Support for Civil Society as Window Dressing

In her qualitive analysis “Support for civil society as window dressing. A critical assessment of how the EU engages with civil society” for the 10th Euromed Survey, Itxaso Domínguez (Middle East and Maghreb Coordinator at Fundación Alternativas) analyses how the EU engages with civil society and reflects on the fact that the EU has been accused of caring more about its public relations than protecting the needs of local civil society.

Federica Mogherini speaks to the press during the EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. 24/02/2019 European Union, 2019

These are some ideas of her analysis worth highlighting:

  • The Southern Mediterranean is perceived as a space in which the EU can inspire and shape the construction of liberal democratic and economic institutions through “value export” diplomacy. 
  • The post-2011 period represented a juncture that could have led, at least on paper, to a truly horizontal partnership between EU institutions and civil society.
  • ‘Tick the box’ exercise means civil society is used by the EU “to beautify, and thus legitimise, its strategy(ies)” .
  • Much assistance labelled as democracy promotion focuses on state institutions and not CSOs.
  • The prospect of building true democratic structures ultimately rests with the regime’s willingness to do so, casting light on the gap between EU rhetoric of CSOs empowerment and their insufficient inclusion into the policy dialogues and processes.
  • Funding is oftentimes based on ‘transition templates’ characterised by an indistinct understanding of civil society as a standardized actor and a lack of knowledge of the individual components of every civil society.
  • The EU ends up by imposing a recognizable notion of civil society, mostly composed of formal elite liberal-minded Western-fashioned individuals and organizations.
  • A state-centric approach leads to favouring those CSOs that have been co-opted, or at least intimidated, by Southern Mediterranean regimes, ultimately supporting CSOs.

The publication of the Euromed Survey 2019 includes a descriptive report of the results and analysis articles by experts such as Intissar KherigiRichard Youngs, Senior Fellow (Democracy, Conflict, and Governance Program, Carnegie Europe); Itxaso Domínguez Middle East & Maghreb Coordinator (Fundación Alternativas); Jerzy Pomianowki, Executive Director (European Endowment for Democracy EED-Brussels); Aziza Moneer (PhD. Visiting Research Fellow, Nordic Africa Institute, Uppsala, Sweden); Zaid Eyadat (Prof. Director of the Center for Strategic Studies. University of Jordan).

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