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Journal-istic: Does EU democracy assistance fail?

[I]n democracy assistance the EU starts with a relatively big plan and ends up with a particularly small outcome

I was surprised to find this kind of statement in a scientific journal; it sounds so nicely down to earth that I was really interested in finding out how Federica Bicchi had come to this conclusion

The article is titled “Dilemmas of Implementation: EU democracy assistance in the Mediterranean” (issue 5/2010 of the journal “Democratization“) and the author has looked at a number of EIDHR microprojects planned and implemented between 2001 and 2006/7. The countries concerned were Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunesia, summing up a total of 24 calls for microprojects in the years between 2002-2007, from 0 in Tunesia to 5 in Palestine. The total amount of micro-projects covered was 130.

Probably the main argument made by Bicchi is the following:

The chain of command for the microprojects, from decision making to implementation, was particularly long, and EU attempts to ‘co-own’ projects further increased its length. […] Temporally, organizationally and spatially, the distance from formulation to implementation of EIDHR microprojects was substantial.

She argues that this long chain of command leaves too much room for the (re-)interpretation by the many individuals on that chain on how to understand democracy promotion and the purpose of the projects. The many little decisions taken then move away the implementation from the original intention, not on purpose but by design of the administrative process.

The most important deviations were brought by the Commission delegations in the countries where the projects were to be implemented. These deviations ranged from decisions not to have calls at all under the EIDHR scheme to decisions re-defining the priorities of possible projects under the calls, involving both up- and downgrading of objectives. One particular issues mentioned by Bicchi was the removal of the fight against torture in some of the calls, e.g. in Algeria, Israel or Libanon.

After the calls had been issued, it became obvious that in countries with the highest need for such assistance – Syria, Tunesia, Algeria – no projects were actually brought to an end. And most of the projects approved in other countries were not in the field of democracy promotion but under the human rights campaigns, promoting in particular those human rights that are not very relevant for the promotion of democracy and political rights.

In the end, from a budget of about 15 million Euros of EIDHR money approved for the area between 2001-05, only about 11.2 million Euros had been spent, most of the unspent money apparently accounting for democracy-related activities (in particular in Algeria and Lebanon).

Bicchi thus concludes as follows:

The EU clearly delivered a fraction of what it originally intended through the EIDHR. […] It could be argued that there seems to be an across-the-board, if silent, consensus against democracy assistance and most of the decisions taken served to confound such an objective.

That is a pretty tough conclusion, and although slightly weakened down afterwards by pointing to the non-deliberate nature of this consensus, the findings raise at least serious questions about the nature of the EU as a self-proclaimed actor promoting democracy around the world and in particular in its neighbourhood.

In the category “Journal-istic” I look into current research in EU affairs published in scholarly journals.

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