WPS at the EU: How States Drive the Agenda

This article explores how a core group of EU member states (called "drivers") use five synergistic techniques to socialize other member states into the WPS agenda.

In the European Union (EU), some states are more receptive to the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda than others. Sweden has the world’s most advanced feminist foreign policy while Hungary discredits “gender ideology” because it undermines family values and “promotes homosexuality”. Between Hungary and Sweden, many states are indifferent to WPS, pay it lip service only, or support the agenda in small, menial ways. Despite varying degrees of support for WPS, the EU has implemented the tenets of WPS into most of its missions and operations, created positions dedicated to gender mainstreaming, and has published hundreds of guidelines on the topic. Given the variance in WPS support, why is the EU’s implementation of the agenda so advanced?


While investigating the EU’s WPS agenda for the Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) on Gender, Security, and the Armed Forces, I discovered a core group of member states that promote the WPS agenda at the EU. I call these states WPS drivers. Using five synergistic techniques, these WPS drivers socialize other states into the agenda. To socialize indifferent or unenthusiastic member states, WPS drivers: (1) set the agenda; (2) create institutions and positions; (3) provide gender-balanced military and civilian staff; (4) deliver or fund gender-related training; (5) provide domestically trained experts. Each will be addressed in turn.


The first socialization technique employed by WPS drivers is agenda-setting. Agenda setting occurs in two ways: initiating documents and organizing conferences. A review of one full cycle of presidential agendas suggests that presidencies took full advantage of their initial capacity to propose new WPS guidelines. One of the first important documents on WPS was a handbook on mainstreaming gender and human rights into the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Produced by the 2007-2008 German, Portuguese, and Slovenian trio presidency, it compiled a set of reference documents and lessons learned to help practitioners implement the agenda. Importantly, the handbook increased the accessibility of WPS, providing an easy entry point for EU member states unfamiliar with the agenda. The following year, France initiated the Comprehensive Approach to UNSCR 1325 during its presidency; it was the first substantial guideline on WPS and undergirded the EU’s approach to WPS for years. Similarly, during their 2010 presidency, Belgium aided in developing a series of indicators on the EU’s WPS agenda. Because the Comprehensive Approach and WPS indicators required the approval of the Council, the process of initiating the agenda forced member states, and all their EU preparatory bodies, to interact with the agenda and formulate an official position on WPS. Many member states may have been indifferent or unfamiliar with WPS until they had to formulate an official stance on the agenda. Indeed, the process of agenda-setting brought WPS into the political consciousness of the EU, socializing member states in the process.


After the 2007 Treaty of Lisbon and the formation of the European External Action Service (EEAS) in 2010, presidencies lost some of their capacity to initiate documents. Before 2010, the rotating president chaired the European Council (EC) and the General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC). After 2010, the chair of the EC and external relations component of GAERC was stripped from presidencies. These changes made initiating WPS-related documents much harder. After 2010, member states had to use less direct techniques to ensure the integration of the EU’s WPS agenda.


In the post-Lisbon era, organizing conferences became an important way of setting the agenda, promoting WPS, and socializing EU member states. For example, Belgium organized three conferences on WPS, and Sweden, the United Kingdom (UK), and Spain provided political and financial support for a national summit in Columbia on WPS. The summit was attended by representatives from the EU and led to the formation of gender-specific goals in the “EU Trust Fund for Columbia”. As this example illustrates, summits are important because they increase the salience of the WPS agenda and encourage foreign policy actors to integrate new perspectives and gender provisions into their existing work.


The second tactic of WPS drivers is to create institutions and positions. In 2008, the French Presidency worked with the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to organize meetings with EU WPS stakeholders. These meetings were regularized and led to the Gender Advisor and Gender Focal Point network which continues to meet twice a year to share best practices and lessons learned. In 2009, the meetings were formalized through the creation of the Informal Task Force on WPS. While countries like Estonia and Latvia do not actively drive the agenda, their representatives occasionally attend meetings of the task force. Simply put, the task force provides an opportunity for non-drivers to engage with WPS, socializing them in the process. Similarly, the efforts of Sweden, Denmark and Finland led to the creation of the Principal Advisor on Gender (PAG) in 2015. The PAG coordinates with international actors on issues concerning gender and ensures that the tenets of the WPS agenda are integrated throughout all the EU’s external action work. Given the PAG’s interaction with seconded staff and member state representatives, beyond their daily activities, the PAG helps to socialize EU member states to the WPS agenda.


