Sunday, May 22, 2011
The revolutionary upheavals in North Africa have triggered a debate on the future of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). In light of the recent events across the Mediterranean region, the Commission is currently reviewing the Southern dimension of the ENP. After several delays, it is expected that the Commission will publish a comprehensive review on 24th of May. Any new approach needs to restore credibility in the EU’s neighbourhood policy to ensure the success of the democratic transitions and to close the huge prosperity gap between the Southern and Northern shores of the Mediterranean.
The ENP was developed in 2004 to offer its Mediterranean neighbours a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values. While the EU negotiated under the ENP framework detailed Action plans and monitored the neighbors’ progress in delivering on reforms, the EU has de facto not exercised serious pressure on the authoritarian regimes to move beyond superficial reforms. While the ENP placed rhetorical emphasis on democratization it has constantly sidelined the aim to support grassroots democratic movements. In the discussion on the ENP’s future shape, the Eurosceptic Think-Tank Open Europe published a report looking at the effectiveness of EU assistance to North Africa and the Middle East. The report states that despite of the EU's funding effort towards its Southern neighbours of about €13 billion (1995-2013), the EU’s aim to promote democracy in the region largely failed to meet the high expectations. The Commission has consistently increased its funding commitments “despite noting limited or no progress in terms of democratic reforms and human rights”. The report mentions, for instance, the EU’s questionable aim to consider an Association Agreement with the Gaddafi Regime, the direct aid funding of autocratic regimes, poor monitoring of projects or dubious funding measures such as the 40 Million Euro grant to the Palestinian Authority. Next to those allegations, there are also other examples where the Commission granted financial support to pro-government groups prioritizing political stability over democracy. (e.g. the Moroccan Initiative Nationale du Dévéloppement Humain)
The Open Europe Report has prompted a reaction by the Commission. The EU Commission states that indeed “mistakes were made in the past” but that the “Report gives an erroneous and simplistic vision of the ENP”. The statement stresses that the EU has a “robust system in place ensuring that funds are correctly used”, and that the potential Association Agreement with Libya would have been mainly supportive for the civil society etc. In regard to close ties with autocratic regimes, the Commission states that the “serious shortcomings of a government do not justify isolating a population”. This sentence expresses a dilemma the EU’s neighbourhood policy is facing: Is it justified to turn a blind eye to the promotion of democratic values in order to help the people? Or is it rather an excuse to protect its own interests in the fields of security, energy, or economy? In February, the Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle acknowledged in his speech that the EU’s stability-oriented approach - supporting the perpetuation in power of authoritarian and corrupt regimes - was based on “short-termism that makes the long term ever more difficult to build”.
A New Partnership?
The communication of 8 March proposes a modification in the EU’s strategy reflecting the emerging challenges in the Southern neighbourhood. The “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity” should react to the changing political landscape in the region building on three elements: democratic transformation and institution-building, a stronger partnership with the people, and sustainable and inclusive growth and economic development. The EU offers “more for more” by linking democratic reforms and aid: More economic benefits & increased financial aid for more democratic reforms. The Partnership should be “an incentive-based approach based on more differentiation“.
In the debate about the revision of EU’s policy towards Southern Mediterranean, the key question concerns which incentives Europe is willing to provide to strengthen the partnership. Conditional offers and assistance, the more active support of good governance, a bottom-up democratization process all relies ultimately on the EU’s ability to exercise influence and on the willingness of the partner countries to cooperate. Thus, the EU’s possibilities in dealing with the Southern neighbors are de facto limited if Europe continues granting little offers to the Mediterranean countries. When the EU asks more from its partners it must also offer in return greater openness in areas such as movement of people, access to the European markets and financial assistance. However, in times of austerity many EU states are not enthusiastic to increase the financial support for the Southern dimension of the ENP but rather demand that funds should be directed in a smarter way. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle recommends that any financial assistance to the EU’s neighbours should be strictly conditional on their reform progress. On the other hand, the foreign ministers of France, Spain, Greece, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta request in a letter to Catherine Ashton more funding for the Mediterranean region and that the disparities in the ENP spending - €1.80 per capita to Egypt, €7 to Tunisia compared to up to €25 to Moldova - cannot be sustained in light of the current events.
