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Cambridge Review of International Affairs One of what kind? Comparative perspectives on the substance of EU democracy promotion



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One of what kind? Comparative
perspectives on the substance of EU
democracy promotion
Anne Wetzela, Jan Orbieb & Fabienne Bossuytb
a University of Mannheim
b Ghent University
Published online: 26 Mar 2015.
To cite this article: Anne Wetzel, Jan Orbie & Fabienne Bossuyt (2015) One of what kind?
Comparative perspectives on the substance of EU democracy promotion, Cambridge Review of
International Affairs, 28:1, 21-34, DOI: 10.1080/09557571.2015.1019726
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One of what kind? Comparative perspectives on the
substance of EU democracy promotion
Anne Wetzel
University of Mannheim
Jan Orbie
Ghent University
Fabienne Bossuyt
Ghent University
If democracy promotion is a ‘fashionable international art’ (Burnell 2000, 339),
then there are many artists involved in it. It is impressive to observe, for instance,
how the voices that offered assistance in the course of the Arab Spring appeared to
sing from the same hymn sheet:
The EU [European Union] stands ready to assist the countries of the Arab spring to
achieve deep democracy and the rule of law based on full respect of human rights
and fundamental freedoms, but also economic development and social justice.
(Council of the EU 2011a)
First, it will be the policy of the United States [US] to promote reform across the
region, and to support transitions to democracy. (Obama 2011)
Once again, let me say: we are at an historic moment. Democracy is on the march
across the Arab world. It is in the interest of the international community and the
United Nations [UN] to help you on your way. (Ban Ki-moon 2011)
However, rather than singing from the same hymn sheet, international democracy
promoters are soloists. While apparently singing the same melody, they sing it
with different lyrics and intonation. The international stage is home to a wide
group of actors engaged in democracy promotion, each pursuing their own
democratization agenda (Burnell 2008, 416; Merkel 2010, 154 159).
What these democratization agendas exactly consist of, and how similar they
are, is seldom studied in detail and hardly ever explained. This special section
advances a new research agenda by examining the contents of international
This special section is part of a Jean Monnet Research and Information Activity on ‘The
substance of EU democracy promotion’ (see , Financial
support by the European Commission, the University Association for Contemporary
European Studies (UACES) and the British International Studies Association (BISA) is
gratefully acknowledged. The editors thank Michelle Pace for valuable comments on the
overall concept and the single articles.
Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 2015
Vol. 28, No. 1, 21–34,
q2015 Centre of International Studies
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democracy promotion, and, specifically, comparing the substance of EU
democracy promotion with other norm promoters’.
The special section aims to provide a theoretical and empirical contribution to
the existing literature, which so far has focused primarily on the strategies,
instruments and impact of democracy promotion (see for example Schimmelfennig
and Scholtz 2008;Ju
¨nemann and Knodt 2007; Zielonka and Pravda 2001; Magen
et al 2009). Beyond the relative consensus that most Western actors involved in
democracy promotion advocate some form of ‘liberal democracy’ (Kurki 2010,
365; Ayers 2008, 3; Carothers 1997; Risse 2009, 249), comparative analysis of the
democratic substance promoted is lacking.
Following Stewart, we define ‘democracy promotion’ as ‘activities engaged in
by external actors to encourage the development of democracy within a given
country’ (2009, 647). We focus on deliberate activities by external actors and do not
include undirected processes, such as contagion. These external actors can be
states, state-funded agencies or organizations, privately funded non-govern-
mental organizations or even individuals. Though the difference between external
and internal actors is subtle (Burnell and Schlumberger 2010, 9 –10), we focus
solely on actors whose activities are (financially) supported from outside the
country that they are targeting, regardless of the actors’ physical location.
The existing literature on strategies of democracy promotion provides some
reference points to help us examine the substantive dimension in more detail.
In an article on political strategies of external support for democratization, Burnell
distinguishes ‘several distinct but related issues’ that arise, ‘including the who?,
what?, why?, and how?’ (2005, 361), with substance as the ‘what’. Similarly,
Merkel (2010) assembles several issues of strategy, namely questions of ‘who’,
‘whom’, ‘when’, ‘how’, and ‘effect’, where substance is part of the ‘how’. In
addition to concrete ‘desired endpoints’ of democracy promotion in the electoral
arena, governmental institutions and civil society, Carothers includes the issue of
underlying models in the broader question of democracy promotion strategy
(1997, 111).
From these works, we single out the question of ‘what’ from external actors’
broader democracy promotion strategies. We go further than these works in that
we systematically distinguish three (interconnected) dimensions of substance:
(a) conceptual—underlying models informing democracy promotion activities;
(b) discursive—frames used by democracy promoters; and (c) implementation—
emphasis of priorities pursued by actors. Accordingly, the special section defines
the substance of international democracy promotion as: the substantive content of
activities engaged in by external actors to encourage the development of
democracy within a third country. This content may relate to underlying concepts
of democracy held, frames constructed and/or implementation priorities pursued
by the external actor.
