This report examines the EU’s experience in supporting the transformation of ministries of interior to draw lessons for assistance programs and make recommendations for future cooperation.

Special Report: The EU’s Experience with Security Sector Governance


  • Civilian oversight ministries are essential to broader efforts to strengthen the performance and responsiveness of security and law enforcement forces. Ministries facilitate coordination among agencies, hold personnel accountable to law and policy, perform administrative functions, shield forces from political interference, and enable civilian oversight through the legislature, civil society, and other mechanisms. Failure to support these roles can undermine efforts to strengthen law enforcement and improve citizen safety in countries affected by conflict or instability.
  • The European Union has extensive experience supporting oversight ministries, having prepared twenty-one ministries of interior to join the EU. The European Commission has assisted ministries in developing countries around the world, while the European Council has deployed civilian missions to crisis environments to establish security and the rule of law.
  • Efforts to develop the laws, procedures, and organizational structures needed for effective oversight ministries face numerous challenges, from limited human capacity to political and organizational resistance, especially in countries transitioning from conflict or authoritarian rule.
  • EU enlargement provided a unique incentive for countries to overcome obstacles to transforming their ministries and improving security sector governance. EU institutions helped translate this incentive into organizational changes by helping candidate countries define a clear structure and vision, deploying experienced experts from EU member states, and managing resistance through coordinated political engagement in support of clearly defined benchmarks.
  • In crisis and stabilization countries, the EU has faced greater challenges. Without a strong external incentive, weak capacity and severe political tensions have undermined assistance efforts. The EU has been enhancing its capabilities for deploying skilled personnel to these environments and for leveraging member states’ relationships with countries affected by conflict, to help them overcome political obstacles. Yet the EU has often struggled to achieve the coherence among member states and institutions necessary to support locally driven reforms.
  • The United States can learn from the EU’s successes and challenges by paying attention to the role of oversight ministries in the development of security and law enforcement forces overseas. To build its capacity to strengthen oversight ministries and other components of security sector governance, the United States should recruit personnel with broader sets of skills, improve coherence among agencies providing assistance, and deepen cooperation with the EU and other donor countries. Through collaboration in headquarters and in the field, the EU and the United States could complement each other’s strengths and pursue common approaches to fostering institutional change in the security sector.

About this Report

In postconflict countries and emerging democracies, reform of security sector institutions is vital for a successful transition to political stability and economic prosperity. The EU has unique experience in strengthening security sector governance and can serve as a partner for the United States. This report examines the EU’s experience in supporting the transformation of ministries of interior to draw lessons for assistance programs and make recommendations for future cooperation.

The report was prepared as part of the research program of the Initiative on Security Sector Governance of the United States Institute of Peace and discussed at a public forum, “The Role of the EU in SSR,” held at the Institute on December 16, 2010. Louis-Alexandre Berg is a former Jennings Randolph Peace Scholar at the United States Institute of Peace and a PhD candidate at Georgetown University, where he is conducting research on the politics of security sector governance in postconflict states. He has served as a rule of law adviser in the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Democracy and Governance.

Related Publications

A Counterterrorism Role for Pakistan’s Police Stations

A Counterterrorism Role for Pakistan’s Police Stations

Monday, August 18, 2014

By: Robert Perito; Tariq Parvez

Violence is escalating in Pakistan, both in its megacities and along the border with Afghanistan—from terrorism, to secessionist insurgency, to sectarian conflict, to ethnic turf wars. The police station and the police who staff it, despite their historic role as a symbol of government authority and responsibility for public order, are woefully ill prepared and ill equipped to meet these challenges. This report, part of a project to increase Pakistan’s capacity to combat terrorism, explores t...

Civil Defense Groups

Civil Defense Groups

Thursday, July 31, 2014

By: Bruce “Ossie” Oswald

More than three hundred defense groups provide security to local communities in states around the world. While it is true that such groups can be a resource-efficient means for states to provide law and order to their communities, it is also true that they can worsen security.

Former U.N. Peacekeepers

Former U.N. Peacekeepers

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

By: Muhammad Quraish Khan

Former U.N. peacekeepers are an emerging cadre within Pakistan’s police who are precursors of professionalization and other positive changes in police culture. They are torchbearers of human rights protection in policing and form a resilient force when it comes to fighting the tide of militancy and terrorism in Pakistan.

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Revisiting Chicago

Revisiting Chicago

Thursday, June 5, 2014

By: William A. Byrd

The May 27 White House announcement on troop withdrawals from Afghanistan raises serious questions about the staying power of international security funding to support the size of the future Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), as agreed two years ago in Chicago. Concerns also exist about Afghanistan fulfilling its own commitment to fund its security forces. With the ANSF largely a U.S. creation, it would be irresponsible now to turn around and undermine it.

View All Publications