“Revolutions need to come from inside but transitions can do with support from outside” – So, what is the EU offering?


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      In response to the Arab Spring the European Commission has proposed to create a new European Neighbourhood Instrument, based on the European Union’s reviewed approach to cooperation with its neighbours in North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. This new approach was set out in an EU Communication from May 2011 entitled “A new response to a changing Neighbourhood”, and is based on the following principles:

      • “More for more” (“less for less” to be used only in extreme scenarios);
      • Differentiation amongst countries receiving support; and
      • Better coordination between different EU actors (European External Action Service, Commission, EU Member States) as well as with other international partners working in the region.

      These principles boil down to “3 Ms”Moneymobility and market access.
      Money: In terms of financial commitments, the EU has already launched several programmes, notably the “Strengthening Partnership for Reform and Inclusive Growth” (SPRING) programme. A new regional programme to support political and democratic reform in the “Southern Mediterranean”, adopted in late December, will be piloted in Morocco and Tunisia. All in all, 1.2 billion euro was added for the period of 2012-2013 to supplement the current funding for different programmes in the neighbourhood totalling 5.7 billion euro. This excludes additional EUR 1 billion and EUR 2.5 billion, which are to be mobilised through the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development respectively.
      Mobility: The EU is also launching negotiations with Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan for new mobility partnerships in order to facilitate the (regulated) migration of their nationals to the EU. Emphasis will be placed on student, professionals, academics and business representatives.
      Market access: The same four countries will also be able to engage with the EU on negotiations for  “Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas”, which would allow them to acquire greater market access to the EU.

      The 3 Ms resemble an incentive package.  In addition, the ENI will count with a Civil Society Facility and a European Endowment for Democracy. But to benefit from the package, partner countries need to comply with a range of criteria, notably:

      • Democracy and human rights;
      • The rule of law;
      • Good governance;
      • Market economy principles; and
      • Sustainable development, including climate action.

      The devil is in the implementation gap

      Such a strong focus on governance issues, inclusive growth and global challenges (such as climate change) is certainly a novelty in EU’s engagement strategies in the region. However, the devil is in the implementation gap. Some of the key questions that will ‘make or break’ the new EU ambitions in the neighbourhood relate to the implementation of the strategy and how the EU will strike a balance between its values and its own interests.  Here are some of the key issues:

      What can we realistically expect from a “more for more” approach?
      EU’s new strategy is designed on the premise of giving ‘more’ benefits to countries that do “more”, or in other words, providing incentives to countries that reform “further” and “faster”. The Arab world is undergoing an unprecedented process of political and social change. Such a process is fragile, will probably be long, and its outcomes are still uncertain. It is therefore of utmost importance that the EU sets realistic objectives of what can be achieved rather than normative standards to condition its aid. It is crucial that the EU sequences its action in a way that supports the intrinsically slow political reform agenda, and avoids repeating the mistakes of the past whereby state-society relations largely neglected. Supporting governance processes is about supporting local political dynamics – this is, the structures, relationships, interests and incentives that underpin formal institutions. The EU should not expect immediate ownership of reforms but rather an iterative and extremely politicised process. What are the benchmarks against which the EU will measure progress?

      How to ensure that the implementation of the new strategy does not boil down to a competition on who spends more?
      Some civil society organisations have been very critical of the donors’ seemingly rushed approach to “throw money at problems”. But support should go beyond financial terms. There is a real risk that resources are allocated based on a limited assessment of the newly emerging and fast changing local context (the SPRING action plans of Tunis and Egypt). Resources allocation should start by a systematic use of (dynamic) political economy analysis, in order to avoid misjudgements and launching of flagship initiatives that run the risk of being disconnected from the realities on the ground.  Political economy analysis is a tool that can help donors understand the societal dynamics and identify realistic, demand-driven opportunities for engagement, and inform the design of sophisticated programs and projects. The EU is currently making progress to integrate political economy analysis in its new guidelines, but how will these principles translate in the ground?  Does the EU have the necessary capacities to manage this new type of cooperation? Are EU instruments adapted to supporting political change processes?

      Ensuring coherence between the stated ambition to promote democracy and inclusive growth and free trade agreements
      It is important to recall that the Arab Spring was partially driven by frustrations on the socio-economic situation of the people in North Africa. A truly people-centred economic policy in North African countries needs to be developed by the countries themselves. The EU will need to ensure that it allows for such space, while incorporating a differentiation element that takes into account the realities in these countries when negotiating economic agreements (including the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas). The incentives, in the short term, for these countries to open up to the EU are naturally not similar to the motivations of Eastern European countries, which have greater prospects of benefitting from EU resources and subsequently joining the Union. The risks are also higher especially in a phase of consolidating political change. This is at the heart of ensuring that the new governments in the region are accountable to their populations; a situation which was much less pronounced under the previous regimes (i.e. Tunisia and Egypt).

      Political ambitions and ambitious policies are a good start. But if the EU wants to be effective when responding to and engaging with reforms in North Africa, it will need to carefully think how its policies are implemented on the ground. The EU has everything to win by taking a step back before diving into implementation.


      Faten Aggad is Programme Manager of ECDPM's Africa’s Change Dynamics Programme.

      Alisa Herreo Cangas, who co-authored this article, is Policy Officer at ECDPM.


      This blog post features the authors' personal views and does not represent the view of ECDPM.

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