This essay will identify and analyse the reasons that explicate the failure of the European Union’s democracy promotion objectives in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and particularly in the case of Algeria and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The democratic deficit that persists in MENA states despite considerable EU efforts is an indication of the ineffectiveness of the EU as a democracy promotion actor. Although focusing on Algeria and Palestine, several common shortfalls in the EU’s approach will become evident. This paper delineates the largely rhetorical, short-termist and disingenuous nature of EU democracy discourse, and the resulting paucity of substantial progress towards political pluralism in the region.
The pertinent reform issue facing Algeria can be understood as the need to relieve the military of its monopoly hold on political power, and the position of presidency in particular. This essay advances that the weakness of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and European Mediterranean partnership (EMP), the absence of conditionality as a tool for democratic transformation, the unwillingness to engage Islamists, and the incoherence of member states and their oftentimes divergent interests all contributed to the failure of EU initiatives in Algeria. At the domestic level, the entrenched authoritarian nature of the military and its power monopoly pose obstacles. However it is to be contended that an inherent contradiction exits between the Union’s actions and its professed aims of democratization, revealing that the EU’s motives in Algeria and elsewhere relate foremost to its own security. To that end, this essay elucidates that democracy promotion has become a policy tool by which Europe has reinforced authoritarian elites, simply because this method is more successful at containing threats to stability, whilst procuring Europe’s interests, especially in the short term. This further entails that the European Union is deliberately preventing democracy from taking root in Algeria. The interests at stake are mass migration to Europe, the destabilizing effect of economic stagnation, securing energy supplies, and the potential violence from confrontations with Islamism.
The case of Palestine, analyzed here in relation to the recent political ascendancy of Hamas, reveals in greater detail the EU stance vis-à-vis Islamism, as well as its readiness to renege under certain conditions on the very same values of democracy it propagates. It will become clear that the European Union pursues a containment precept to manage security threats, as in Algeria. The failure to exert reform influence on the PA through conditionality; not engaging Hamas during its period of moderation, and the EU’s alienation of the group after its democratic election victory are presented as the crucial shortfalls of EU democracy promotion in Palestine.
The essay concludes in general terms that despite its idealistic discourse, the EU is pursuing a stability agenda in the MENA region for its own interests, and wills in most cases to in fact solidify authoritarian or nominally reform-orientated political enterprises to prevent the potential destabilizing effects of democracy in the region from spilling over into Europe. At the very least the presented case studies suggest that the EU has been willing to relinquish the ideals of democracy when priority concerns contradict or do not easily comply with those ideals in the post-9/11 security-orientated environment.
The European Union Framework
The European Union’s efforts to promote democratic reform in the Middle East and North Africa gained momentum in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001. The attacks caused a reassessment of relations with regimes in the region in view of the political, economic and social failures that seemed to lie to the root of the attacks. Governments and analysts quickly asserted that the lack of democratic institutions and human rights in the region were central to the emergence thereof. The EU and US reconsidered the MENA region with this in mind.
The EU announced its commitment to supporting democracy in the region in 1991, with foreign policy foci converging on political stability, respect for human rights, and economic development. Strategies have been implemented through the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP, also known as the Barcelona Process) established in 1995, and later incorporated into the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in which tailor-made Action Plans for individual states were proposed. It is striking that until now, neither an Action Plan, nor a Commission Proposal nor Progress Report have been produced by the EU on Algeria. At the very least, this indicates a lack of direction, and provides no benchmarks to evaluate progress. However, a strategy paper identifies ‘reform of the justice system, economic growth and employment’, and ‘improvements in basic public services’ as target objectives. These modest objectives do not address the major political reform challenges in Algeria, nor do they relate meanfully to democracy as they do not engage or address the system of government.
The environment engendered by 9/11 impacted the European Union’s view of democracy promotion in MENA. The acute threat of Islamist terrorism effected a ‘reprioritization of interests and targets in the Mediterranean for the EU’, demoting democracy promotion beneath migration and counterterrorism concerns. This reaction, both coming from individual states and unilaterally from the EU institutions, has further disinclined the EU from adopting committed policies conducive to political reform in the region, towards what Youngs describes as a ‘defensive-containment strategy’. This is evidenced by the commitment of €800million to tackle illegal immigration in the Southern Mediterranean but only €10million to promote democracy in the entire region.