The EU has become one of the most significant international democracy
promoters in terms of both verbal commitment and financial support (see below).
However, it does not have a codified internal definition of democracy that it can
Exceptions are the edited volumes by Hobson and Kurki (2012), who focus on the
conceptual politics of democracy promotion, and Wetzel and Orbie (2011b, 2015), who
examine only the EU and employ a very specific perspective.
We are grateful to Milja Kurki for this suggestion.
22 Anne Wetzel et al
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project onto other countries. Attempts to draw up a ‘European consensus on
democracy’ have failed so far and concepts such as ‘deep democracy’ (European
Commission and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security
Policy 2011b, 2– 3) remain vague. What the content of EU international democracy
promotion is and how distinctive this is from other actors’ are open questions.
Comparing the EU with other international democracy promoters serves both
a descriptive and an analytical goal. First, we gain a better understanding of the
EU’s democracy promotion agenda, and whether the EU is distinctive in the
norms it promotes. Second, we can explain similarities and differences between
the democratic substance promoted by international actors, and across target
countries and regions. In short, we not only describe the substance of international
democracy promotion but also seek to explain it.
Why substance matters
The issue of substance has always occupied an important part of the discussion
about democratization and democracy promotion. However, after decades of
research and practice it is still not entirely clear what is conducive to
democratization and, as a consequence, what should be promoted. As an example,
in the 1980s, the US democracy promotion community adopted ‘an analytic model
of democratic transition’ (Carothers 2002, 6), which assumed that democratization
would not be dependent on preconditions. Structural developments, such as
socio-economic development, were not attributed a decisive role (Carothers 2002,
8). Such an understanding follows elite-oriented or agency approaches (O’Donnell
and Schmitter 1986), in opposition to the arguments of modernization theory
(Lipset 1959), which counsels that democracy promoters focus on socio-economic
development. Recent studies (Przeworski et al 2000; Ingelhart and Welzel 2009;
Epstein et al 2006) do not point to a definite conclusion.
The same question also divides practitioners. In the 1980s, there was a
separation between the emergent international democracy assistance community
and the established domain of development aid (Carothers 2010, 13). While today
there are bridge-building attempts, ‘[f]or many democracy aid providers,
socioeconomic development remains terra incognita’ (Carothers 2010, 19). At the
same time, the governance agenda has brought politics into the development
policy domain (Carothers 2010, 20 21). There are similar debates on the role of
elections and state-building (see Carothers 2002).
Paradoxically, the increasing emphasis on democracy promotion by the
‘Western world’, including the EU, is meeting an increasing scepticism about the
suitability of the ‘Western model’ of democracy. Democracy promotion is a
growing objective for the foreign policy of Western states (Carothers 1997, 110;
Youngs 2008) and Schraeder suggests we are witnessing the ‘emergence of an
international norm that considers democracy promotion to be an accepted and
necessary component of international behaviour’ (2002, 1). This is reflected, for
instance, in the EU’s commitment ‘to putting human rights and democracy at the
centre of its external action, as a “silver thread” running through all that it does’
(European Commission and High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs
and Security Policy 2011a, 10) or the establishment of the UN Democracy Fund in
2005. Accordingly, Western donors’ budgets for democracy promotion (including
the EU’s budget, see below) have significantly increased.
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At the same time, Western democracy is far from undisputed. Declining
political trust and a shift towards non-institutionalized forms of political
participation (Levi and Stoker 2000, 482; Fuchs and Klingemann 1995) have given
rise to calls for a grand debate about democracy, its foundations and prerequisites,
possibilities and limits (Ku
¨hnhardt 2000, 241). There is an ongoing debate about
the EU’s democratic credentials and deficits (Follesdal and Hix 2006; Moravcsik
2002), which begs ‘the question of standards’ (Majone 1998) of democracy that are
appropriate for judgement. Thus, the model of liberal democracy, usually
assumed in international democracy promotion, may not be secure.
Other voices reject the strong reliance on a ‘democracy template’ that includes
institutions such as free and fair elections, functional legislative bodies, political
parties, independent judiciaries, etc, and instead emphasize ‘the need for
democracy assistance programming that is sensitive to the presence in many
developmental settings of rich internal traditions of communal deliberation and
democratic life’ (Mandaville and Mandaville 2007, 8). With regard to Africa, for
instance, Bradley points to the relevance of non-Western forms of democracy and
demands that democracy promotion policies should be multifaceted and adopted
to the unique nature of the continent (2005, 426). Similarly, Rutazibwa argues that
only an ‘ethical retreat’ from promoting ‘western style multi-party electoral liberal
democracy’ (even with the best intentions) will allow ‘African-style democracy’ to
emerge (2013, 95).