The third way WPS drivers socialize EU member states is by providing and seconding gender-balanced civilian and military staff. Improving the representation of women in missions and operations is a core pillar of the WPS agenda. In many ways, the task of improving representation is circular and self-perpetuating; missions and operations that are gender-balanced are more effective than those that are not. Accordingly, countries that incorporate more women, and thereby improve their mission’s capabilities, act as role models for other countries. In the EU’s multilateral missions, the benefits accrued from seconding a gender-balanced military and civilian force socialize non-drivers into the agenda.


Beyond seconding more women, WPS drivers promote the agenda and socialize non-drivers through the provision or funding of gender-related training. For example, the 2007 German government supported the EU’s first security and defence policy-related gender training course. In 2011, Spain and the Netherlands provided the first course on gender at the European Security and Defence College. Sweden currently provides courses on gender through the Folke Bernadotte Academy (FBA) and in 2016, Spain became the EU Military Training Discipline Leader to lead gender-related training activities for all CSDP missions and operations. By providing or funding gender-related training, these member states ensure that EU staff at all levels have at least some knowledge of the WPS agenda. The training that is sponsored or provided by WPS drivers helps lower the engagement cost for countries that might otherwise not interact with the WPS agenda.



Providing domestically trained experts is the final, perhaps most effective, method of socializing member states into WPS. Previous research has identified that the EU’s WPS agenda is personality-driven; when substantial progress is made, it is often by specific senior individuals with a personal interest in pushing the agenda forward. These so-called “femocrats”, who are personally committed to advancing the agenda, often come from states with a feminist foreign policy. Consider EU officials from Sweden: Karl Engelbrektson championed gender mainstreaming and gender training for Heads of Missions as a representative on the EU Military Committee; Charlotte Isaksson is the current PAG, working to mainstream gender at the highest strategic level; Margot Wallstrom was the former Vice President of the Commission. She has been called an “active broker” of WPS because of the legal resources she devoted to the agenda. Finally, Pia Stjarnvall, the Finnish Head of Missions for the EUPOL Afghanistan mission was instrumental to the mission’s efforts at gender mainstreaming and building support for local female police. These four examples reveal how domestically trained experts incorporated their gender expertise in work with other EU member states at the EEAS, with the Heads of Missions at the EU Military Committee, the Commission, and within EUPOL Afghanistan. By providing domestically trained experts, Finland and Sweden helped to socialize non-WPS drivers into the agenda.


The significance of providing domestically trained experts should not be understated. While there is little EU-specific data, a recent report on Gender Advisors in armed forces suggests that Gender Advisors tend to be poorly trained; they often have a few weeks of training and are expected to handle all gender-related aspects of missions and operations at the tactical and strategic levels. Undertraining and over-working produce poor results, which may increase the resistance to further integration of the agenda. Not only does the provision of domestically trained experts introduce policy entrepreneurs into the EU, but it also ensures that seconded Gender Advisors and Gender Focal Points have the necessary training to perform their jobs well. Providing well-trained staff who understand how to mainstream gender into their work may help socialize other EU staff into the WPS agenda.


As this blog illustrates, EU member states with a particular interest in the WPS agenda use a series of synergistic strategies to socialize other member states into WPS. These five tactics—agenda setting, creating institutions and positions, generating gender-balanced staff, delivering or funding gender-related training, and providing domestically trained experts—work on two levels. On one level, they integrate WPS into the EU’s framework. On another level, the tactics socialize hesitant member states into WPS, ensuring that all EU members interact with the agenda in some way.


Without Sweden, Spain, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and France, functioning as the EU’s WPS drivers, the European Union’s WPS integration would not be what it is today.


Owen Wong is a Political Studies MA Student at Queen’s University and a Research Fellow at the Center for International and Defence Policy (CIDP). His academic interests concern peacebuilding and conflict resolution. While his previous studies focused on nationalism and the pre-conditions of conflict in Northern Ireland, this article stems from his work for the Canada Research Chair on Gender, Security, and the Armed Forces. In his spare time, he loves reading Hannah Arendt.

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