The European Union has been criticised for its slow response to the events that have unfolded in Tunisia and in Egypt in the first half of 2011. But it is catching up with the new SPRING programme – Support for Partnership, Reform and Inclusive Growth – which it adopted this week. The four pillars of the new package are:
– A €350 million flagship initiative to support the political transition (the SPRING programme);
– A Special Measure designed to support poorer areas in Tunisia to the value of €20 million;
– Additional resources for higher education through the Erasmus Mundus (€66 million); and
– A Neighborhood Civil Society Facility totaling €22 million and covering the period 2011-2012.
So what do these ‘new’ measures imply?
Sure, the EU should be credited for seizing the opportunity of the (delicate) opening of the political space in North Africa and finally reacting to the changes in its southern neighbourhood. The Union was able to mobilise backing for support to a specific region which it views as strategic. Some elements of the new package suggest a recognition that changes in North Africa are not purely about the provision of democracy support but also other forms of support (i.e. economic), which have the potential to stimulate local demands for reforms. Furthermore, the package’s emphasis on institutional building in the changing context of North Africa post-revolutions is a crucial contribution in support of the transition. The proposal also gives a stronger role to the EU Delegations in the field in order to ensure that the initiatives take into account local dynamics and will therefore embrace differentiation. This is a step in the right direction given the different needs of the partner countries.
Nonetheless, the new package raises two fundamental questions:
The implications of the new initiative will depend on how smartly they are implemented and the flexibility headquarters provide to the EU Delegations in implementing them – considering what is possible in individual countries.
 “Concrete results are expected in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic governance, freedom of association, expression and assembly and free press and media” and “Results are expected in a number of areas including a better regulatory framework for business, increased numbers of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); as well as a reduction in internal social and economic disparities
Faten Aggad is Policy Officer Development Policy & International Relations
This blog post features the author’s personal view and does not represent the view of ECDPM.