Finally, new actors are promoting alternative substances: witness the rise of
‘autocracy promotion’ from countries such as China, Russia, Iran, Cuba and
Venezuela over the last ten years. China and Russia profess to offer ‘model
political regime[s] that other countries could and should adopt’ (Burnell 2010, 7).
Jackson contends that Russia in particular ‘has encouraged, and sometimes
promoted through indirect and direct means, its own form of political
governance, which in many ways is at odds with the Western liberal democratic
model’ (2010, 114). This has often entailed a limitation of Western democratization
efforts (Burnell 2010). Altogether, these points show that the substance of
democracy promotion cannot simply be taken for granted and requires critical
Focusing on the EU
This Special Section pays particular attention to the EU’s external democracy
promotion activities. Over the past twenty years, amidst a general growth in
international democracy promotion, the EU has been increasingly active in this
area (for a detailed overview see Smith 2008, 142 168; Bo
¨rzel and Risse 2004;
2009). The Lome
´IV agreement (signed 1989) with EU member states’ former
colonies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific (the ACP group) was ‘the first
multilateral development agreement to include political conditionality’ (Bo
and Risse 2009, 34). In November 1991, the Council issued a resolution on human
rights, democracy and development. Early 1992, the European leaders signed the
Maastricht Treaty, which contained clear commitments to democracy promotion
in the articles on development cooperation (Article 130u) and on Common
Foreign and Security Policy (Article J1). Meanwhile, the end of the Cold War and
the fall of communism spurred democracy promotion policies towards the former
Soviet bloc, most importantly in relation to the Central and Eastern European
24 Anne Wetzel et al
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countries aspiring to EU membership. The Europe Agreements with these
countries, signed between 1991 and 1996, all contained provisions on democracy.
The 1993 Copenhagen Declaration by the European Council spelled out
‘democracy’ as one of the eligibility criteria for EU membership. Democracy
also came to occupy a more important position in the EU’s relations with other
parts of the world. For example, the mid-term review of Lome
´IV (1995) and the
Cotonou Agreement (2000) with the ACP further strengthened political
conditionality. Since 1995, all EU agreements concluded with third countries
have included an ‘essential elements clause’ on democracy and human rights. The
European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) launched in 2004 explicitly envisages the
promotion of democracy (European Commission 2004, 12 13). In 1994, the
European Initiative (currently ‘Instrument’) for Democracy and Human Rights
(EIDHR) was established. Democracy-related support also comes from
geographic instruments such as the European Development Fund (EDF) and
the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI, now European
Neighbourhood Instrument [ENI]).
A detailed overview of EU spending on democracy promotion is hard to track
down (European Parliament Office for Promotion of Parliamentary Democracy
[OPPD] 2010, 65 66), as are comparative figures from other democracy
promoters, but we can sketch a general picture, which indicates that the EU is
an important democracy promoter in budgetary terms. Del Biondo’s estimates
(see contribution in this special section) show that, in the mid-2000s, the EU spent
about e1.5 billion of its annual aid on democracy-related support, which was
roughly equivalent to the US figures. The EIDHR’s budget grew by 44 per cent
between 1999 and 2009 (Herrero 2009, 12 13), and it provided about e1.1 billion
over the period 2007 2013 (European Parliament and Council of the EU 2006,
Article 19). The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) aid statistics on EU support
for the ‘government and civil society’ sector, which represents a broad
interpretation of democracy promotion policies (Barry 2012, 308 310)
, show
that the EU institutions committed on average about US$2 billion to ‘government
and civil society’ between 2004 and 2012, second only to the US, and with other
donors—such as the World Bank, Germany, Sweden and Australia—far behind at
around US$1 billion each.
Since the Arab Spring, democracy promotion has gained precedence in EU
foreign policy. The European Commission and the High Representative of the EU
for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy launched the concept of ‘deep democracy’
(2011b, 2– 3) making democracy promotion a top EU priority in its neighbour-
hood. The latest European strategy document for development, ‘Agenda for
Change’, includes democracy and human rights as major objectives (European
Commission 2011b, 5– 6). Interestingly, the green paper that paved the way for this
strategy—written before the Arab Spring—pays limited attention to democratic
governance (European Commission 2010). Additionally, the Commission has
strengthened democratic conditionality in EU budget support (European
Commission 2011a) and made ‘development and democracy’ the central theme
Based on the OECD DAC database at ,, specifically
the ‘government and civil society—general’ sector.
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of the 2011 ‘European Development Days’, and the Council established a
European Endowment for Democracy in order to support political parties, civil
society organizations and activists (Council of the EU 2011b). Finally, the EU
expanded its international human rights commitments through a strategic
framework and action plan (Council of the EU 2012).
Yet, there is much confusion about the actual substance being promoted.