In regard to greater market access, some EU countries favor opening the EU market for agricultural products. However, the Southern EU countries will not easily agree on easing all tariff quotas on agricultural products from the Southern Mediterranean. The issue of mobility and easier visa regime is even more complicated. Few governments will be ready to open up their labor markets to North Africans. While the facilitation of visas for students and business people and mobility partnerships are a step in the right direction, any significant step, as for example, a necessary “'pact for labour and skills' between the EU and Arab countries that choose a path to democratic transformation” is not expected to happen.
The proposal of the Commission calls for a greater differentiation and bilateralism. However, the ENP is already a very flexible instrument with tailored Action Plans varying in scope and ambition. More differentiation means less coherence between the Southern Mediterranean countries. The EU should maintain a multilateral dimension with the region. Although it is clear that the UfM needs an overhaul concerning its goals, resources, and mandate. Ho the overall strategic goals for the region, such as enhancing regional integration and the Euro-Mediterranean free trade area need a greater intra-regional coherence which can better be achieved via interregional cooperation.
In the mid-term, it is unrealistic that Europe will fundamentally change its policy towards the region. The democratic transition in North Africa will probably rather increase the perceived soft-security threats from the region such as illegal migration, human trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism. Thus, the EU’s main interest in securing stable relations in the ambit of energy, immigration and security will most likely persist. If the new Partnership should be a “qualitative step forward” in the Euro-Mediterranean relations, the EU needs to improve the mutual trust among the two regions and among the partner states themselves. A close partnership based on common standards and interests needs a strong political will for deeper cooperation.
Monday, February 28, 2011
The revolutionary uprisings in North Africa have been a true earthquake for Europe’s foreign policy standing in the region. The way how the EU reacted on this critical challenge tells a lot about the state of disunion in regard to its foreign policy. Both individual EU Member States and the EU itself were slow to react to the events in Tunisia and Egypt. European leaders have been unable to agree on a foreign policy line or to speak with a single voice. The dissonance of voices over the unrest, various passive statements, and the only carefully encouragement for regime change were contradicting the EU’s ambitions to be a key player in the neighboring region.
Moreover, this was the first test for the EU’s foreign policy and new diplomatic service after the enforcement of the Lisbon Treaty. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was absent while the revolts continually unfolded in Tunisia and Egypt. In regard to the ongoing mass protests, Ashton’s “lowest common denominator” statements have been internally and externally criticized. The Union struggled to find the right balance between supporting the democratic aspirations and exercising diplomatic reservation.
As long as the EU is incapable of responding with a strong voice on urgent external affairs, it should focus on the strengths of the Union instead. Given the seismic change in the region, the EU should revise its Euro-Mediterranean relations and rethink its neighborhood policy in order to prove that maintaining strong partnerships with its neighbors is still a key interest. The EU does not need a single voice to be influential but the Union needs to act with unity.
Seeking a balanced response - A chronology of dissonance
The reactions and official statements in Europe have shifted through a number of phases according to the flow of events. When the revolts started in Tunisia in mid-December, Europe was caught completely off-guard and neither the EU nor the EU Member States were prepared for the scenarios developing in the nearby countries. For a long time, the European leaders showed rhetorical restraint towards the popular revolts. The EU needed almost two weeks to agree on calling for free and fair elections in Tunisia. Likewise, Europe was slow to react when the tumults reached Egypt. The European reaction was partially discordant and again the EU leaders failed to take a firm joint position. Only when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for an “orderly transition” to democracy, Europe jumped immediately on the bandwagon. “Orderly transition” became the new maxim and Europe’s official comments followed much of the same tame path. The EU “Big Five”, which includes France, Germany, Italy, UK, and Spain, first issued a joint statement calling for a “process of transition.” Still, this statement was ambivalent since it did not call directly for Mubarak to step down, cited the need for “dialogue” with the regime, and encouraged the embracement of “political reforms”. Not surprisingly, not the EU but the national leaders of Europe took the initiative and delivered the long-awaited European statement. On February 4, the 27 EU governments and Catherine Ashton repeated the mantra of supporting a transition process toward democracy but they remained vague about what exactly that meant. Still, the European leaders hesitated to demand the resignation of President Mubarak out of concern that the disruption in the region could backfire on Europe. Europe was fearful of interfering in the internal affairs of Egypt, a longstanding ally of the West and stability factor in the region. Some EU leaders, among them German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were emphasizing the right of the Egyptian people to determine their own future and the idea that the Union neither had the right to demand regime change nor to interfere in domestic issues.
