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EU support to governance in North Africa: The limits


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Today, the EU finds itself in a delicate position as it reflects on its reaction to the uprisings in the Southern Mediterranean.[i] The EU has been widely criticised for supporting Arab governments for so long and for making a 180 degrees turn only once the peoples of Tunisia and Egypt have already secured the change. Granted! Country ownership of governance reforms is crucial but observers agree that the EU could have done more to support such reforms earlier. Now there are calls to place more emphasis on incentives for reforms. Is the idea of ‘incentive for democratic reforms’ new?

Well, in fact not quite… In 1995, the Bacelona Declaration outlined a number of democracy and human rights principles to which parties to the Barcelona Process are bound.  The Valencia Communication of 2002 reiterated these principles. This culminated in the 2003 Communication of the European Commission on “Reinvigorating EU actions on Human Rights and Democracy with the Mediterranean Partners”, which launched the Democracy Facility; a facility that aims at ensuring the best use of the different instruments available to the Union in order to promote democracy in the region. Three years later, the Democracy Facility was strengthened through the launch of a €300 million Governance Facility for North Africa covering the period 2007-2013.[1] The Facility is “intended to provide additional support, on top of the normal country allocations, to acknowledge and support the work of those partner countries who have made most progress in implementing the agreed reform agenda set out in their Action Plan. In line with an assessment of progress made in implementing the (broadly-defined) governance aspects of the Action Plans, this funding would be made available to top-up national allocations, to support key elements of the reform agenda; this will help reformist governments to strengthen their domestic constituencies for reform”. Allocations are provided as a top-up to the resources provided for the Annual Action Plans in a couple of countries chosen on the basis of a selection criteria.

But, it is difficult to judge the extent to which these ‘incentives’ have helped shape democratic reforms in countries of the Southern Mediterranean as no specific evaluation of, for instance the Governance Facility, are available. What is however clear is that the intervention through these instruments has a number of weaknesses, notably:

  • The weakness of a comprehensive framework for the promotion of Governance – it is largely left to the Annual Action Plans of the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument (ENPI) (drafted with the partner government) to identify reforms with a limited role being played by other stakeholders;
  • Limited impact of the incentive-through-money concept (as shown by the assessment of the equivalent ACP Governance Incentive Tranche);
  • Short-term interventions rather than a sustained engagement – also illustrated by the manner in which the Facility is allocated (in the form of annual projects) and the limits of the Calls for Proposals used by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR);
  • Weakness of the underpinning political economy analysis of reforms in North African countries; and
  • A fragmented EU approach resulting from uncoordinated actions by EU member states.

So until it is clear what the EU instruments for democracy promotion have yielded in terms of impact, the question remains on what other type of incentives can be used to promote reforms. Economic benefits in exchange of some reforms will become increasingly attractive for North African governments. As we have seen, the riots in North African countries have largely been triggered by socio-economic concerns, which led the populations to question the political aptitude of their governments. The economic ‘carrot’ is therefore important now more than never as North African governments will look at more opportunities in these areas. A pure increase in aid levels to North Africa is indeed not necessarily the best way to ensure leverage as the contribution of EU aid remains limited in GDP terms – Tunisia for instance earns ten times more from remittances that from EU aid leading it to be more interested in a relaxation of banking transfers regulations and free movement of nationals.

The EU will therefore need to think more creatively about the type of interventions it would like to have in North Africa. But that will need to first start from learning from what has already been done. It should also not forget that leverage in this region, as is the case increasingly elsewhere, does not come strictly from providing financial ‘incentives’ for reforms in the area of democracy and human rights.

[1] European Commission.

[i] On 11 March, European Heads of Government adopted a declaration setting the political direction and priorities for future EU policy and action to support peaceful change for greater democracy and equality in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt (and all countries of the EU’s “Southern neighbourhood region”). In addition to calling for Colonel Khadafi to relinquish power and expanding sanctions against Libya, existing partnerships and assistance programmes in the region will be rapidly reviewed to better target needs. The European Council welcomed the joint communication from the European Commission and the EU High Representative proposing a Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean based on a differentiated and incentive-based approach bringing together all EU instruments. Such a partnership should also be founded on deeper economic integration, broader market access and political cooperation. The communication offers incentives to North African countries, including loosening immigration restrictions, further trade opening and additional development aid, to entice them towards democratic reforms.

The European Council conclusions and the joint communication, however, do not go into specifics on how the EU would measure democratic progress.  According to an article in the Financial Times quoting a European diplomat, it could be months before anything is agreed. And some proposals are likely to be difficult to implement.

According to a “non-paper” document prepared by the Hungarian EU Presidency on 11 March 2011, a complete revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy is needed – one that is based on long-term thinking and not guided by short-term considerations only. The EU needs a comprehensive, coherent and credible regional strategy towards the North African and Middle Eastern region it says. It calls for the EU to be more explicit on how it sees differentiation work in practice in the whole of the EU neighbourhood, how the EU is ready to offer “more for more” and how commitments will be implemented in practice. The EC plans to issue a policy communication on this in May and the EU Presidency will then convene an informal meeting of ministers responsible for development cooperation in Budapest before the summer to discuss it.

The European Parliament also adopted a resolution on the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood, and Libya in particular, on 10 March. It stresses that events in Libya, and in other countries in the region, have highlighted the urgent need to develop more ambitious and effective policies and instruments, and to strengthen their budgetary basis, in order to encourage and support political, economic and social reforms in the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood. It also calls for the strategic review of the European Neighbourhood Policy to reflect current developments in North Africa and to come up with new, improved ways of meeting the needs and aspirations of its peoples. The Parliament also endorses the view that the Union for the Mediterranean must adapt to the new era and circumstances and reflect and act on recent events, in order to put forward proposals on how best to promote democracy and human rights in its Member States and in the region, including Libya, and on possible reforms, in order to make its own role stronger, more coherent and more effective.

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African institutions and regional dynamicsEuropean external affairsEU Development Policy and PracticeTransitions in AfricaNorth Africa