Europe & the Arab Spring: EU Policy for Mediterranean Arab States (Part 1 of 3)

By Alec Simantov

Part 1~
I. ‘Southern Neighborhood’
The self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia on December 17th 2010, sparked popular protests that eventually led to the ouster of the Tunisian dictator Zine el-Abedine Ben-Ali on January 14th, 2011. (Source: Rania Abouzeid, “Bouazizi: The Man Who Set Himself and Tunisia on Fire,” TIME, January 21, 2011, accessed April 1, 2011,,8599,2043557,00.html) The unrest then spread to Egypt, where pro-democracy protesters forced Hosni Mubarak from power on February 11th. (Source: Craig Whitlock, “Mubarak steps down, prompting jubilation in Cairo streets,” The Washington Post, February 12, 2011, accessed April 5, 2011, Protests have since erupted across the entirety of the region from Morocco to Yemen, and most recently, Syria; while Libya’s burgeoning democracy movement descended into what has become a bloody and protracted civil war. The massive geopolitical changes taking place have forced the European Union to begin re-examining its policies toward the countries of the Middle East and in particular North Africa; its ‘southern neighborhood. (Source: Andrew Rettman, “Barroso to young Arabs: ‘We are with you’,”, March 2, 2011, Accessed April 4, 2011,

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso declared on March 3rd, “It is our duty to say to the Arab people that we are on their side. From Brussels I want to say this particularly to the young Arabs that are now fighting for freedom and democracy: We are on your side.” Barroso also called the revolutionary fervor across the region a “rendezvous with history” for the EU and further reiterated the Union’s support for democratic change. “I think Europe would rather be guilty of holding on to dreams of democracy than to be accused of cynicism.” (Source: Ibid.) Štefan Füle, the EU Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Commissioner, stated in an April 13th interview, “ […] the developments in our southern neighborhood are actually changing the way the European Union is dealing with its neighborhood. It’s changing our style. It’s changing our procedure. It’s changing our interaction within and among institutions, with the member states.” (Source: Georgi Gotev, ed., “Stefan Fule: EU won’t allow Arab revolutions to be ‘stolen,’” EurActiv, April 13, 2011, accessed April 13, 2011, Füle further highlighted the Commission’s proposal of a new “Partnership for Democracy and Proposed Prosperity,” while speaking to the need of the EU to develop a closer relationship with civil society organizations in Arab nations and a willingness to re-examine the ENP’s bilateral ‘Action Plans.’ (Source: Ibid.) The European Parliament also reaffirmed the EU’s commitment to the stated principles of the ENP: democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and women’s rights, good governance, the market economy, and sustainable development. (Source: MEP Mario David, “Motion for a Resolution: B7-0199/2011,” European Parliament (2011): 6.)

In keeping with the EU’s heightened rhetoric on support for democracy in the Mediterranean Arab states, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Affairs, Catherine Ashton, has pledged an increase in bilateral EU assistance for Tunisia. The overall budget under the European Neighborhood Policy Instrument (ENPI) has thus been raised from 240 million euros to 258 million euros. (Source: “The EU and Tunisia,” ENPI Info Centre, accessed on March 29, 2011, .) The European Investment Bank (EIB) has earmarked 1.87 billion euros in economic aid for Tunisia centered on job creation and job growth. (Source: Ibid.) The 17 million euro increase in ENPI assistance allocates a paltry 4 million euros to support a new electoral process in the country and strengthening civil society groups. (Source: Ibid) An electoral process that has already seen delays as the interim government has pushed back scheduled elections for a constituent assembly until late October. (Source: BBCNews, “Tunisia’s interim government delays election,”, June 8, 2011, accessed July 10, 2011, .) The overwhelming majority of assistance funding to post-revolutionary Tunisia is dedicated to economic projects. This represents no significant departure from previous EU policy on Tunisia under the Euro-Med Partnership (EMP) and the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) specifically.

The problem presented by Tunisia is unfortunately a common thread in the various ENP Action Plans (APs) between the EU and Arab governments of the southern neighborhood. The focus on cooperating with autocratic governments primarily on economic reforms and immigration and security issues, while allowing political reforms to take a back seat, has simply allowed autocrats to consolidate their political power through economic hegemony. Adding to the complication is the multilateral Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), inaugurated in 2008. The UfM began as French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s pet project to create a separate EU style body for the Mediterranean region. The original plan reflected specific regional French foreign policy goals rather than wider European interests. Major opposition within the EU ensured that the UfM that currently exists is a significantly ‘watered-down’ version of Sarkozy’s original vision; with the main task having been to fully ‘Europeanize’ a French regional project cooperation scheme. The evidence suggests that despite making the UfM the newest chapter in the evolution of the Barcelona Process, the body remains largely irrelevant and ineffective. The question that remains is whether the European Commission and the European Parliament can re-energize both the Neighborhood Policy and the UfM, increase the effectiveness of both processes, and either ensure greater synergy between them or find a streamlined solution.

