European support for democracy faces a series of challenges stemming both from the results of the Eurozone crisis and from the difficult state of democracy worldwide. In order to confront these challenges, the EU must rethink its approach. The answer is not simply more democracy promotion, but rather new strategies that embrace a wider variety of tactics and partners.

At a roundtable hosted in Washington, D.C., Carnegie Europe’s Richard Youngs presented his paper, A More Pluralist Approach to European Democracy Support, co-authored with Kateryna Pishchikova, and outlined recommendations for how the EU can qualitatively improve its democracy support efforts. Youngs also discussed challenges related to the EU’s Eastern Partnership and European responses to the Arab Spring. Carnegie’s Thomas Carothers moderated the event.

Youngs’ Recommendations

  • Address Internal Challenges: Combine efforts to confront internal challenges with external democracy promotion. Europe must take steps to improve its own democracy in order to bolster its support for democracy internationally.
  • Find a Flexible Middle Ground: Shift away from an overly heavy reliance on the export of governance rules and standards. The EU needs to embrace a more flexible democracy promotion strategy that finds a middle ground between the technocratic and the political.
  • Coordinate Actions: Promote synchronization between member states and the overall EU. This means more than simply informing one another of specific actions; it should entail active coordination to align priorities and policies.
  • Confront Closing Space for Civil Society: Develop a systematic strategy to push back against restrictions on civil society. EU responses remain ad-hoc and disagreements exist over how to confront restrictions, with some advocating for a more political response and others emphasizing the need to remain apolitical.
  • Work with Global Partners: Promote cooperation with rising democracies. The best way to do this is to work in a low-profile fashion, building relationships through cooperation on individual projects on the ground.

Challenges in the East

Participants discussed the problems facing the EU’s Eastern Partnership.

  • Challenges: The EU’s Eastern Partnership has faced a number of recent challenges, participants agreed. Countries like Armenia, Moldova, and Ukraine have proven more ambivalent toward the prospect of closer association with the EU than was initially expected. Armenia, in particular, startled Europe by choosing to join the Eurasian Customs Union, Youngs added. 
  • Solutions: To meet these challenges, Youngs argued that the EU must focus on these diplomatic relationships even after partnership agreements are signed.

Responses to the Arab Spring

Participants also discussed how the EU has engaged with countries affected by the Arab Spring, in particular Egypt.

  • Neutral Partner: The EU’s approach to Egypt in 2013 has been to position itself as a neutral partner that can encourage an inclusive program of reforms, Youngs said. This approach reflects a significant shift from its efforts during and just after the Arab Spring, when it was more politically focused.
  • Economic Integration: The goal of integrating Egypt into the European market failed, largely as a result of Egypt’s unwillingness to consent, which has made it harder for the EU to exert political influence, added Youngs.

Youngs and Carothers both stressed that the EU’s foreign policy identity is values-based, built on support for democracy and human rights. If it hopes to maintain this identity, it must rethink its efforts and ensure that the billions of euros already spent on democracy support are being used effectively.