Although the underlying principles have been identified in an informal document
in 2009, policy-makers still lack a ‘European consensus on democracy’, due to
obstruction by some member states.
Unsurprisingly, academics have come to
diverging conclusions about the content of the EU’s democracy promotion
activities. Some suggest that the EU focuses rather narrowly on the electoral
process (Crawford 2000a, 110; Herrero 2009, 17), while others maintain that it
underestimates the importance of elections (Youngs 2011). Some stress that the EU
clings to a liberal (Pace 2011) or even neoliberal view of democracy (Kurki 2011;
Reynaert 2011), while others discern a social-democratic perspective (Youngs
2003). Manners (2008) argues that the EU promotes ‘consensual democracy’ as
opposed to majoritarian decision-making systems, in line with the EU’s internal
nature. However, the EU’s external democracy promotion as well as its internal
democratic status could also be seen as ‘shallow’, with more emphasis on external
context than on the core elements of democracy such as political rights and
horizontal accountability (Wetzel and Orbie 2011a). Similarly, there are different
interpretations as to what governance means in the context of EU democracy
promotion. Some interpret it as more attention to civil society actors as part of
‘effective governance’ (Bo
¨rzel et al 2008) or elements of democratic governance in
policy sectors (Freyburg et al 2009; Lavenex and Schimmelfennig 2011), while
others see governance as a technocratic approach to economic reform
(for example, Hout 2010). Carothers, for example, labels the EU as primarily
‘developmentalist’ in contrast to the more ‘political’ view of the US (2009, 13).
There is also a more theoretical motivation for our focus on the EU:
contributing to the scholarly debate on the EU as a normative power. While much
of the literature (see overview in Whitman 2011) has focused either empirically on
the question of to what extent ‘norms versus interests’ matter in EU foreign policy,
or theoretically on a critical examination of the notion of Normative Power Europe
itself, the definition of the EU’s norms has not received much attention
(an exception is Manners 2008). While we acknowledge that interests may
determine the EU’s ambition in the area of democracy promotion and that
democracy promotion itself may carry a post-colonial flavour, we argue that
asking what the EU promotes when referring to ‘democracy’ provides a
benchmark against which the EU’s commitment can be assessed and criticized.
Since we are aware that substance may differ over time and between the EU
institutions, we look only at recent developments and do not treat the EU as a
‘black box’. Contributions refer to the Commission, the Council and individual EU
member states, consider different EU instruments, such as the EDF (which is
member state dominated) and the EIDHR (which is Commission dominated), and
pay attention to both the policies from ‘Brussels’ and the implementation on the
Interview, European External Action Service, 12 May 2011.
26 Anne Wetzel et al
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Comparing the EU with other democracy promoters
The contributions to the special section each compare the EU with at least one
other actor involved in external democracy promotion, including non-state actors,
like NGOs and political foundations, and international and regional organiz-
ations. Most existing comparative efforts focus on the effects (Magen and Morlino
2008), the instruments and strategies of democracy promoters (Burnell 2005;
Crawford 2000b; Grugel 2004; Huber 2008; Magen et al 2009; Youngs 2006). These
studies usually limit their scope to the EU and the US (Grugel 2004; Huber 2008;
Kopstein 2006; Magen et al 2009), while research on other international democracy
promoters, such as the UN, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE) and Council of Europe, consists mostly of single case studies (for example,
Boonstra 2007; Warkotsch 2007; Newman and Rich 2004; Sasse 2011). One
exception is a five-year joint European North-American comparative research
project, which suggested a link regarding ‘the interaction between how ... policy
makers define the national interest and how they perceive the nature of the
“democratic environment”’ and a resulting substance (Schraeder 2003, 34 35).
The scholars identified different democracy promotion agendas for different
(groups of) countries: political liberalization (US), economic liberalization
(Germany, Japan) and social liberalization (Nordic countries) (Schraeder 2003,
3538). However, they did not analyse the EU as a separate actor from the
member states.
The EU is a relatively ‘young’ democracy promoter compared with the US
(for example, Carothers 1999, 19 58) and its own member states (Smith 2008,
167), and lacks a codified template (De Ridder and Kochenov 2011). It may be
expected to copy other actors’ ‘democracy templates’ (for example, Carothers
1999, 88) and thus contribute to the emergence of an international standard of
democracy promotion. Indeed, the EU draws on external sources when defining
the kind of democracy that it wants to promote. For example, it refers to
standards of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE),
such as the 1990 ‘Charter of Paris for a New Europe’, in its relations with CSCE/
OSCE members, which include both European and non-European former Soviet
countries (Smith 2008, 153 154). On the other hand, the EU approach diverges
sharply from that of the US (for example, Kopstein 2006), suggesting that the EU
has not merely followed existing templates. However, other scholars have
pointed to the similarities between EU and US democracy promotion policies,
which both project their ‘internal—liberal democratic—values’ (Risse 2009, 249,
emphasis added). From an intergovernmentalist logic, one might expect that the
EU would follow the preferred substance of (the most) powerful member state
(s), but there is too little information to determine what role member states’
templates play.
