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Europe's Response to the Arab Spring

Europe's Response to the Arab Spring

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This policy brief recommends an approach for the EU response to the Arab Spring.
This policy brief recommends an approach for the EU response to the Arab Spring.

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Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on Oct 27, 2011
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During the twodecades preceding the ArabSpring, the European Union andits member states took a two-pronged approach to relationswith Mediterranean countries.Member states pursued bilateralrelations in a pragmatic fashion,establishing close diplomaticand commercial ties. The EUinstitutions, by contrast, were tasked with promoting regionalcooperation, good governance,and the protection of humanrights. On the eve of the ArabSpring, the EU undertook amajor review of the EuropeanNeighborhood Policy, and inMarch, the European Commis-sion and the High Representa- tive put forward a proposed newEU strategy towards the regioncalled “Partnership for Democ-racy and Shared Prosperity,”which placed democracy promo- tion at the heart of the EU’sMediterranean policy. Reformerswill only embrace the EU initia- tive if it is implemented withsensitivity, taking into account the fundamentally differentsituation in each country, andprovided delivery mechanismsare swift and effective. Theapproach of outsiders needs
 to be exible, recognizing that
conditions of uncertainty, andperhaps civil strife, may persistfor several years.
Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brief 
Europe’s Response to the Arab Spring 
by Michael Leigh
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 20009T 1 202 745 3950F 1 202 265 1662E info@gmfus.org
October 2011
Te death o Muammar Gaddaand the elections or the constituentassembly in unisia in October 2011mark a new phase in the politicaltransormation o a number o coun-tries in North Arica. Now that theold regimes have been swept away inthese countries, citizens ace enor-mous challenges in building up civilsociety and creating representativeorms o government. oday Libyaposes the starkest challenge becauseo the absence o political institutions,administrative structures, and orga-nized civil society. Te circumstanceso Gadda’s demise, and the country’sclan-based society, will make recon-ciliation and the consolidation o authority by new rulers particularly dicult.Tere was a general welcome orunisia’s October elections in Europeand the United States, pendingreports rom international observers.However the multiplicity o politicalparties in unisia and the strongperormance by the Islamist Ennhadaparty raise questions about thecountry’s uture system o govern-ment. Egypt, the pivotal country inNorth Arica and the Middle East,still remains largely under the oldorder, pending presidential elections,which are unlikely beore 2013. Tepopular uprising and brutal repres-sion in Syria, as well as tensionsthroughout the region, conront inu-ential outsiders, including Europe,the United States, and urkey, withundamental questions about theirstrategic approach to the region.Te Arab Spring, beginning in unisiain December 2010, posed majorchallenges to Europe, as it did to theUnited States and urkey. All threewere engaged, to dierent degrees,with a number o the existing regimesin Arab countries on the southern andeastern shores o the Mediterranean.Te overthrow o Zine al-AbidineBen Ali in unisia, and later HosniMubarak in Egypt and MuammarGadda in Libya, coupled with mili-tary intervention in Libya under aNAO umbrella, and the uprising andrepression in Syria, challenged theapproach taken hitherto by all threeexternal actors. Tis paper ocuseson Europe’s response and pinpoints anumber o principles or constructiveengagement with the new politicalregimes that are starting to emerge inthe region.During the two decades precedingthe Arab Spring, the European Unionand its member states took a two-pronged approach to relations withMediterranean countries. Memberstates pursued bilateral relations in apragmatic ashion, establishing close
Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brief 
diplomatic and commercial ties. Te southern memberstates, in particular, drew on links going back to colonialtimes to build a privileged position in terms o trade,investment, public procurement, and energy supply. TeEU institutions, by contrast, were tasked with promotingregional cooperation, good governance, and the protec-tion o human rights. Te credibility o EU conditionality was sometimes called into question by the interest-basedapproach o the member states.Te most notorious divergence occurred in 2003, the yearthe EU began its wider Europe initiative. During a visitto unisia, French President Jacques Chirac stated “Terst o human rights is to have ood, medical care, educa-tion, and housing…From this point o view, we have torecognize that unisia is well advanced compared to many countries.” Such sentiments, couched in milder terms,were repeated by senior gures until the eve o Ben Ali’soverthrow. Italy maintained good relations with Libyaunder both center-lef and center-right governments.Egypt enjoyed close links with many member states despitethe continuing state o emergency and the persistence o repression. Spanish and French diplomats and businesspeople gave particular priority to Morocco.Te Euro-Mediterranean partnership, inaugurated inBarcelona in November 1995, encouraged good governancethrough economic liberalization and people-to-peoplecontacts. But the Arab-Israeli conict, riction betweenArab countries, mixed messages rom EU governments,ambivalence over terrorism afer 9/11, and mutual suspi-cion limited the Barcelona process’s impact. Nonethelessthe “Euro-Mediterranean partnership” raised the prole o the “south” in the EU’s external relations, at a time whenthe main ocus was on Central and Eastern Europe.Te European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) sought topromote “shared values” including the rule o law, theprotection o human rights, and good governance. Origi-nally conceived to cushion the impact o enlargement onEastern Europe and to create a zone o stability beyond theEU’s borders, the ENP was extended to the Mediterraneanregion at the behest o Commission President RomanoProdi and the Spanish government. As one Spanishdiplomat put it, 