of Ukrainian civil society, in which members of political institutions at various levels are invited to participate first as listeners and then as decision-makers, i.e., as interlocutors responsible for timely responses within defined time frames.  

The choice of a Ukrainian city as the venue for such an event, as well as the chairmanship of the initiative, are also symbolically a recognition that by their struggle and their lives, these people have earned the title of primus inter pares in the European family and that no one else more than they can demand a breakthrough (or if you like, an acceleration) in the structuring of European governance, such as to make it seriously the bearer of a vision and strategy that assigns to this continent the role that, given the troubled lessons of its history, it is entitled to, namely that of guarantor of the constructive management of conflicts both internally and internationally. 

We would add that the desirability of such a conference had already been advanced by no less than two feasibility studies on the requirements for the proper functioning of ECPCs, commissioned by the European Commission in 2004 and 2005, respectively . Both emphasized the centrality of “non-government” professionals, recruited by a management team operating according to ad hoc procedures, capable of exploiting the particular strengths and remedying the specific criticalities of each crisis situation in its uniqueness, and thus with an approach more of “animating” mutual learning contexts than of applying predefined plans. This issue is also present in the draft just adopted by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament on the “Implementation of civilian PCSD and other EU civilian security assistance,” which will be on the agenda of the May plenary session emphasizing that the draft ECPC should be an additional tool available to the EU for an integrated approach to civilian crisis management  . We call on the Council to include the draft ECPC in the new Civilian CSDP Compact to be presented in May and on the Italian government, in particular, to support this proposal

It is a matter of daring to think at the European level about a body on constructive conflict management as a necessary complement and equal to the military corps envisaged by the “Compass” approved by the defense ministers of the EU countries in March 2022 and which envisages by 2025 a force of 5,000 military personnel for emergency response. It is, for the European institutions to recognize that like all systemic changes, this one, too, must find its source and impetus in the dynamics of civil society and in new forms of dialogue between civil society and political representations.  

Second proposal

The second proposal is addressed to the Italian government to revive and redefine the concept of Civilian Peace Corps in our country by getting out of the endless experimentation in which it has been confined since 2014 to date. From 2014 to Dec. 31, 2022, Italy has spent 190 billion euros in Military Expenditure but has failed to spend 9 million on Civilian Peace Corps experimentation.

Third proposal

The Third Proposal is the convening of a “Nonviolent March for Fraternity and Peace” to be done possibly by summer 2023 as the concluding nonviolent event of the Conference mentioned in Proposal 1. 

We are aware, as European pacifists, that we do not have in our DNA, and in our secular history, a path of liberation from oppressions based on ahimsa and satyagraha of an Eastern nature, but on our ability to respond in arms and in solidarity. From the French Revolution to the liberation from Nazi-fascism, civilized Europe has always been distinguished by its ability to subvert the positions of the oppressors by the force of the last and the oppressed, leading to the establishment of increasingly democratic, egalitarian and liberal social and institutional orders. We are also aware that we are faced with the unprecedented task of having to exercise, for the first time since the Treaties of Rome that established the ECSC and the EEC, our “atomic conscience” , the conscience of an active pacifism that has the task of averting with all the strength of heart and intellect the self-destruction of our continent at the hands of the nuclear powers, powers that are visibly at play in the current scenario of the Ukrainian conflict.


The march should be a plastic demonstration of the atomic consciousness of Europeans and should be capable of involving thousands of citizens from all European countries and led by Ukrainian civil society, which in this first year of the war has distinguished itself not only by resistance in arms, but also and above all by the many daily forms of nonviolent resistance to the invasion of the Russian Federation.
It will have to take place on the basis of Gandhian teachings, European secular pacifist thought and the teachings of the recent social doctrine of the Catholic Church as well as the pacifist doctrines of all religions in our common home.
In the face of the atomic escalation of the ongoing war, in the heart of Europe, and the contingent absence of a European army, as well as of an already functioning European Civilian Corps device, we call all peacemakers to form a real human chain of women and men holding hands, putting their bodies on the line to announce by our presence near the Ukrainian front the simplest message ever: the unity of destiny of the common humanity among peoples and the announcement of a victory that is based on a new covenant among Europeans and is humiliation for no one. 
Let us, the inhabitants of the planet, find ourselves to rethink the European and world order in the light of hitherto unprecedented guarantees of freedom and security, for Ukrainians and for Russians, for all peoples and for each of us.
The European march will have to constitute a real chain of brotherhood that puts on the front page those who have the right to defense in the face of aggression but who have nothing to do with the “warlords,” wherever they stand, and have a lot to do with the lost opportunities for love and creativity caused by every war. 
A nonviolent March that would be a mass event capable of making the powerful realize that the ordinary people of Europe stand against violence in conflict and forcefully tell governments that without giving civil society a voice and a listening ear, it will not be possible today to end any war or build a less unequal and more supportive world. 

We will make a rendezvous on a specific day at the Polish border and guided in organizing by Ukrainian civil society, using special buses and trains, we will reach the border of one of the war fronts (e.g., near Kherson or Backhmut) to express our dissent to the war by our physical presence, stationing for at least seven days at the designated place, assisted by camping facilities for staying there.


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