Strengthening cooperation between Europe and Africa on democratic reform

Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy In October 2010 the Belgian Presidency, in collaboration with Observatoire de l’Afrique and the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), organised an international conference on how to strengthen cooperation between Europe and Africa on democratic reform.

About the Conference

The conference, which was held at the historic Castle of Val-Duchesse (or Hertoginnedaal) just outside Brussels, featured two full days of presentations and panel discussions.

A number of prominent politicians, practitioners, government and EU officials, and academics attended in order to discuss the challenges and experiences in supporting democratisation in Africa.

Several interesting linkages were also established or strengthened, for instance with academics from Oxford and the London School of Economics, European Commission staff (EuropeAid), MFA Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands, and several think tanks and institutes from Europe and Africa.

The detailed agenda and the key conclusions are being finalised and will be circulated in the near future. In the meantime, some of the main findings and recommendations as experienced by the NIMD delegation included the following:

Findings on the state of African democracy and democracy support

Firstly, many democracies in Africa seem to be in a state of active stagnation. This has been caused by the complexity and interrelated nature of problems and at the same time a lack of donor coordination. These are the main reasons why a considerable amount of donor action often still results in limited democratic process.

One of the key challenges therefore is working out how to increase the “rule-bound behaviour” of political actors, while at the same time improving the quality of formal rules in a polity. Only a combination of both will lead to political institutionalisation.

Further, the risk of democracy dependency (similar to aid dependency) is realistic. Democracy and election supporters should be wary of creating a situation whereby democracies can only function when sufficient international aid is available.

Findings on the role of the European Union in democracy support

Coherence in the EU approach to democracy support is essential – there is a clear need for better coordination between EU member states, EU institutions and other democracy strengthening actors.

There is also a need to broaden the assistance focus to both civil society and political society; both are essential to improve the functioning of democracy. Too often the focus is on NGOs and not on the institutions that constitute a functioning democracy, namely: political parties, parliament, controlling institutions and planning commissions.

The role of the EU (member states plus Brussels) is important and recognised in many African contexts, but at the same time the results and expectations of its interventions should be modest.

Finally, the Political Dialogue option (article 8 and 96) under the Cotonou agreement has proved so far to have had mixed results in its application, with very little use of it as a pressure instrument.

This has been caused by a lack of coherence between the message of the EU and messages of individual member states based on their specific interests, and also by the ambiguity in the Cotonou agreement on the status of governance, where it is defined as a fundamental but not essential principle.

NIMD’s Executive Director, Roel von Meijenfeldt, gave some introductory remarks at the conference, as well as a longer paper highlighting some trends at the national level in Africa.

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