EU promotion of deep democracy in the Southern Mediterranean: a missed opportunity?
Gómez Isa, Felipe
Muñoz Nogal, Ester
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The Southern Mediterranean is a strategic region for the EU. Since the inception of the Barcelona process in the mid-1990s, the EU has provided extensive economic and political support to the authoritarian regimes that supposedly offered security, stability, and economic opportunities to Europe, irrespective of the lack of significant progress in the area of human rights and democracy. The popular uprisings that led to the Arab Spring in 2011 revealed the limitations, contradictions, and short-termism of this approach. Economic inequalities, social exclusion, widespread corruption and lack of democratic spaces were the very roots of the unrest that led to the revolutionary changes that took place in Tunisia, in Egypt, and, to a lesser extent, in Morocco. The EU was caught by surprise, and initially was hesitant as to which side to support. Once the revolutions succeeded, and both Ben-Ali and Mubarak were forced to leave power, the EU turned into a major supporter of the democratic processes that were taking place at the other side of the Mediterranean. The EU announced a paradigm shift in its relations with the Southern Mediterranean, a new partnership based in sustainable and inclusive growth, a greater role for civil society, and a renewed emphasis in human rights and democratic transformation. The main innovation of the EU’s new approach to the region was the concept of deep democracy, a new term that generated high expectations. This report aims to analyze the conceptual contours of deep democracy and the EU’s human rights and democracy promotion policies and programmes in three countries of the Southern Mediterranean: Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco. While in Tunisia and Egypt the democratic uprisings succeed in a regime change, the Mouvement du 20 février in Morocco was able only to achieve some minor top-down political reforms. The core objective of our analysis is to explore to what extent EU’s policies towards these countries have been influenced by the supposedly new paradigm developed by the EU through the concept of deep democracy and through the creation of new programmes and institutions such as the European Endowment for Democracy (EED), the Civil Society Facility (CSF), or the reviewed European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). As this report has demonstrated, most changes in EU policies towards the Southern Mediterranean, particularly the reviewed ENP, are essentially rhetoric, since they do not substantially modify the traditionally top-down and business-oriented approach that has dominated these relations. The renewed emphasis of the ENP on the 3 Ms (money, market, and mobility) has not served to reorient the main drivers of the ENP, namely liberalization, the progressive integration of the economies of the Southern Mediterranean into the European market, and the externalization of borders and control of migration and refugee flows. Human rights and democracy have played a relatively small role in the supposedly new approach to bilateral relations between the EU and the Southern Mediterranean, in spite of the ambitious rhetoric enshrined in the official documents coming from Brussels in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. One aspect that can be described as an innovation is the EU’s emphasis on the role of CSOs working in the field of human rights and democracy. The EU has tried to cooperate more closely with CSOs, and has also exerted some pressure on governments to increase the space that CSOs have to work for the promotion of human rights and democracy. While in Tunisia and Morocco the EU has been able to support the work of some independent human rights NGOs, the EU’s ability to cooperate with Egyptian CSOs has been much more limited. The current situation in Egypt, with systematic violations of human rights and a more and more restrictive policy on NGOs, has largely reduced the EU’s leverage capacity. The new geopolitical scenario after the Arab Spring in the Southern Mediterranean, and the financial and political crisis the EU is suffering since 2008, are also affecting the EU’s capacity to act as a relevant international actor in the region. In Egypt, the EU’s leverage capacity has dramatically diminished due to the increasing presence of other actors in the country such as Saudi Arabia, China or Russia. That is not the case in Tunisia and Morocco, where the EU still holds a considerable capacity to influence the respective governments. The EU is by far the main trading partner of these countries. Whether or not the EU uses its potential to push for deep democracy in these two countries remains to be seen. The EU has to make a strategic and sincere reflection on the role it wants to play in a changing region such as the Southern Mediterranean. The Arab Spring was a wake-up call for an EU that for decades had supported authoritarian stability in the region. It was the right time to conduct such a strategic reflection based on the assumption of past mistakes. This analysis has demonstrated that the Arab Spring has been a missed opportunity to rethink the partnership with the other side of the Mediterranean.