Main findings
What can we learn from the contributions to this section? The first three
contributions focus on the conceptual and discursive dimensions of democracy
promotion, respectively, and conclude that in comparison with other international
actors the EU’s approach to democracy promotion appears to be diffuse rather
than moulded on a single coherent template. As Bridoux and Kurki show, the EU’s
underlying conceptions of democracy promotion can best be described as ‘fuzzy’,
One of what kind? 27
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lacking clear ideological commitment. Rather, the conceptual substance revolves
around a mixture of liberal, reform-liberal and to some degree also social-
democratic ideals, with a clear tendency towards neoliberal tenets.
What is more, democracy promotion is ‘covered’ under depoliticized and
technical activities. This finding is supported by Omelicheva’s study of the EU’s
framing of democracy promotion in Central Asia. While no clear understanding of
democracy is articulated in EU documents, the EU’s frames increasingly employ
the notion of good governance, understood as capacity-building, an emphasis also
reflected in the promotion of the rule of law. This emphasis goes hand in hand
with a de-prioritization of election observation, parliamentary reforms, and
support for civil society groups, and a shift away from a ‘traditional’ institutional
understanding of EU democracy promotion, as discerned by Schmidt. According
to Schmidt’s analysis, the EU has abandoned liberal-democratic conceptions with
the turn towards democratic governance. The EU now understands democracy as
norms and attitudes at the level of individuals in a social context, replacing a focus
on institutions of representation or control.
The hazy character of the EU’s underlying conceptions of democracy promotion
becomes even more evident through comparison with other international actors
whose democracy promotion policies rest on more fixed and straightforward
conceptual bases. US democracy promotion, for instance, is based on a rather
consistent ‘liberal’ conceptualization of democracy, with a recent tendency towards
‘reform liberal’ (Bridoux and Kurki in this special section). The UN relies on a strong
notion of sovereignty and stresses representative government (Schmidt in this
special section). The Central and East European EU member states Poland and
Slovakia focus mainly on civil society (Petrova in this special section).
The subsequent three contributions (Del Biondo, Fagan, Petrova) focus on the
implementation dimension, and discern a common ‘EU’ substance, though it is
not exclusive. These articles point to a focus on democratic governance in a more
technical sense. The core institutions of liberal democracy, such as elections,
political and civil rights, represent but a small part of EU democracy promotion.
Although the respective authors analyse democracy promotion in different
regions and contexts, the EU’s implementation of its hazy democracy promotion
agenda appears to be rather technocratic (see also Wetzel and Orbie 2015).
In contrast, the US focuses more on the core elements of liberal democracy (Del
Biondo) and the Eastern European countries more on civil society (Petrova).
These findings are in line with the existing literature, according to which it can
be expected that the substance of external democracy promotion, especially in
terms of underlying concepts, concerns the democracy promoter ’s ideology and
past experience with democratic processes, its formative experiences with
democracy promotion (Crawford 2000b; Magen and McFaul 2009, 17; see also
Carothers 2009; Cremona 2004; Leonard 2005). Bridoux and Kurki’s article argues
that the liberal-democratic substance advanced by the US neatly reflects the
country’s historically embedded ideological conviction and specific socio-
economic model based on laissez-faire capitalism. Similarly, Petrova finds that
that democratic substance promoted by the Eastern European member states of
the EU is primarily shaped by their own models of democratization, which
strongly emphasize the role of civil society and deviate from the content promoted
by the EU. In a similar vein, Omelicheva points out that the substance of the
Russian and Chinese frames of autocracy promotion—rather than democracy
28 Anne Wetzel et al
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promotion—in Central Asia, which advance a powerful state with a viable
economic base, mirrors their specific state-guided model of development.
Schmidt’s analysis of the UN’s democracy promotion agenda indicates that the
specific contexts of emergence and ensuing nature of the organization have
determined the substance of its democracy promotion efforts. The UN’s
promotion of electoral, representative democracy is the result of the organization’s
sovereignty-focused nature and represents a ‘sticky’ agenda. In contrast, as
Bridoux and Kurki demonstrate, the EU has to accommodate the models of its 28
member states in its conceptual basis of democracy promotion. At the same time,
they point out that the EU’s internal agenda has been ‘remarkably technical and
apolitical’ from the beginning, which leaves traces in the EU’s more recent and
reactive engagement with democracy promotion. This finding is also supported
by Schmidt’s characterization of the EU as a post-Westphalian entity, whose
nature is reflected in the promotion of ‘governance as the regulatory principle of
the social’. As Bridoux and Kurki underscore, the multifaceted conceptual input is
sustained by a complex internal bureaucratic structure linking member states and
supranational institutions, which is not conducive to a coherent concept.