Europe’s ambiguous and cautious reaction was a balancing act in order to be prepared for every possible outcome of the revolts. The EU proved incapable of expressing its own interests in the region. The EU conferred the lead role to the US, following Obama’s script and patiently waiting for announcements from Washington. Afterward, it was not the EU under the direction of Lady Ashton, but the “Big Five” national states who took the lead. Ashton got left out.
When Catherine Ashton headed off for a tour of North Africa on the 14th to present Egypt and Tunisia with a package of measures, including financial aid, support in preparing for elections, and election monitors to guide the transition process toward democracy, here, again, the EU problems became evident. When the EU’s foreign policy chief visited Tunisia after the Jasmine Revolution other European leaders, including Britain’s foreign minister Hague and the German foreign chief Westerwelle, had been already there. Similiarly, in Egypt, David Cameron and not Ashton was the first Western leader to visit the country.
Blame on Baroness
All EU leadership was missing and soon the guilty one was found: High Representative Baroness Catherine Ashton. Throughout the European capitals, the press, politicians – for instance David Cameron –, and EU parliamentarians from all parties (including ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Socialists Martin Schultz, and Daniel Cohn-Bendit from The Greens) blamed Ashton’s and the EU’s low-key role. European decision-makers were surprisingly united in their critiques. They all shared the same opinions regarding the lack of a coherent European message and the invisible role of EU Foreign Minister Catherine Ashton.
Much criticism is centered on the new EU's High Representative for foreign affairs. Dissatisfaction over the EU’s role in North Africa is related to Ashton’s absence since she might have missed the opportunity to react in the name of the Union. Indeed, Ashton did not have much support when she started her new post one year ago. Baroness Ashton lacks of experience in international diplomacy. She is unknown in Washington, Beijing, and Moscow and unpopular in Brussels. A new survey by Burson Marsteller revealed that more than 68% respondents rate that Ashton’s track record of keeping her performance up to the standard of her commitments has been “below-average” or “disappointing”.
A single phone number but no single voice
The Lisbon Treaty should have brought the necessary powers and competency to Brussels in order to design a new, coherent European foreign policy. High expectations were vested in the communitarisation with the appointment of a foreign affairs chief and development of diplomatic services. The new post of the High Representative should, according to the Treaty, “ensure the consistency of the Union's external action” and, thus, should enable the Union to have its own phone number and a single voice with which to speak.
Baroness Ashton invested a great deal of time to build up the European External Action Service (EEAS) in that, over the last year, she managed its development, structure, and staffing. The EEAS started operating only in the beginning of 2011. The newborn EEAS has potential but it is too early for the service to be able to ease the transition in Egypt and in Tunisia. Still, many features about the collaboration with other diplomatic services and the goals of this external relations service are still unclear. So far, the creation of these structures has not yet led to a more coherent, visible, and integrated EU foreign policy. De facto, the formal transfer of competences over to Brussels has not changed a lot.