700 years o Al-Andalus could not beorgotten. In Spain, “neighborhood” meant Morocco.Under this initiative, the EU oered to bring neighboringcountries into various EU agencies and programs and togive them a “stake” in the single market, in exchange orulllment o a set o commitments. Tese included specicsteps to broaden democratic reedoms and the respector human rights. An action plan along these lines wasnegotiated with most partners in the region. A governanceacility would provide additional support or countries thatperormed well. Despite initial enthusiasm, it soon becameapparent that, in the absence o an oer o membership,the EU lacked the leverage to achieve the reorms it sought.Arab governments, unwilling to give more reedom toNGOs and opposition groups, had little intention to deliveron political reorms. Te EU, with its lengthy procedures,could not deliver substantially on incentives beyond the“advanced status” accorded to Jordan and Morocco.During the French presidential campaign in 2007,Nicholas Sarkozy promised to set up a MediterraneanUnion between all the states bordering the Mediterra-nean. However, this proved controversial with excludednorthern member states, notably Germany, and conusingin relation to the Barcelona process and ENP. urkey, as acandidate or EU membership, was ar rom enthusiastic.Eventually the initiative was extended to all member states,rebranded as the “Union or the Mediterranean,” and eec-tively merged with the Euro-Mediterranean partnership,as a loose ramework or common projects, with a smallsecretariat in Barcelona. France and Egypt, in the personso President Sarkozy and President Mubarak, were the rstco-presidents.On the eve o the Arab Spring, the EU undertook a majorreview o the ENP, ollowing extensive consultation o stakeholders. Feedback ocused largely on the need orclarity on the policy’s eventual goal and greater dierentia-tion among partners. Consultations were still underway in December 2010, when street demonstrations began inunisia. Many observers considered this a golden oppor-tunity” or Europe to support civil society and democratic
The credibility of EU conditionalitywas sometimes called intoquestion by the interest-basedapproach of the member states.
Foreign Policy Program
Policy Brief 
change in unisia and then in Egypt. Te press, however,was impatient or action and criticized the “deaeningsilence” rom Europe in the rst months o the revolt.Tere were harsh exchanges in the European Parliamentabout this. In reality, the European Commission and theHigh Representative acted swifly, given the wide-rangingconsultations required, and in March put orward aproposed new EU strategy towards the region.
Tis placed democracy promotion at the heart o the EU’sMediterranean policy through a proposed new “Partner-ship or Democracy and Shared Prosperity.” Under thisscheme, the EU would oer incentives, including increasedgrants and loans, better access to the EU market, “mobility partnerships” and visa acilitation, as well as a new civilsociety acility, in exchange or commitments to democ-racy, human rights, social justice, good governance, andthe rule o law. Benets would be calibrated to reorms, onthe principle “more or more,” i.e., those who go urtherin implementing pro-democracy reormers would receivemore assistance. o determine eligibility, the EU wouldmonitor the adoption and implementation o reorms care-ully. Tis approach was swifly endorsed by the EuropeanCouncil and incorporated in the revised ENP in May.Tis initiative put more money on the table and, above all,conveyed the message that the EU was ready to respondto new aspirations in the Arab countries. High level visitsin the spring and summer o 2011 to unisia, Libya, andEgypt reiterated the EU’s support or transition to systemsbased on democracy and the respect or human rights.In June, the high representative set up a ask Force or theSouthern Mediterranean, comprised o EU bodies andinternational nancial institutions, and the next monthappointed a Spanish diplomat, Bernardino León, to work with this task orce to promote democratic transition. Asevents evolved, the EU supported the unreezing o Libyanassets and the imposition o tougher sanctions on Syriaollowing the regime’s brutal repression o the popularuprising.Support or the EU’s new initiative in the Arab countrieswas rather muted. Observers in Europe raised questionsabout the wisdom o placing democratization at the hearto EU policy, in light o the recalcitrance o some o the
Communication on a Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity with theSouthern Mediterranean, from the High Representative and the European Commission,
8 March 2011, COM(2011) 200 nal
actors there (e.g. Algeria, Gaza, Syria) and uncertainty asto the outcome o popular uprisings. Delivery o expectedbenets could become a problem, especially i tightly linked to reorm achievements. In the conused conditionso unisia, Egypt, and, increasingly, Libya, it was uncer-tain whether emerging political orces would be ready totake the EU as a model or political, economic, and legalreorms. In unisia, there was much emphasis on localownership and sel-help. How did this square with the EU’sinsistence on strict conditionality? Te balance betweendierent political orces in Egypt was constantly shifing,with the army expected to play a signicant role at leastor a couple o years. I Egypt missed some reorm bench-marks, could the EU nonetheless engage actively under thenew approach?In strategic terms, the proposed partnerships, and subse-quent ENP review,
seem a sensible response to events.In practice, though, reormers will only embrace the EUinitiative i it is implemented with sensitivity, taking intoaccount the undamentally dierent situation in eachcountry, and provided delivery mechanisms are swif andeective.In particular, partners will be looking or early steps toliberalize agricultural trade and to ease conditions ormobility. Visa acilitation is crucial or people-to-peoplecontacts and as a gauge o the practical value o the EU’ssupport. Concrete and eective assistance rom the EU to
Communication on a Changing Neighborhood, from the High representative and the
European Commission, 25 May, 2011, COM (2011) 303 nal
In the confused conditions of Tunisia, Egypt, and, increasingly,Libya, it was uncertain whetheremerging political forces would beready to take the EU as a modelfor political, economic, and legalreforms.

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