The hazy conceptual basis of EU democracy promotion has two consequences
in implementation. First, since the EU lacks clear conceptual guidance,
‘governance’ seems to emerge as a non-controversial default option that reflects
the EU’s constitution. This is supported by Bridoux and Kurki’s conclusion about
the neoliberal tendencies of EU democracy promotion policies, which links to the
nature of the beast, since the EU project has always been more about market
integration than social redistribution (Wetzel and Orbie 2011a, 724).
Second, however, the hazy conceptual basis leaves room for the adaptation of
the substance in the implementation phase and thus points to the significance of
the ‘domestic context’ as an explanation for the substance. The lack of a well-
defined conceptual model might enhance the EU’s flexibility and thus its potential
to engage in a less rigid democracy promotion policy that takes local contexts and
new situations into account. Del Biondo indicates that the political reality in
authoritarian states can pose severe limits to democracy assistance that is focused
on the core elements of democracy as opposed to democracy assistance that
addresses the context conditions. In Ethiopia, the US was perceived as
consistently following its liberal ‘political’ agenda of democracy promotion and
thus the Ethopian government rejected its activities. Eventually, the US Agency for
International Development (USAID) decided to abandon the democracy
promotion business in Ethiopia rather than to align with the government’s
agenda. The EU, on the other hand, was perceived as following a less political
agenda given that it focused less on sensitive issues. Fagan provides a second
instance of adaptability, showing that the EU adjusted the substance of its
democracy promotion to the particular local needs in Kosovo. This does not mean
that other international democracy promoters are unable to adapt to local
conditions: Fagan acknowledges that non-EU donors in Kosovo are adapting to
the local circumstances, and Petrova shows how Poland and Slovakia adapt the
substance of their democracy promotion programmes to the local circumstances
as well. Moreover, conceptual vagueness and the resulting flexibility may
represent a possibility for opportunist democracy promotion and may limit the
credibility of the EU as perceived from outside Europe (see the contribution by
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Adaptation, however, has limits: it does not reach the level of concepts. The
contributions by Omelicheva, Schmidt and Petrova all suggest that the EU is not
interested in engaging seriously on conceptual questions in target states and at
home. Schmidt’s contribution reveals a particular paradox. While the EU declares
that the contingent context in third countries should be the point of departure for
democracy promotion activities, the EU’s approach levels individuals’ attitudes,
and specific institutional questions become increasingly secondary. Omelicheva
argues that the ‘off-the-shelf’ policy frames used by the US and the EU in Central
Asia neglect the cultural contexts and local understandings and, as such, are
incompatible with the local realities, in contrast to Russian and Chinese frames.
Petrova concludes that the EU only modestly adjusted the substance of democracy
promotion to the suggestions of Central and East European member states.
Ultimately, our conclusions about the substance of democracy promotion give
rise to familiar questions about the state of the EU: is the complexity a temporary
phenomenon that reflects the premature state of European integration and the not
yet established consensus about its political content, or is it a defining feature of a
unique European governance system that is here to stay? Does the failure to draw
up a ‘European consensus on democracy’ illustrate the limits of the European
integration process, or does the absence of a clear-cut conceptual basis witness the
inherent plurality and reflexivity of the European system? A more cautious
reading is offered by Schmidt, who argues that the substance of EU democracy
promotion could be seen as a reaction to the current crisis of politics, ‘the lack of a
political project that actually requires democratic forms of public government’.
Against the background of the current developments in the EU during the
ongoing economic crisis, it is an open question how the substance of democracy
promotion policy will be affected.
Notes on contributors
Fabienne Bossuyt is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science
at Ghent University in Belgium. Her research focuses on the EU’s external
relations and policies, with a particular focus on the soft dimension of the EU’s
external action, including trade policy and democracy promotion. Email:
Jan Orbie is a professor in the Department of Political Science and Director of the
Centre for EU Studies at Ghent University in Belgium. He researches the EU’s
external relations, in particular trade and development policies. Email: Jan.
Anne Wetzel is a post-doctoral fellow at the Mannheim Centre for European
Social Research (MZES), University of Mannheim, Germany. Her research
interests include international relations and democracy promotion, the EU’s
relationship with Eastern neighbours and the EU in international organizations.
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... This is guided by changes in EU global strategy away from the perimeters of the external governance paradigm towards recognising geopolitics as being an important if not decisive determinant of EU foreign policy in the 21st century. Democracy promotion is still important in this prescription (Freyburg et al. 2015;Wetzel, Orbie, and Bossuyt 2015). But this new pragmatism corresponds with the EU recognising its role as a secondary player in the region behind other powers such as Russia, China, and the United States. ...