When the “Big Five” issued their shared position it showed, on the one hand, its dominance in foreign affairs issues and that the discourse is still dominated by national voices. However, on the other hand, it also showed that Europe cannot wait until 27 governments find a shared position when a statement is needed quickly. It takes too long to find a common policy without a clear hierarchy. Ashton has to maneuver among all EU Member States. She needs to deliver a statement that represents the views of all countries. This compromise must satisfy the leaders of the Member States and their foreign ministers, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso, and President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, all of whom have their own foreign policy goals. In the recent case, Ashton’s statement was well-balanced between those various positions. She spoke for the lowest common denominator between all EU states, and consequently, the content often remains vague. Therefore, it is not only a defeat for Ashton but also for the slow-moving European Union in general. For too long, the debate over the EU’s foreign policy was too long focused on the battle between the intergovernmental and the supranational sphere, and neglected issues regarding improved decision-making strategies, clarification of the EU foreign policy mission, and determining what added value the institutions could provide.
Remember, the appointment of Ashton was the very outcome of the EU’s complicated decision-making process where 27 puzzle pieces had to be fit together and a long game of diplomatic trade-offs between UK, Germany and France was played. With this compromise nomination, the leaders of the big powers could feel assured that it would not impinge their own national foreign policy ambitions and their sovereignty. The EU heavyweights got what they wanted without substantial loss of individual power. Without the support of the national governments and the European leaders, Ashton does not have the necessary trust, standing, and political influence to deliver a strong and substantial message in the name of the EU. It poses a dilemma for the EU that Europe lacks a visible face that represents the continent and is backed by all national powers. Similarly, the EU’s policies and statements cannot be more than the compromise of 27 Member States. The framing of the EU as normative power is just the outcome of basic European values which should be preserved. Without clear foreign policy priorities and common strategic interests, the Union will be regarded solely as a club of states with shared principles and values, high ideals and grand vision. Thus, even if Europe has finally has a phone number, there is not much of a reason to call.
Grand Ambitions or Small Steps
The upheavals in North Africa represented the first genuine test of the abilities of EU foreign policy and the EEAS after the Lisbon Treaty came into force. The inability of the EU to cope with and adapt to the revolutionary events in Tunisia and Egypt had damaging consequences for the credibility of Europe in the Southern Mediterranean region. It has undermined the EU’s appeals for change and will not help to assert Europe’s power in the world. The EU’s disorganized response to the revolts in North Africa proved that the new structures in Brussels have not fundamentally changed the EU foreign policy. New structures and processes cannot deal with the dilemma if there is no streamlined European voice. One could predict that Europe will not manage to agree on a single voice for foreign policy in the foreseeable future. The primacy of the national states in foreign affairs will prevail and it is illusionary that sovereign member states will give the EU exclusive powers on critical external policy issues in the short-term. While the 27 EU governments agree on many aspects regarding the overall direction and values of the foreign affair policies, they do not all have the same strategic interests. More political commitments and a common will would be needed to change this.
The lack of a strong, clear voice has eroded the Union’s credibility throughout the Southern neighbourhood. Europe risks permanently damaging its long-term interests in a region that is also vital for its future. Even if the events in the Mediterranean region will have some impact on the way that European Union foreign policy is made, the EU must acknowledge that its ability to react assertively to those events will be limited if it does not have effective leadership . However, this does not have to be a major problem as long as the EU can agree on a single strategic response to the revolutions in the region and act accordingly. Since the revolts carry unpredictable consequences for the whole Arab world, a coherent strategy to stabilize the countries and prevent a return to authoritarianism or extremism is more important than ever. The EU should focus on the strengths and potential of the EU soft policies. Traditional cooperation and partnership tools, economic and cultural partnerships, trade and development funding, support for civil society, and the strengthening of democratic institutions have been consistent features of EU’s relations with foreign countries and regions. The EU’s broad mix of bilateral and multilateral instruments and unique net of diplomatic relations gives the Union a strong position in the world. In addition, if another lessons should be learned from this crisis then it is that the EU has to determine how it could react to crises in a more timely and coherent manner. A task-force, headed by the EU High Representative and composed of EU leaders (for instance Barroso and Van Rompuy) and national governments representatives (for example the foreign minister of the EU presidency), that is trusted to by all national leaders to represent Europe as a whole should be created to response to international crisis events.