The policies pursued under the EMP and ENP framework have followed the same containment precept, as this essay will demonstrate. It is worth recounting the recent historical context and current political situation in Algeria before analysing the EU’s democracy promotion policies there.
Algeria emerged from French colonisation in 1962 with the FLN (Front Liberale Nationale) gaining power with the support of the military. The legacy of the period that followed was the entrenchment of the military in politics, often intervening in its self-appointed ‘guardianship role’. The country witnessed a period of democratization between 1988 and 1992, during which the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) rose to prominence and threatened the FLN with its broadly supported Islamist agenda. The military exploited the tensions to reassert its political influence, postponing elections and colluding with the pro-military government to secure its political role. The military’s intervention prevented a certain win by the Islamist FIS in the immanent elections of 1991. Perceiving the threat of political Islam, the military blocked the FIS take over, making itself the bulwark to Islamism for the security of the state. A civil war ensued until an amnesty in 1999, in which year the current president Abdelaziz Bouteflika was elected. However this did not herald a new era of liberalisation, but in fact represented the military’s consolidation of power.
Bouteflika has since curtailed civil liberties, increased presidential powers, and cracked down on Islamists, citing the threat of terrorism. The following sections analyses Europe’s policy approach and its shortfalls.
The weakness of the ENP and lack of conditionality
The ENP framework, which governs EU-Algeria relations, stipulates that relations are conditional on each country’s commitment to respect for the ideals underpinning the Barcelona Process. Despite this the EU has thus far not exercised conditionality in the case of Algeria or any other ENP state. Conditionality clauses would provide concrete evidence of the EU’s determination to encourage reform. Conversely, its absence underscores the subjugation of democracy promotion to other concerns.
The ENP operates on the rationale that economic aid and funds such as the MEDA funds can be curtailed, although this has been limited only to cases where economic and not political reforms did not materialize. Furthermore, whilst agreements with accession states like those in Eastern and Central Europe (ECE) pivoted on the conditionality occasioned by the promise of EU membership, the Southern Mediterranean countries have not been promised the same reward. It is important to note that accession provided a significant and necessary mutual willingness for cooperation and democratization. The MENA states do not have the incentivising impetus to occasion the conditionality to spur meaningful and serious reform, except in the case of Turkey.
This weakness of the ENP as a democracy promotion tool is an impediment, along with the lack of civil control over the army, to fomenting democracy in Algeria. It has not been effectively implemented to induce democratic transformation by the withholding of benefits when reform obligations were not met. This inherent weakness in the way that the EU has linked economic and political reform strategy persisted, according to Youngs, who claims that in EU discourse between 2002 and 2005, ‘it was difficult to discern any concrete new measures aimed at actively harnessing economic instruments to aim of engendering democratic dynamics’.
The absence of conditionality can largely be explained by Europe’s preoccupation with security, which engenders its pursuit of a stabilization agenda. The threats to security and that of political Islam and its repercussions in particular, cause fear in Brussels. As noted, it was the rise of Islamism that threatened the military’s dominance in Algeria. The migration of Algerians to nearby Southern EU states, especially France also disquiets Brussels. Furthermore, Europe and France especially, have economic interests in the country including energy supplies. These threats have necessitated the EU’s efforts to shore up the authoritarian regime. Bouteflika and the military and have been successful at containing Islamism. In this regard, the EU has been complicit in Algerian attempts to further strengthen the relationship between the FLN and the military. In May 2003 Bouteflika ousted his prime minster Ali Benflis in order to instate a candidate favoured by the military, to which the EU did not respond critically. Europe has also opined that Bouteflika’s ‘amnesty’ and ‘Civil Harmony laws’ are the best way to advance forward, encouraging only minor reforms in transparency and autonomy.
