Power to the People?

Reactions to the EU’s response to the Arab Spring

Publication date: 14 November 2011
Author: Jamie Balfour-Paul, Policy Advisor (Middle East), Oxfam GB

In response to the Arab Spring the EU has promised to shift away from business as usual to ensure that support for human rights and democracy are central to its cooperation policy with the Arab neighborhood. Enabling civil society to function and advocate for citizen’s priorities and rights and hold governments and donors to account is pivotal. To date regional consultation on EU policies towards the region has been either insufficient, without impact, or too late. Furthermore, double standards of the past have undermined the EU’s credibility in the Arab world and created a distrust of its intentions.

While supporting necessary reform in the region, the EU must take care to not to occupy the driving seat, which would risk delegitimizing transitions led by the people. The EU needs to ensure that civil society representatives, especially women organizations and youth groups, have a statutory, meaningful, and timely role in EU–Government dialogue in its current and future cooperation, and must press for such civil society consultation in the transition processes themselves. Without genuine dialogue between civil society and a legitimate government, its concept of More for More (more aid for more reform) will not succeed.

Key recommendations

  • Ensure EU’s additional aid to Egypt and other countries enables genuine participation of citizens in the reform process. The EU must take care not to take over the driving seat thereby delegitimizing a transition led by the people.
  • Negotiate at country level the criteria under More for More for assessing democratic reform, agree benchmarks, and include additional criteria such as non-discrimination and gender equality.
  • Explicitly delink More for More from any form of conditionality for liberalization of the economy and services.
  • Ensure that civil society representatives, especially women organizations, have a formal statutory role in EU–Government dialogue in its current and future cooperation (including the new fund SPRING).
  • Press now for political participation and representation of civil society, especially of women and youth, in the transition process and any democratic reforms.
  • Using affirmative action, prioritize use of the Civil Society Facility for women’s organizations and community based organizations with a track record in promoting gender equity, as well as youth groups, and for technical and financial assistance (including advocacy staff costs).