Labels: EU's Mediterranean Policy
Thursday, January 20, 2011
The Crumbling Façade of Europe’s Bulwark of Stability
The events in Tunisia are a bitter lesson for the EU’s indulgent policy towards Ben Ali’s repressive regime. Europe has remained silent for a long time and did not show any intention to intervene in Tunisia when Ben Ali’s regime oppressed various democratic freedoms. The fear of major destabilization in the region hindered the EU in insisting on a political opening of Tunisia’s regime. The EU’s policy towards the North African state focused on economic matters, security and counter-terrorism, and maintaining stability and the status-quo. This approach discredited the EU’s foreign policy and considerably deteriorated its once-significant standing in the neighboring region. The EU and France should engage themselves more actively to pursue a peaceful transition in Tunisia and urgently need to improve their dialogue with the leaders of the Arab states, as there are signs that popular movements might erupt in the Mediterranean area.
When the first wave of protest erupted in mid-December in Tunisia, the international community did not pay much attention. The protests, sparked by high youth unemployment, rising food prices, and pressing social problems, started locally in the Tunisian periphery but quickly spread to other parts of the country, the capital Tunis, and even neighboring countries. The protests have turned more and more into a political movement, nourished by a frustration with the corrupt regime of President Zin Al-Abiden Ben Ali, a lack of democracy, and human rights abuses. The current second wave of protest was supported by a larger part of the Tunisian society. Ben Ali, having been in power for 23 years, came under increased pressure to control the violence, as the protests have become more political in nature and are directed against the regime.
When Ben Ali stepped down on January 14th, after weeks of worsening riots, it was not only a victory for the protesters in Tunisia, but was also a warning towards other autocratic regimes in the region. The regimes in Algeria, Libya and Egypt fear a spillover to their countries because the people might feel encouraged to express their anger against the despots and demand economic, social, and political reforms. If a third wave of protests inspired by the Jasmine Revolution erupts in these countries as well, the regimes will no longer be able to hinder real devolution of political power.
The unrest in Tunisia was already ongoing for almost a month before it got international attention. While the protests had been discussed extensively in social networks and journalists, bloggers, and activists had reported steadily about the Tunisian revolt on Twitter, the events in North Africa were only a marginal note in the international press. Similarly, the international community sat back for a long time without taking notice of the tensions. Only after the bloody protests during the second weekend of January did the US, EU, UN, and France officially react to the protests, criticize the brutal response of Tunisia’s police forces, and express their concern about the freedom of expression.
Still, the various responses by the world powers have been fairly low-key without encouraging or supporting the democratic aspirations of the Tunisian people. The international community has essentially said very little about Ben Ali’s autocratic rule and has not made it clear that its repressive State security apparatus and human rights violations are unacceptable and contrary to Tunisia’s international commitments. The low level of coverage in the media and the reserved reaction of the world powers gave Ben Ali’s regime a free pass to crackdown violently on the protests with police and military forces.
The passive role of the EU comes particularly surprising as Europe is directly affected by the social tensions and the political situation in the Maghreb. The EU should be particularly concerned about the situation in the Southern backyard, which could destabilize the whole region: New local conflicts can emerge, the economic situation could worsen, Islamist movements could gain more grounds, and the pressures to migrate to Europe could grow.
When the riots peaked in the beginning of January, Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, was in the Middle East for a two-day visit. No statement was given on the situation in the Maghreb even though it was the EU that created the vision of a unified Mediterranean space consisting of North Africa and the Middle East. This shows that the EU policy towards the region, after more than 15 years of Euro-Mediterranean initiatives, has not improved the dialogue between the regional actors, let alone established a political framework where these issues could be discussed. The EU hardly commented on the situation, although the stability of the Southern Mediterranean countries has been one of the main subjects of the policy approach towards the region. Tunisia was long considered to be a bulwark of stability in the neighborhood, although social tensions have been rising constantly over the last decade.