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With China and Russia acting more assertively vis-à-vis Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan have gradually moved to the core of contemporary Eurasian geopolitics – albeit to varying degrees. The European Union (EU) has purposefully sought to promote its norms and values in the region for quite some time in the past. However, considering the ongoing Western “polycrisis” exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic most recently, our paper investigates how the EU has been recalibrating its relationship towards Central Asia – within the timespan of its two EU Central Asia Strategies, dating from 2007 and 2019, respectively. We argue that the reformulation of EU policy towards Central Asia is pragmatically taking its lead from the growing constraints of EU foreign policy as well as Chinese and Russian intervention in the region; it is, in the end, geographical proximity that continues to shape geopolitics in Central Asia.
... Differentiating studies of EU democracy promotion, Wetzel, Orbie, and Bossuyt (2015) distinguish between conceptual debates focusing on 'models', 'policies' and 'discursive frames' which democracy promotion actors use to support or contest policies. Our focus is on the latter, that is on the frames used by populist parties. ...
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This article analyses how populist parties in power contest the external democratization agenda within the European Union (EU)’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). We present an analytical framework that conceptually unpacks both contestation and populism to argue that radical right, market liberal, regionalist and left-wing populist parties differ from each other concerning their views on external democratization. Our empirical focus is on the discursive strategies of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from PiS, Fidesz, Lega, Forza Italia and Movimento Cinque Stelle in European Parliament (EP) debates. The exploratory analysis reveals that populist actors rarely and selectively use the European arena for contesting democracy promotion. While an emphasis on stability and security in the neighbourhood prevails among all populist parties in our study, other considerations, such as migration policy, support for ethnic kin, suspicion towards Russia but also membership in the EP’s Party Groups inform the differences between the parties. Supplemental data for this article is available online at at
... Further, the support provided to civil society actors to develop bottom up responses to democratization constitutes another example. These practices of the EU have been complemented and/or contrasted at times by democracy promotion practices of the USA and other international actors further complicating the overall process (Huber, 2008;Wetzel et al., 2015). ...
Although the EU promoting democracy and providing democracy assistance as an international actor is abundantly analysed; EU democracy projection remains relatively under-researched. Applying analytical approach of current Special Issue, this article assesses dynamics of transversal democracy projection between the EU and Mediterranean region through the lens of Euro-Mediterranean expert communities. Unlike a number of specific policy-related studies, we take a broader regional approach as our main aim is to demonstrate that Euro-Mediterranean expert communities are agents of transversal democracy projection through practicing internationally accepted norms and values in different contexts including policy level. The foundations of this article rest on an EU funded project involving empirical field research conducted in 2018 covering a total of 205 individual field interviews, focus group meetings, and online surveys. Syntheses of our results indicate that interactions between Euro-Mediterranean expert communities enhance scope of policy making in the Mediterranean region and support transversal democracy projection. The way democracy is projected through these expert communities' everyday practices in specific local contexts in the Mediterranean currently requires new modalities of engagement with policy makers, empowering their scope for transversal democracy projection in the region further; and the same is also true for the EU.
... The political values of the EU are exemplified in the promotion of democracy, multilateralism and human rights (see for instance Wetzel et al 2015). Among the principles of EU foreign policy, the protection of human rights stands as the most distinctive aspect of its normative and cosmopolitan approach to international politics (Sjursen 2017). ...
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The European Union (EU) has been portrayed as a force for good in the international system. However, due to systemic changes in the international environment and the crises of European integration, its role in the world is becoming more contentious. This paper applies the politicization literature to EU foreign policy and, using the case of the EU Global Strategy (EUGS), questions the effects of emerging politicization for EU political integration. The paper analyses how the EUGS has downscaled the transformative ambition of EU foreign policy, showcasing an adverse framing of its strategic narrative. However, it also argues that this narrative has been accompanied by more integrationist practices, as shown by the institutional developments during the making of the EUGS and its implementation in security and defence. The paper concludes that the effects of emerging politicization in EU foreign policy can simultaneously reflect a less transformative narrative but lead to more integrated practices and policies.
How is EU democracy promotion made compatible with European colonial powers’ recent history of quashing democratic and human rights? A discourse analysis of general programmatic EU statements and texts related to selected salient historic junctures – the Algerian Hirak, the 2018 Democratic Republic of Congo elections and the Arab Uprisings – reveals that EU policy-makers reconcile the colonial past and the democracy-promoting present mostly through a silencing of colonialism. The consequence is that colonial-time hierarchical discourses are left undisturbed. Moreover, the projection of peace, democracy and the rule of law becomes not only the oft-noted break with the past, but also a continuity with colonial discourses of Europeans as ‘democratic’, ‘humanitarian’ and ‘civilised’.
