From the very first round of talks in Helsinki in January 2005, the possibility of monitoring was a theme. As the Indonesian government was very clear about not wanting to 'internationalize' (in the sense of formal UN involvement), the EU appeared to be a credible monitor in partnership with ASEAN.
From the point of view of one Finnish national working in the Council Secretariat, the planning of a monitoring mission was already beginning then. The Council Secretariat's DGE IX (civilian crisis management) and EUMS/Civilian Military Cell had each established the concepts it needed (Monitoring, Rule of Law, and Civilian Administration) whilst civilian capabilities for crisis management (including monitoring missions) had been examined through the 'Civilian Headline Goal' approved in December 2004. Enthusiasm was high, and the Council Secretariat and member states wanted to make the conceptual framework a reality.
However, many in Brussels still believed that an EU role in monitoring an eventual peace process was a risky political business because of Aceh's remoteness and relatively minor political importance for EU member states. There were questions over whether the parties were really committed to peace, whether there would be 'spoilers' in the province, how precarious the security situation was, and how fast monitors could be deployed. But the 'tsunami effect', the desire for the EU to play a political role, institutional competition and the persuasive power of Ahtisaari translated into new political momentum. After discussions of which institution would take leadership in an eventual monitoring of the agreement, the EU was able to act in unison. According to a number of people involved this was also due to the determination of Pieter Feith, Deputy Director General of the Council, who was intrigued by the challenge and the potential of a monitoring mission. His long-standing friendship with Ahtisaari played a role as well. According to Feith, 'If Martti believed in this as an opportunity for EU, I was ready to support him.'
As it became clear that the peace agreement was becoming a reality and would require on-the-ground monitoring, Ahtisaari probably echoed Brussels decision-makers' thinking when he announced: "I am afraid that this will work."
Over the spring and summer months, planning went into greater detail and a number of difficult questions loomed large. There were practical issues about assessing security for the mission and how to solve the immense logistical issue in terms of financing. Considerable discussions took place over the question of sending in unarmed monitors. According to the planners, thinking evolved over time as confidence grew in the parties' commitment to peace. Pieter Feith said that what struck him most was 'the parties' willingness to reconcile, which was amazing when one looks at the Balkans, for example. The EU should reward such willingness for peace and that's what we did'.
A fact-finding mission went ahead from 24 June - 2 July and included CMI's military advisor Jaako Oksanen and consultant Juha Christensen. While the Council had no financing provision for including NGOs or experts in advance missions, a motivated and innovative staff member at the Commission found ways that made this 'mission possible.' The growing involvement and partnership between the Commission, the Council and CMI on the working level were also exemplified in European backstage presence during the last stages of the talks (EU observers were sent to the fourth and fifth rounds). This provided assurances for all sides on the commitments by parties and supporters of the talks, possibly providing also an additional impetus for all to succeed.
An Information Note from the Commission on 18 July provided a groundbreaking proposal for financing the mission, which provided for more debate in the Brussels arena not about how to finance it but who was allowed to finance it. The AMM was financed through member states and the CFSP budget line. Following the formal decision of the EU's Political and Security Committee on 18 July, the Technical Assessment Mission went on to its assessment, landing in Aceh on 26 July, the same day that Javier Solana, in the presence of Ahtisaari, addressed the Political and Security Committee and commended the success of the fifth and last round of negotiations and urged member states to deliver on a monitoring mission mentioned in the Memorandum of Understanding , to be signed on 15 August. The final push by these two leaders marked the beginning of a further level of EU engagement: to provide measures for monitoring and support to sustainability of a peace agreement.
Lessons learned for supporting mediation
Many lessons could be drawn from this experience. One set of lessons concerns inter-governmental partnerships with NGOs in peacebuilding. Increasingly, the EU is promoting partnerships with NGOs in peacebuilding, and the way in which an NGO worked with the EU structures during the Aceh peace process sensitized the EU further to the value of effective partnership with NGOs. The Aceh experience helped to sharpen the concept of the Civilian Response Team (CRT). In June 2005 the Council Secretariat established a pool of pre-selected and pre-trained experts. Member States are covering the costs and can include experts from NGOs in their national pools.
Moreover, it has been shown that 'just throwing some money' at a 'project' is not what matters for the EU or possibly other regional and international organizations. Rather, when working on a 'political project' like the Aceh peace process it is about the ability of actors to be able to form genuine working relationships - team relationships, rather than simply those of a donor and implementer.
For track two organizations that seek partnerships with the EU, a solid network and 'know-how' about the politics of the EU can be a distinct advantage. This facilitates the forging of a culture of co-operation between the EU institutions and non-state actors. As much as the EU can help to forge a culture of cooperation, NGOs must make the human investment to work with political and financial stakeholders. This cannot be done artificially, or overnight. It almost requires a gradual paradigm shift that NGOs and non-state actors are important players in forging a European foreign policy culture.
Another set of lessons can be learned around investing in mediation support. The building of capacity for mediation support and mediators that can work with the EU and in turn with other regional organizations represents an enormous potential. A systematized understanding of the mechanisms, methods and practice of peace mediation could facilitate the EU ability to act in a responsive and cost-effective manner. The Aceh peace talks required relatively minute resources from the overall budget - consider what the costs could have been had there not been peace mediation.
The EU could continue to work with ASEAN and other regional organizations to build a common capacity to respond to the challenge of crisis response through mediation, and develop ways and methods of dispatching monitoring. The setting up of the UN Mediation Unit is one example where this has already come to fruition. 'Thinking ahead' about mediation support in the forthcoming External Action Service (which will support the new EU 'foreign minister') provides another key opportunity. With the support of all of these strands, we could possibly see more EU success stories like Aceh.