Tunisia – the poster child for Europe
After Tunisia gained independence from France in 1957, the small country, with a population of 10 million, achieved considerable progress in terms of economic and social modernization, along with a good educational and healthcare system. Tunisia is considered to be a role model of the Mediterranean region in several areas.
Economically, the small North African country is often described as the poster child of developing economies. Economic reforms have progressed, inflation has lowered, the savings rate has increased, and the budget deficit has remained stable. The Global Competitiveness Index of 2010 from the World Economic Forum ranks Tunisia as the 32nd most competitive economy – the highest in all of Africa. The strong economic growth during the past decade is intertwined with Europe, which has been supporting the Tunisian economy with cash, investment, and economic assistance. Within the Barcelona process Tunisia received the highest amount of aid per capita of all of the Mediterranean countries, amounting to about 80 million euros per year. The trade relationship between Europe and the Maghreb country is robust and the EU is Tunisia’s most important trade partner. More than 60 percent of Tunisia’s imports come from the EU and it exports between 70 - 80% of its total exports to the EU. Economic relations are strong and Tunisia’s economy is very integrated with the European single market. Tunisia became the first Southern Mediterranean country to have a free trade area with the EU for industrial products, with prospects for further liberalization ahead (e.g.: services, the right of establishment, and even agriculture).
Politically, Tunisia is a close and reliable partner for Europe and one of the most cooperative partner states within Euro-Mediterranean relations. Tunisia was the first Mediterranean country to sign an Association Agreement with the EU within the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP) in 1995. EU-Tunisian relations have made significant advances within the EMP since 1995, as well as in the bilateral European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). In the European Commission’s reports regarding the implementation of the ENP Action Plan, Tunisia has achieved steady progress in a number of cooperation areas. The North African country has been keen to upgrade its bilateral relations with the EU and demanded the benefits of an advanced status with the EU in November 2008. Like Morocco, the government of Tunisia requested this new status, which would bring several economic benefits (e.g.: preferential trade conditions) and political benefits, since these benefits improve Tunisia’s international image. The European Commission established an ad-hoc group in mid-2010, which began working on a roadmap with the aim of promoting their relations to an advanced status. Because Tunisia has good relations with its neighbors, the country has always played a positive role towards setting up a free trade area in the Mediterranean rim and towards regional integration in the Maghreb.
Despite Tunisia’s steady economic growth, the employment outlook remains poor. The average unemployment rate throughout the country is around 14 percent. Large parts of Tunisian society have not benefited from economic reforms and the situation is especially acute among young people. The demand for jobs among the increasing number of youths has not been addressed and the global financial crisis has further worsened employment figures. University graduates suffer the most from the low performance of the labor market. According to World Bank statistics, the unemployment rate for individuals with higher education between 20-29 years of age is about 27 percent.
Shortcomings on the road to democracy
Tunisia’s achievements in the mentioned areas, however, have not led to a political transition. The modernization process under way and the economic reforms have not shown the potential of driving more democratic reforms. Ben Ali’s regime has not improved upon the basis of its legitimacy and has resisted any degree of political opening. The existence of opposition and opponents of the regime have not been tolerated. The repressive grip of the Tunisian authorities has drastically restricted press freedoms, and the freedom of expression.
Despite the fact that Ben Ali promised to enhance democratic reforms in his election campaign in 2009, the situation has worsened during the course of the last year. Ben Ali and his Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD) intensified the amount of repression against opposition parties and human rights activists. The lack of political institutions that could be used as channels of representation of the society, combined with the low confidence in state institutions, are enduring features of Tunisian society.
In Europe, Ben Ali’s record was well known, since the ENP Action Plan steadily reported shortcomings in the areas of human rights, justice, and freedom of expression. But even if these issues were addressed in the various subcommittees and working groups, no consequences from the EU have followed.
Quid pro quo – A political trade-off
With the creation of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership in 1995, the EU committed itself to consolidate stability and prosperity in the Mediterranean region and to promote the values of dialogue and solidarity. In the Association Agreement signed with Tunisia and in the Action Plan of the ENP, Brussels and Tunis committed to gradually encourage political modernization, democracy, and human rights.
