The Center for Democracy and Reconciliation in Southeast Europe (CDRSEE) co-organised with ELIAMEP a conference entitled, "EU Conflict Prevention: Lessons Learned from the Western Balkans," in Athens, May 2003. Overall, the participants described the conference as very interesting and a great success. The Conflict Prevention conference brought together representatives of governments and international institutions to advance the on-going process towards EU conflict prevention, following on from a similar conference in Helsingborg in August 2002. The result in Athens was a continued formal commitment to conflict prevention.

From left to right, Sheila Cannon (CDRSEE, Projects Manager), Fotini Bellou, (ELIAMEP, Analyst), Ambassador Alexandros Mallias (Hellenic MFA), Anna Mateeva (Saferworld, Head of Arms and Security), Paul Risley (INTERNATIONAL IDEA, Senior Programme Officer)

The CDRSEE to date has organised two conferences under the aegis of the Hellenic Presidency of the European Union: "Reconciling for the Future" in April 2003 and "EU Conflict Prevention" in May 2003, both of which feed into the Thessaloniki European Summit Meeting in June 2003 with concrete recommendations and conclusions. While the Reconciling for the Future workshop resulted in specific recommendations articulated by civil society from NGOs and other activists working in the field, the Conflict Prevention conference was an opportunity to formally endorse the Conflict Prevention work of governments and NGOs.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hellenic Republic, H.E. Georgios Papandreou speaks during the conference.

The most striking aspect of the Conflict Prevention conference, especially obvious in light of the recommendations that came out of the Reconciling for the Future workshop, was the large discrepancy between the perspective of the international community and the civil society in the Western Balkans. According to representatives of the European Commission, the European Union and the OSCE, 'stabilisation' has been achieved in the Western Balkans, and now the time is right to move on to 'integration.' The civil society, represented at the conference by NGOs, did not agree. Two of the 16 panel speakers, Gerald Knaus (European Stability Initiative) and Andy Bearpark (UNMIK, Skopje), provided a much needed reality check; it is not accurate to describe Kosovo, BiH, and FYR of Macedonia as 'success stories' when there is even now the possibility that violence may break out again.

The first day of the conference consisted of three high-level panel presentations with experts speaking, namely 18 MEN, and not one woman. This imbalance was criticised by several of the participants. The Hellenic MFA set the criteria for speakers and rapporteurs that they should be from EU countries, and they were for the most part, except for two Americans.

The fact that such a conference was even held shows that the EU values and supports conflict prevention. However, the very theme of the conference was trivialised by the recent war in Iraq; such a high level of funding, co-ordination, organisation, effort, skills and training goes into creating violent conflict, while at the same time we are having a conference giving lip-service to conflict prevention.