Despite superficial criticisms of totalitarian practices in Algeria, the Union has not taken tentative measures against Bouteflika and the regime, indicating its de facto support for the status quo that affords political stability and economic opportunity. Algeria is Europe’s third largest natural gas supplier, meeting 20% of Europe’s needs and providing much of Algeria’s foreign export income. The strategic importance of these economic and energy interests means Europe has not been willing to wield either trade agreements or aid as conditionality tools to push liberalization
European Union Member States’ Incoherence.
EU foreign policy is often incoherent or representative of one or a minority group of member states with vested interests. Youngs identifies divisions between Northern and Southern states, with the former demonstrating a more solid commitment to reform, and the Southern states, especially France and Spain in the case of Algeria, proving more cooperative and less coercive in their approach. France views itself as especially important in leading EU policy on Algeria. It faces major security challenges from a potentially instable Algeria- it is the former colonial power and has a large Algerian population and close business ties. Instability in Algeria could create another wave of mass migration to French shores and stoke resentment inside the country. The scale of migration concerns is reflected in the budgetary actions of the EU; in 2005, €800million was earmarked for illegal migration in the Maghreb, yet a meagre €10million was assigned to regional democracy promotion. This conspicuously demonstrates Europe’s prioritization of security.
For these reasons France has commandeered EU decisions vis-à-vis Algeria and pursued bilateral initiatives to remain pivotal in EU-Algeria affairs, and becoming the largest lender. EU policy is therefore less representative of member states than it perhaps should be. France heaped praise on Bouteflika’s second election win in 2004, ignoring widespread claims of rigging. In any case, with France largely determining policy, and the aforementioned French domestic factors taking precedence, it is no wonder that economic relations and securitization are preferred.
In sum, the case of Algeria shows the largely allegoric nature of EU democracy promotion, and its instrumentalization for purposes of implementing ulterior security aims. Indeed, the Strategy Paper is not shy of declaring the significance of security for Europe. The European Union confirms its ideological support for democracy, but has abandoned it in the post-9/11 arena for realpolitik.
The stark economic and political reality is that a democratic Algeria poses a possible threat to Europe. The latter’s fear of an Islamist insurgency gaining political preponderance, and the repercussions thereof on trade, energy supplies and a new wave of migration to Southern Europe drives the EU’s reactionary securitization strategy. And as it happens, instramentalizing the incumbent militaristic regime is the most effective method to contain the Islamist threat, even if orchestrated by means and values contradictory or even asymmetrical to those publicly espoused by the EU of ‘democracy and the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms’.
The inverse of this situation is the reality that the Algerian regime, as the EU-supported bulwark to Islamism, is largely legitimized and justified in its repressive policies. Moreover, the 9/11 environment has also paved the way to providing the regime a pretext to deal harshly with Islamist ‘terrorists’, drawing little or no rebuttal from Europe.
The EU approach to Algeria has engendered a complex interplay in which Europe has backed the military-sponsored Bouteflika regime and rentier state dependant on energy income, although not without certain concessions. Namely, that the regime can resist initiatives for reform since it holds political and economic leverage by virtue of its energy supply contracts with European states. Within this interplay is France exerting its particular strategic interests. All of this, and the regime’s ability to dilute or refuse democracy initiatives because of its authoritarian nature, weakens the efficacy of conditionality as a democracy promotion tool in this case, and also entails that a top-down approach will not suffice in Algeria. Rather, initiatives must be aimed at non-state affiliated NGO’s, civil law groups and grassroots-level organizations that can influence the public’s democratic understanding and their voting habits. Parallel to this, the EU must act to engage moderate Islamist parties to assuage violent elements, and catalyse the popular pro-Islamist sentiment in a way that coerces the government to introduce reforms and compete in fair party politics. These efforts would constitute a ‘bottom-up’ approach. In addition, energy deals with Algeria should be made conditional on political reform progress. The unwillingness on the part of EU diplomats to engage Algerian Islamists is a major criticism of EU democracy promotion in that country, despite Islamism having become the foremost issue. The significance of how the EU deals with Islamist groups will be further considered in the following case study of the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
In the most optimistic assessment of democracy promotion in Algeria, one may assert that the EU’s significant trade deals and planned Free Trade Agreement (FTA) within 12 years (of 2005) will significantly improve the lives of Algerians, and has laid the foundation of a cooperative relationship. However, the link between economic and political liberalization is conjecture; political initiatives must be implemented sooner or later. Concerning Europe’s preference for economic liberalization in Algeria, it should consider the foreign reserves accrued through gas as a democratization tool. For instance, reducing reliance on Algerian gas, pushing the state energy company Sonatrach to privatize, and encouraging more competition in the energy field will reduce the regime’s capacity to wield influence over EU policy in Algeria.
