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How is European union funding the Arab reforms?

The European Union’s policy mix in the Southern Mediterranean is comprised of many different elements: trade, diplomatic engagement, sanctions, financing, migration policies, and conflict interventions. The use of development funding specifically to advance democratic reform has been closely scrutinized since the beginning of the Arab revolts.

The EU and member state governments have committed increased amounts of democracy support.The improvements could be greater, writes Richard Youngs in the August issue of Policy Brief. While European political aid will not be a major factor in Arab reform processes, it could make a more valuable contribution than it does at present. The need is not only, or even primarily, for more money.

Notwithstanding the increased aid allocations, the magnitude of funding has reached nothing like the scale of funds transferred to either Southern or Eastern Europe in the wake of their transitions, where in each case, several percentage points was added to GDP through EU payments. The ENP’s additional €1 billion amounts to €250 million a year split across 16 countries — a drop in the ocean alongside the billions that the revolutions have cost in lost production.

Activists wish support for qenuine NGOs

Arab activists also express disappointment that member states will not allow a completely independent civil society mechanism. Much support is still channeled through “NGOs” that are not fully independent of regimes. Arab activists argue that the EU still needs to change its partners not just throw more money at the region. Officials agree that the EMP has been far too oriented to the government-to-government level, but caution that opening up to civil society should only be done very gradually.

Diplomats recognize that they struggle to reach out beyond the traditional range of RONGOs (“Royal NGOs”). The EU struggles to engage with the constellation of cell-like groups linked to the February 20 movement. New groups also often reject European funding precisely because this is so associated with royal-backed NGOs. One European diplomat in Rabat admits that little funding goes to NGOs that are not seen in a favorable light by the palace.

Growing support for democracy

European development agencies are beginning to give a more political focus to their governance aid in the wake of the Arab Spring. This involves moving governance projects from a technical focus on the efficiency of policymaking supply to addressing underlying political reform.

There is heightened awareness among policymakers of the need for demand-driven democracy support, quicker and more flexible funding, and engagement with more genuinely independent civil society voices.

This is a short version of an article by Richard Youngs and was published in Policy Brief’s August 2012 issue.

Read the whole article from FRIDE’s webpage

Picture: David Andersen

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