EU support to governance in North Africa: The limits

ECDPM Talking Points Today, the EU finds itself in a delicate position as it reflects on its reaction to the uprisings in the Southern Mediterranean.[i] The EU has been widely criticised for supporting Arab governments for so long and for making a 180 degrees turn only once the peoples of Tunisia and Egypt have already secured the change. Granted! Country ownership of governance reforms is crucial but observers agree that the EU could have done more to support such reforms earlier. Now there are calls to place more emphasis on incentives for reforms. Is the idea of ‘incentive for democratic reforms’ new?

Well, in fact not quite… In 1995, the Bacelona Declaration outlined a number of democracy and human rights principles to which parties to the Barcelona Process are bound.  The Valencia Communication of 2002 reiterated these principles. This culminated in the 2003 Communication of the European Commission on “Reinvigorating EU actions on Human Rights and Democracy with the Mediterranean Partners”, which launched the Democracy Facility; a facility that aims at ensuring the best use of the different instruments available to the Union in order to promote democracy in the region. Three years later, the Democracy Facility was strengthened through the launch of a €300 million Governance Facility for North Africa covering the period 2007-2013.[1]

The Facility is “intended to provide additional support, on top of the normal country allocations, to acknowledge and support the work of those partner countries who have made most progress in implementing the agreed reform agenda set out in their Action Plan. In line with an assessment of progress made in implementing the (broadly-defined) governance aspects of the Action Plans, this funding would be made available to top-up national allocations, to support key elements of the reform agenda; this will help reformist governments to strengthen their domestic constituencies for reform”. Allocations are provided as a top-up to the resources provided for the Annual Action Plans in a couple of countries chosen on the basis of a selection criteria.

But, it is difficult to judge the extent to which these ‘incentives’ have helped shape democratic reforms in countries of the Southern Mediterranean as no specific evaluation of, for instance the Governance Facility, are available. What is however clear is that the intervention through these instruments has a number of weaknesses, notably:

  • The weakness of a comprehensive framework for the promotion of Governance – it is largely left to the Annual Action Plans of the European Neighbourhood Policy Instrument (ENPI) (drafted with the partner government) to identify reforms with a limited role being played by other stakeholders;
  • Limited impact of the incentive-through-money concept (as shown by the assessment of the equivalent ACP Governance Incentive Tranche);
  • Short-term interventions rather than a sustained engagement – also illustrated by the manner in which the Facility is allocated (in the form of annual projects) and the limits of the Calls for Proposals used by the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR);
  • Weakness of the underpinning political economy analysis of reforms in North African countries; and
  • A fragmented EU approach resulting from uncoordinated actions by EU member states.

So until it is clear what the EU instruments for democracy promotion have yielded in terms of impact, the question remains on what other type of incentives can be used to promote reforms. Economic benefits in exchange of some reforms will become increasingly attractive for North African governments. As we have seen, the riots in North African countries have largely been triggered by socio-economic concerns, which led the populations to question the political aptitude of their governments.

The economic ‘carrot’ is therefore important now more than never as North African governments will look at more opportunities in these areas. A pure increase in aid levels to North Africa is indeed not necessarily the best way to ensure leverage as the contribution of EU aid remains limited in GDP terms – Tunisia for instance earns ten times more from remittances that from EU aid leading it to be more interested in a relaxation of banking transfers regulations and free movement of nationals.

The EU will therefore need to think more creatively about the type of interventions it would like to have in North Africa. But that will need to first start from learning from what has already been done. It should also not forget that leverage in this region, as is the case increasingly elsewhere, does not come strictly from providing financial ‘incentives’ for reforms in the area of democracy and human rights.

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