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One Year On: A Balance Sheet of the EU’s Response to the Arab Spring

One Year On: A Balance Sheet of the EU’s Response to the Arab Spring

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This policy brief criticizes the EU's reaction to uprisings in the Arab world.
This policy brief criticizes the EU's reaction to uprisings in the Arab world.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: German Marshall Fund of the United States on May 24, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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About this Series
Op-Med is an ongoing series o opinion pieces on topical issues inMediterranean politics rom a transat-lantic perspective. Te series bringstogether European, North American,and southern Mediterranean expertsthrough the German Marshall Fund–Istituto Aari Internazionali strategicpartnership. Te series examines key questions surrounding the political,societal, and economic evolution o specic Mediterranean countriesas well as the broader regional andinternational dynamics at play in theMediterranean region as a whole.
One Year On: A Balance Sheet of the EU’s Response to the Arab Spring 
by Nathalie Tocci 
1744 R Street NWWashington, DC 200091 202 683 2650F 1 202 265 1662E ino@gmus.org
May 2012
Te Arab Spring can be read as a revoltagainst adaptive authoritarianism ina globalizing world, dened in partthrough state capture o the economy alongside persistent and deepeningrepressive practices that resulted insoaring ood prices, bulging youthunemployment, and staggering socio-economic inequalities. Tis authori-tarian adaptation to globalization wasnot only a domestic development. Itwas supported by external players,such as the European Union (EU), thatcontented themselves with this author-itarianism or the sake o a speciousstability.Aer dithering, the EU admittedits past ailings and unambiguousldeclared support or the democraticaspirations o the Middle Easternpeoples. In practice, it did so by revising the European NeighbourhoodPolicy (ENP). Te motto o the ENPreview is “3 Ms”: money, markets,and mobility, to be deployed in theneighborhood ollowing the prin-ciple o “more or more.” However,a year on, delving into the details o what has — and has not — been donereveals important weaknesses at thecore o the EU’s overall response to thehistoric change underway to its south.
Unresponsive Goals
Te EU has certainly acknowledgedthat the goals o its reorm agendawere in dire need o revision. Suchrevision meant not only puttingdemocracy back on its policy agenda,but also revising the specic inter-pretation o its reorm-related goals.Hence, the EU’s newound emphasison deep democracy,“sustainability,and “inclusiveness.” Accordingly, itnow also supports education, health-care, and job creation through micro-credit and small- and medium-sizedenterprise incentives. Yet these addi-tions have only tweaked EU goals atthe margins. On the whole, ar romengaging in a paradigmatic revisiono its policy goals, the (neo) liberaldemocracy and market economicsimprint o EU external governancehave remained largely unaltered.While the Union seems to recognize itmust adopt a holistic approach to thepolitical and civil society landscape o its neighbors, its approach continuesto avor liberal-leaning NGOs andpolitical actors, while still shunningradical Islamist groups — i.e., Salastgroups — that have made importantelectoral inroads. Economically, theEU’s neo-liberal approach remains by and large unvaried, as evident in therules embedded in Deep and Compre-
Opinions on the Mediterranean
Opinions on the Mediterranean
hensive Free rade Agreements (DCFAs), Agreementson Conormity Assessment and Acceptance (ACAAs),and EU-promoted investor dialogues. It is precisely orthis reason, alongside the complex demands made by theEU to third countries in terms o acquis approximation,which makes it unlikely that many (i any) Arab Mediter-ranean countries will actually conclude DCFAs. Likewise,mobility partnerships, while a welcome step away romortress Europe’s approach to the South, provide meagerincentives in terms o legal immigration and do not estab-lish a sound link between migration and development.
Insufcient Instruments
Te EU’s rethink has essentially centered on the ENP.When it comes to other policy instruments, not much canbe recorded. As or the Common Foreign and Security Policy, the Union’s response was characteristically disap-pointing, marred by the typical divisions between memberstates. On Libya, bitter intra-EU division between Franceand the United Kingdom on one hand and Germany onthe other meant that all the EU could muster was EUFOR-Libya, a Common Security and Deence Policy missionto support humanitarian eorts that would be activatedonly i requested by the UN-Oce or the Coordination o Humanitarian Aairs, a condition that was most unlikely tomaterialize.Inaction has also characterized the multilateral level.Whereas the bulk o the EU’s transormative agenda canand should be tackled through the EU’s bilateral relationswith individual countries, there remain a number o key policy questions, ranging rom inrastructure to non-proli-eration, combating organized crime, and maritime secu-rity, that continue to warrant multilateral solutions. Also,democracy-related questions can be useully tackled multi-laterally, in orums such as those established in the EasternPartnership that contribute to setting regional norms andstandards.At the international multilateral level, the Union has setup a ask Force or the Southern Mediterranean, bringingtogether EU institutions, the EU Special Representativeor the Southern Mediterranean, as well as internationalnancial institutions (IFIs). Within the region, it has inten-sied dialogue with regional groupings such as the ArabLeague, the Arab Maghreb Union, and the Organizationo the Islamic Conerence. But these dialogues remain adhoc and do not envision a clear policy agenda. As or theUnion or the Mediterranean (UM), EU institutions haveattempted to salvage that cumbersome initiative by takingon the co-presidency rom France and launching the rstproject at a desalination acility or the Gaza Strip. Tis ismore than what the UM can record in its previous ouryears o existence. But it does not make the UM any less o an anachronistic relic o a long-gone Euro-Mediterraneanpast. Nor does it cure the UM o its obstinate neglect o allthings political. Rather than insisting on articial region-building, it is only i the EU nimbly institutionalizes itsmultilateral dialogues with existing regional, sub-regional,and, where relevant, extra regional (e.g., urkey, the UnitedStates, China) actors, assigning to each orum the policquestions or which it is, or can be, competent, that itsmultilateral eorts are likely to bear ruit. A pragmatic andprobably more sub-regional approach, building on existingsub-regional groupings, would seem the appropriate avenueto deal with regional problems in a post-Arab Spring Medi-terranean.
Inappropriate Methods
Finally, the EU has reinstated conditionality as a guidingmethod o its democracy support activities. In some cases,results are clear, as evident in EU policies toward the reormrontrunner, unisia, including the almost doubling inaid, the establishment o an EU-unisia ask Force, andthe open negotiations over a mobility partnership and aDCFA. Yet beyond unisia, Morocco and Jordan also areequally well, despite their ar less impressive steps orward,with both countries on course or negotiating DCFAs,mobility partnerships, and in the case o Morocco, an agree-ment on agriculture liberalization that was concluded inFebruary 2012. As aptly argued by Behr,
the EU’s privilegedrelations with its southern partners have remained largely the same since the outbreak o the Arab Spring.Beyond the partial implementation o conditionality,a deeper problem exists regarding the appropriatenesso conditionality as a method o action. In a post-ArabSpring context, the EU is aced with a dilemma. In essence,conditionality can only be applied to those countries thathave either experienced regime change or appear to be
Timo Behr,
 After the Revolution: The EU and the Arab Transition
, Policy Paper 54, NotreEurope, Paris, 2012, available at: http://www.notre-europe.eu/en/axes/europe-and-world-governance/works/publication/after-the-revolution-the-eu-and-the-arab-transition/

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