II. The European Neighborhood Policy in the Southern Mediterranean (SM)
The ENP was launched in 2004 with, “a view to living up to its [the EU] image as a ‘force for good’ in its dealings with neighboring countries.” (Source: Esther Barbe and Elisabeth Johansson-Nogues, “The EU as a modest ‘force for good’: the European Neighbouhood Policy,” International Affairs 84 (2008): 81.) The aim of the ENP is to create a ‘ring of friends’ on its periphery under an EU-led wider economic region. This thought process was evolved out of the 2003 European Security Strategy. (Source: Paul James Cardwell, “EuroMed, European Union Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean: Overlapping Policy Frames in the EU’s Governance of the Mediterranean,” Journal of Common Market Studies 49:2 (2011): 227.) Amichai Magen states that the overall objective of the ENP as stated by the European Commission was to “share” the benefits of the EU’s 2004 enlargement with its peripheral neighbors to strengthen stability, security, and well-being. (Source: Amichai Magen, “The Shadow on Enlargement: Can the European Neighborhood Policy Achieve Compliance?,” Columbia Journal of European Law 12 (2005-2006): 391.) In such context, Judith Kelley asserts that the EU, “clearly modeled the ENP on the enlargement process.” (Source: Judith Kelley, “New Wine in Old Wineskins: Promoting Political Reforms through the New European Neighborhood Policy,” Journal of Common Market Studies 44:1 (2006): 30.)

Part of the initiative to create a ‘ring of friends’ was increased political integration between the EU and its neighbors in the commitment to ‘shared values,’ i.e. democracy and respect for human rights and the rule of law as outlined by the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. (Source: Magen, 392.) The rhetoric of support for democracy and human rights in EU relations with its neighbors, in particular the Mediterranean, was outlined in the original Barcelona Declaration of 1995. (Source: Richard Youngs, “Ten tears of the Barcelona Process: A Model for Supporting Arab Reform?” (paper prepared for FRIDE, Madrid, 2004) 2.) Richard Youngs notes that the entire logic of the Barcelona Process was to create a single “holistic” framework for promoting political, social, cultural, and economic change in the EU’s Mediterranean neighbors. (Source: Ibid.) The founding principles of the EMP on democracy and human rights extend to the ENP which in theory was supposed to champion a, “comprehensive and ambitious agenda for domestic political, economic, and institutional reform converging towards what is seen as an ‘EU model’.” (Source: Dimitar Bechev and Kalypso Nicolaidis, “From Policy to Polity: Can the EU’s Special Relations with its ‘Neighbourhood’ be Decentred?” Journal of Common Market Studies 48:3 (2010): 478.) Indeed, former External Relations and ENP Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner touted the ENP as the EU’s “newest democratization tool.” (Source: Barbe and Johansson-Nogues, 87.)

The developments of the ‘Arab Spring’ have brought to realization, what appears to be the failure of the ENP to match the EU’s rhetoric on democracy promotion, political reform, and human rights in its Mediterranean partner countries. The shortcomings of the policy were already apparent to the European Parliament in 2007 which released the report, “A Cost/Benefit Analysis of the ENP for the EU’s Southern Partners.” Among its main conclusions, the ENP had failed to deliver “concrete positive results” for the majority of citizens of the southern partner countries because the primary beneficiaries of ENP policies were ‘ruling elites.’ (Source: Policy Department External Policies Briefing Paper, “A Cost/Benefit Analysis of the ENP for the EU’s Southern Partners,” European Parliament (2007): 9.) The report also highlighted the structural inefficiencies of the ENP such that the prospect of EU membership could not be offered as an incentive to implement political reforms. (Source: Ibid) The 2007 EU-Tunisia ENP action plan progress report shows that from the initial signing of the Action Plan, little to no progress had been made in political reforms. (Source: Barbe and Johansson-Nogues, 92.)