Palestine presents unique considerations for democracy promotion; first and foremost because it is occupied by a militarily power pursuing a colonization strategy. In 2000, violent conflict erupted in the Second Intifada, resulting in Israel tightening its military control over the territories. Since these events, the EU has been dually engaged in diplomatic efforts towards a Peace Process, as well as encouraging the reform of Palestinian political structures. The watershed moment in recent times was the Hamas election victory in 2006 that ushered in the Islamist organisation, precipitating the ongoing rapid deterioration of living conditions in Gaza due to reactionary isolationist policies pursued by the US and the EU. The subsequent impasse, and the backslidden state of democratization that has prevailed since is an indication of the failure of the EU as a democratization actor in Palestine.
The following piece will analyze EU democracy promotion efforts in the pre- and postelection period. This analysis will elucidate what EU policy entailed, and where its shortfalls lay, delineating how the EU failed to tackle the most important reform issues in Palestinian politics, including the incorporation of a strategy to serve the simultaneity of the Peace Process and democratization, as well as its inability to foresee, and engage with the growing force of Islamism construed in Hamas. Of much significance is how the EU failed to effectively convert the influence it had gained as the major donor to exert more stringent pressure for reform.
The European Union supports a ‘future democratic, independent and viable Palestinian State in peace and security with Israel and its neighbours’. As with the other partners in the ENP, the EU operates its democratization policies with Palestine through the EMP.
The victory of the Islamic Resistance Movement (known as Hamas) in the 2006 elections came as a shock not only to the EU and the international community but to Hamas itself.
The incumbent Fatah government rejected the outcome of the election and retained control of the West Bank, whilst Hamas gained de facto control of the Gaza Strip. Israel, the EU and the US consider Hamas a terrorist organisation, and they have followed a policy of isolating Hamas after stringent conditions they placed on the group were rejected. Moreover, Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip, imposing a siege that has led to the collapse of the local economy and severe poverty.
From the mid-1990s, the EU was involved in funding the Palestinian Authority (PA) and exerting pressure to improve fiscal issues including transparency and accountability, although democracy and governance concerns were absent, and few progress benchmarks were used. President Yasser Arafat kept a heavy-handed approach including draconian measures that warranted little response from the EU. The Association Agreement was commenced in 1997. During this time it may be said that a culture of inaction on the part of the EU developed in regard to undemocratic precedents committed by the PA. Nevertheless, Europe effectively bankrolled the Palestinian Authority, funding state salaries alongside aid and democracy projects.
As seen in the analysis of Algeria, the European Union placed concerted effort to develop a security strategy after the September 2001 attacks. In the ensuing period the EU straddled responsibilities as part of the Quartet and its EMP policies. The EU vied to placate US interests in order to persuade it to remain involved in peace negotiations, although the US and EU differed fundamentally in their approaches. A consistent shortfall in EU strategy is how it acceded time and again to the US yet also attempted to maintain an independent approach. US leaning led the EU to close contacts with Hamas although some European diplomats recognized the need to integrate Hamas politically. This was a massive mistake in light of the reconciliatory steps taken by Hamas, by own its initiative, from the 1990s onward. As Hovedenak explicates in extensive detail, Hamas took great effort to gain internal recognition by adopting moderate political and ideological positions, going as far as to undergo a ‘rapid de-radicalization process over a relatively short period of time’, and making significant concessions of which the EU was either incognizant, or to which it refused to respond constructively.