However, in practice, Brussels has not put democratic values high on the agenda and has not insisted enough on the core norms and values of the partnership ranging from democracy to human rights. The EU’s efforts to support human rights and good governance projects within the EMP and the ENP have not led to democratic structures and the expected political change. Many projects to support transparency and the rule of law have not brought about any important results, as the money or the technical assistance spent on these reforms flow directly to the Tunisian authorities. Independent human rights activists and representatives of civil society were supported less in order to maintain stable relations with the Tunisian government. Ben Ali’s ban of foreign human rights organizations in the country was not met with any consequences from the EU.
Positive and negative conditionality was not used as an instrument to reward or sanction reforms in these areas. Any use of conditionality was blocked by the partner state’s governments or the EU hesitated to set certain conditions for their support (e.g.: trade benefits or aid) in order to maintain good relations with the government. As a trade-off, Ben Ali’s regime cooperated in important areas for the EU such as illegal migration, Islamist fundamentalism, or terror-related issues. The EU’s interests have been focusing largely on security cooperation (counter-terrorism, non-proliferation, and illegal migration), stability, and economic matters (investment and economic reforms) and have outweighed any pushes for democratic reform, since this might lead to a destabilizing situation in the region and bring anti-Western forces to power. Thus, the EU’s policy-making in the Southern periphery is undermining the values upheld by the European Union and the commitments inherent in the Association Agreement to strengthen democracy and political participation. As long as the benefits outweigh the costs, the EU and European leaders prefer the status-quo and have relations with autocratic but cooperative governments. The EU’s tendency to support pro-regime policies that offer stability has secured stable, dependable, and reliable relations with Arab autocrats.
Despite all critics, the EU’s strategy towards the Mediterranean should not be considered to be a genuine democratization agenda imposing democratic change from outside. A partnership does not include the right to blindly pressure sovereign governments on democratic reform and intervene in domestic issues. Europe does not have a great deal of leverage in the region and any serious and public intervention in domestic politics could bring instability and disruption. Thus, the demand for democratic change must come from the society itself but the EU can be more active to support human rights organizations and pro-democratic forces.
A ring of authoritarian regimes
In conclusion, the EU’s “ring of friends” rhetoric has become rather a “ring of friendly regimes” agenda. Brussels’ approach that maintained the status-quo did not bring domestic stability in Tunisia. Although many indicators rank Tunisia as a highly developed country, behind the façade Tunisia’s internal balance has been uneasy for years.
The uprising in Tunisia could be followed by similar popular movements in Arab countries, which would affect the whole region and have heavy geopolitical repercussions. After the fall of Ben Ali’s regime, which was based on repression and control, the people of other Arab countries might feel encouraged to protest against their regimes. The Tunisian people’s overthrow of their government will intensify the pressure for change, with a possibility that the resistance to dynastic successions can be replicated in other countries.
Many Arab regimes present similar political conditions and social characteristics: Aging authoritarian leaders whose long-surviving regimes have prevented a real rotation of power. A lack of legitimacy, accountability, and transparency, along with manipulated elections, corruption, and a suppressed opposition are among them. The people do not benefit from the wealth, which is in the hands of a few who derive substantial economic assets. A depoliticized society, high unemployment, poor living conditions for large parts of the society, and a large, frustrated youthful population that lacks perspective can be found in Algeria and Egypt and, to some extent, in Libya and Jordan.
There is the potential for growing unrest among the youth, already noticeable in Algeria or Jordan, which could rapidly expand all over the region. For instance, in Algeria, the anger has recently increased against price increases on some basic foods. Although the protests and the riots vary and some states, such as Egypt, for example, are more resilient than other Arab regimes, the risks of a spill-over and similar unrest emerging in the region exists. This bottom-up demand for democracy could gradually bring regime change to the Arab world. A genuine democratic movement, not installed from outside, would be unique and significant for the whole Southern Mediterranean area.