Tunisia’s bilateral AP with the EU under the ENP (signed in 2004) is almost solely dedicated to economic reforms and security cooperation with the Union. The hefty document dedicates only one section to “political dialogues and reforms” (Section 2.1). (Source: EU-Tunisia Action Plan) The small subsections on ‘democracy and the rule of law’ and ‘respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms’ are entirely generic and devoid of substance. (Source: Ibid) Under an authoritarian government, with little to no regard for the well-being its people; the economic assistance delivered by the EU through the ENP solely benefited ruling elites over ordinary Tunisians. Tunisia’s image of economic stability was, as Lisa Anderson, President of the American University in Cairo called it, “a Potemkin village.” (Source: Lisa Anderson, speech, “The Arab Uprisings: A View from Tahrir Square,” The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, March 23, 2011, Ben Ali siphoned off significant amounts of all foreign investment directly to the pockets of his sons, family members, wife, and wife’s family. “Tunisia’s economic system was designed to entirely to foster the prosperity of a single family.” (Source: Ibid) France occasionally raised human rights concerns with the Tunisian government in private; however several officials in the French government had close ties with members of the Tunisian ruling elite. Recently disgraced French foreign minister Michele Alliot-Marie was revealed to have taken gifts from and conducted business deals with Ben Ali stalwarts all the way up to and through the Tunisian Revolution until her forced resignation. (Source: Andrew Rettman, “France ignored human rights in Maghreb, cables show,”, February 22, 2011, accessed April 4, 2001,

As previously noted, before the uprising in Tunisia began, the country had been allocated 240 million euros under the European Neighborhood Policy Instrument (ENPI). The Egyptian AP with the EU allocated 558 million euros in financial support for “internal reforms” including reforms of the country’s judiciary, human rights practices, and elections from 2007-2010. (Source: Michele Comelli, “Dynamics and Evolution of the EU-Egypt Relationship Within the ENP Framework, (paper prepared for the Instituto Affari Internazionali of Rome, February 2010) 3.) During this time, Egypt experienced an extremely serious period of political deterioration. Local and parliamentary elections in 2007 were marred by government repression of political opposition. In May 2008, the Egyptian regime again extended the state of emergency law that prohibited political dissent. (Source: Ibid, 5.) A report released by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) in February 2011 highlighted a continued trend in electoral violence with government crackdowns on voters during the November 2010 parliamentary elections. (Source: IFES Briefing Paper, “Elections in Egypt: Key Challenges for Credible and Competitive Elections,” February 5, 2011, 10.) Kristina Kausch and Richard Youngs state that the majority of investment into countries like Tunisia and Egypt was in fact oriented toward “large-scale state led projects.” (Source: Kristina Kausch and Robert Youngs, “The end of the ‘Euro-Mediterranean vision’,” International Affairs 85:5 (2009): 967.) Michele Comelli states that in Egypt, the country’s ruling elites were mainly interested in these types of projects that improved the state’s trade and economic cooperation with the EU. (Source: Ibid.) Like Ben Ali, Mubarak has been accused of grifting billions of dollars from Egyptian state coffers. (Source: Ethan Bronner, “Mubarak Denies Corruption and Defends his Legacy,” The New York Times, April 10, 2001, accessed April 11, 20011,

The European Parliament report also demonstrates that in countries like Morocco and Jordan, that have generally been more willing to cooperate on aspects of political reform as outlined in their respective APs, the rights and liberties of citizens have actually been simultaneously reduced. (Source: EP Policy Department External Policies Briefing Paper, 1.) The power structures in these countries remain unchanged because the various APs do not tackle what the report calls, “the three major obstacles to political liberalization in Southern Mediterranean (SM) countries, which are the lack of a separation of powers, the oppression of civil society and political parties, and flaws in electoral procedures.” (Source: Ibid.) Morocco’s AP with the EU has become increasingly depoliticized in practice argues Kausch and Youngs; as demonstrated by the country’s 2008 ENP progress report which leveled “explicit criticism” on the lack of reforms. (Source: Kausch and Youngs, 970.) Additionally, Moroccan democrats have expressed dismay over the EU’s seeming lack of pressure on political reform. (Source: Ibid, 971.) Comelli notes that the ENP has demonstrated the EU’s limitations when applied to SM countries; what the APs offer in terms of economic benefit and market integration are not enough to trigger substantive political reform.

(Editor Note: Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of Alec’s analytical review of the Arab Spring from the other side of the Mediterranean…)

Alec Simantov is a graduate student at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy and will be beginning a research assistantship at the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s Washington office in September with a focus on international governance and democracy.

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