Had EU diplomats been aware from the late 1990s of the popular resentment growing against Fatah and the PLO, and the coincident Hamas moderation and its significant municipal gains in 2005, they would have seen the party’s foray into politics as a great opportunity and not an impediment to democratization. Hamas could have been coaxed, perhaps in particular by supporting its most moderate members and continuing its reform momentum to assuage (extreme) Islamist sentiment in the wider territories, and place Hamas as a political rival to Fatah so as to prompt it towards reform. However, the EU followed suit with the United States in boycotting Hamas in 2003. Although some EU member states retained some channels of contact with Hamas, yet this dried up after American pressure.
The boycott of Hamas precipitated the harsh demands supported by the EU that led to the current situation. The squalor injured by Gazans is the direct consequences of the myopic approach of the EU. More than that, the blatant hypocrisy evidenced in EU policy in Palestine, and in regard to Hamas and Islamism in particular, has destroyed EU credibility in the entire MENA region. Having extolled the virtues of democracy to Palestinians, Europe rejected the results of the country’s most democratic experience to date and reneged on its promise to accept Hamas as a political actor. It even supported a reversal of a security reform it had overseen in which security powers were removed from the president to the government. After Hamas entered government, the EU attempted to reverse this reform so as to remove security control from the party.
These moves stem from the EU’s security and peace preoccupations, which have led it to pursue policies that contain Islamist parties such as Hamas and thus render them a non-threat to Europe, including European trade and energy procurement. As is the case in Algeria (mentioned in the previous analysis), the EU sought to entrench a secular regime that could protect the status quo; preventing the escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that could incite international acts of violence like those seen in European cities in the 1970s and 1980s, and preventing the rise of Islamism by containment. Europe ‘nannied’ Palestine and acted as a stabilizing force to keep the Road Map alive and Fatah in power. Without EU aid, the Palestinian state would surely have collapsed. Indeed, had Hamas continued to uncompromisingly encourage terrorist attacks on Israel and propagate violence, it would have been understandable for the EU to be cautious in letting Hamas gain a political foothold. Yet as one analyst affirms, Hamas had begun searching for political accommodation a decade before its ascendancy to power.
In the end, Hamas successfully campaigned on a platform of fighting corruption, and committing to implement administrative reform. This reveals two basic truths, firstly, that Hamas had undergone a fundamental ideological shift away from violent aims, and secondly, that Palestinians had not perceived adequate curtailment of corruption during the long Arafat-Fatah years. This being the case, the question arises as to why the EU was not able, or willing to invoke more substantial, tangible reforms, having spent no less than €930 million between 200-2003 alone. Since the EU was the self-proclaimed biggest donor to the PA, why didn’t it exert coercive pressure to influence deep political reforms, instead of insignificant transparency reforms that failed even to register acknowledgment from the Palestinian electorate, let alone the administration? This assertion intimates that the EU is in fact partly culpable for the Hamas government, and its subsequent further radicalization by its uncompromising boycott since it failed to instigate PA reforms significant enough to matter.
It can be concluded therefore, that Europe has squandered the opportunity to promote democracy in Palestine and poured contempt thereon by its disingenuous tactics. Its failure to observe and react to reconciliatory steps by which Hamas effectively held out the olive branch, is absurd considering the sudden and uncompromising ultimatum it presented to Hamas after it assumed power. In addition, this act contravened the EU’s self-proclaimed ‘soft power’ approach, which is further instructive of its inconsistency. By that time, the moderate elements of Hamas had abated. EU democratization efforts demonstrated an overt instrumentalist approach, aiming at reforms that boosted security in the territory. In reality, this manifested as bolstering Fatah so as to weaken Hamas, despite rhetorical discourse advocating the inclusion of Hamas. Capitulating to the US to persuade it to continue peace negotiations is lamentable, since it showed EU willingness to renege once again on democratization to placate America and the Peace Process. This later provided capital for Washington to press EU states to list Hamas as an official terrorist organisation and severe ties despite some diplomats’ reservations, and thus precluding negotiation channels that could have proved crucial in responding quickly to the 2006 elections with a coherent plan to deal with Hamas effectively, and avert the subsequent political and humanitarian catastrophe. With regards to the latter, the EU must pressure Israel to lift its Gaza siege immediately or suspend its Association Agreement. Yet once again, the failure to exploit conditionality has rendered the EU an impotent, mere bureaucratic obstacle to democracy.
It is likely that Hamas will form a key part of future Palestinian governments beyond the current one. And since the EU has lost credibility with Hamas, it is doubtful that Europe can play any meaningful role for many years to come in Palestinian democratization.
Certain observations are worth mention at this stage. Both case studies presented here, of Algeria and Palestine, suggest that while the EU democracy promotion strategy in MENA has made increment progress, especially in trade relations and economic liberalizations, it has nonetheless largely failed at engendering political liberalization. Based on the findings of this essay, EU democracy promotion cannot be labelled effective. It is the paucity of success that stands out as the characteristic feature of EU democracy promotion.
Although it is not doubted that EU diplomats believe in the superiority of democracy, the establishment of veritable democratic systems in the Middle East and North Africa would invariably have undesirable and adverse reverberations for Europe. These reverberations have been dealt with in this essay.
In the post-9/11 environment, security has emerged as the priority objective of the EU collectively, and for individual member states. The incorporation of the neighbouring Southern Mediterranean region into a single geopolitical arena of stability is the result of the containment-orientated ideological approach evidenced in this, and the country-specific policies. An analysis of two states, Algeria and Palestine, has demonstrated this.
Overall then, it may be contended that as a primary observation, EU democracy promotion has failed simply because it is not the intended aim in most cases. It is in fact the inverse, although construed as otherwise. While some incipient reforms may be applauded, the European Union has overwhelmingly failed because of the disingenuousness inherent in its strategy.
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 Youngs, Europe and the Middle East: In the Shadow of September 11, p1.
 See http://ec.europa.eu/world/enp/documents_en.htm
 Celenk, A. in Pace, M. and Seeberg, P. (eds) The European Union’s Democratization Agenda in the Mediterranean, p184.
 Youngs, Europe and the Middle East: In the Shadow of September 11, p2.
 Youngs, ‘Europe’s Flawed Approach to Arab Democracy’ Centre for European Reform’, p2 .
 Çelenk, A. and Güney, A. ‘The European Union’s Democracy Promotion Policies in Algeria: Success or Failure?,’ The Journal of North African Studies, 12(1), p1.
 Bouandel, Y. ‘Algeria’s Presidential Election of April 2004: A Backward Step in the Democratisation Process or a Forward Step Towards Stability?’ Third World Quarterly, 25(8), p1527.
 Çelenk, A. and Güney, A. Op.Cit, p112.
 Celenk, A. in Pace, M. and Seeberg, P. (eds) The European Union’s Democratization Agenda in the Mediterranean, p183
 Youngs, Europe and the Middle East: In the Shadow of September 11, p110.
 Ibid. p120.
 Ibid. p121.
 Ghiles, F. Algeria: A Strategic Gas Partner For Europe. Journal of Energy Discover, February 2009,
 Stavridis, S. and Hutchece, J. ‘ Mediterranean Challenges to the EU’s Foreign Policy’, quoted in op.cit. Çelenk, A. and Güney, A. p124.
 Youngs, ‘Europe’s Flawed Approach to Arab Democracy’ Centre for European Reform’.
 Youngs, Europe and the Middle East: In the Shadow of September 11, p120.
 Available at
 Ibid. p1.
 Country report, available at-
 Hovdenak, A in Pace, M. and Seeberg, P. (eds) The European Union’s Democratization Agenda in the Mediterranean, p69.
 O’Donnell, C.M., The EU, Israel and Hamas. Centre for European Reform. < http://www.cer.org.uk/pdf/wp_820.pdf>, p7.
 Youngs, Europe and the Middle East: In the Shadow of September 11, p146.
 Ibid. p157.
 Hovdenak, A., Op.Cit. p1.
 Youngs, Europe and the Middle East: In the Shadow of September 11, p157
 Hovdenak, A., Op.Cit. p69.
 Shikaki, ‘Sweeping Victory, Uncertain Mandate,’ Journal of Democracy, 17(3), p.128.
 Ibid. p62.
 Volpi, F., in Pace, M. and Seeberg, P., Op.Cit. p26.