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International relations (IR) scholars have examined the relationship between international ties and democratization. However, they disproportionately focus on elite-level calculus and behavior, such as hand-tying and credible commitment mechanisms. Such a narrow focus on elite behaviors can only partially account for the impacts of international ties on democratization. For example, the role of political and economic elites as veto players is relevant in the late phase of democratization. Furthermore, their strategic calculus can dilute democracy promotion imperatives. On the other hand, the broader democratization literature highlights that societal actors are important in facilitating democratization. Nevertheless, most studies on the international ties of societal actors focus on specific policy areas falling short of democratization. In this study, I argue that international ties of societal actors increase the chances of democratization while political, military, and economic elites do not have independent causal effects. I empirically test the hypothesis by disaggregating international ties into different types based on actors involved in the interaction. The case study on South Korea’s democratization process substantiates the hypothesis by shedding light on the previously overlooked role of the medical community and its international ties.
In the last decade, a growing body of literature has investigated the promotion of good governance, rule of law, democracy and human rights in Central Asia through funding from the European Union (EU). Most of this research has taken an EU-centric approach and is concerned with the supply side of external democratization. As a result, little is known about how EU projects are implemented on the ground and what EU-funded civil society organizations consider to be their priorities. This article investigates the agency of such organizations in Kyrgyzstan by focusing on their contribution to one particular EU instrument: the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), and its programme: Strengthening Resilience to Violence and Extremism (STRIVE). The findings offer new insights into the processes of adaptation, reinterpretation and contestation through which EU-funded organizations exercise ownership while engaging in the prevention of violent extremism (PVE).
As the introduction to this edited volume, this chapter reiterates the relevance of studying the European Union’s democracy promotion in its near (and further) abroad. It does so by outlining the most fundamental changes to the EU’s democracy promotion agenda – both within and without – in the past 25 years. The chapter further sets the stage for the remainder of the volume by discussing the complexity of defining democracy and democracy promotion, by outlining the book’s theoretical framework (namely Normative Power Europe), and by demarcating its geographic scope (South Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia). Finally, the volume’s individual chapters are introduced along conceptual and empirical lines.
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With the end of the Cold War, democracy promotion has been mainstreamed into the development strategies of international organizations such as the UN or the World Bank, but also of individual Western states such as the United States, or the Federal Republic of Germany. The EU is no exception. In fact, the EU has been among the first of any Western state or international organization to write human rights, democracy and the rule of war into its agreements with external partners. The Lomé IV agreement of 1989 between the EU and the so-called ACP countries (African, Caribbean and Pacific Group, mostly former colonies of Great Britain, France and Belgium) was the first multilateral development agreement to include political conditionality. Ten years later, in 1999, the EU adopted the European Initiative for Development and Human Rights (EIDHR) as a comprehensive strategy ‘in support of democratization, the strengthening of the rule of law and the development of a pluralist and democratic civil society’ (EIDHR 976/1999, preamble).
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Democratic institutions cannot be set up easily, anywhere, at any time; they are likely to emerge only when certain social and cultural conditions exist. But economic development and modernization push those conditions in the right direction by creating a self-reinforcing process that brings mass participation to politics and thus makes democracy increasingly likely.
In June 2004, President George W. Bush tried to leverage the US chairmanship of the G-8 summit to launch the centerpiece of his Administration’s “forward strategy of freedom” for the post-9/11, post-Saddam Middle East. The new Mideast project would marshal American and European diplomatic and financial resources to press for greater social, political, and economic freedom from Marrakesh to Bangladesh. Well before G-8 leaders convened in Sea Island, Georgia, however, the Europeans (allegedly) leaked a draft of Bush’s proposal to the Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat and demanded far-reaching revisions as a condition for their support. Eventually, the G-8 did inaugurate what it dubbed the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative, but in a much diluted form from the one originally hoped for by the White House. BMENA then promptly sank into low-profile obscurity.
With the end of the Cold War at the latest, democracy promotion has become a major foreign policy tool of international organizations as well as Western statecraft.1 As the introductory chapter of this volume points out, there are several reasons for this development. First, major powers have always tried to spread their own political, economic and social orders around the globe and to externalize their values. The US and Europe are no exceptions. With the systemic competition between Communism and liberal democracy over, democracy promotion has become even more significant in their respective foreign policies.
This article investigates the substance of the European Union (EU)'s democracy promotion towards its southern neighbours within the framework of the Euro- Mediterranean Partnership (EMP)/the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Taking the distinction between core elements of democracy and supporting external conditions as a point of departure, this article concentrates on the latter and analyses the EU's view on the relation between the state, the market, and the civil society. This article finds that the main objective of the EU's policy towards its southern Mediterranean neighbours is economic liberalization and that the promotion of the civil society, the functioning of the state, and the core elements of democracy are oriented to the promotion of a market-based economy. Moreover, the EU's preoccupation with the market has affected the establishment of democracies in the southern Mediterranean region.
The European Union finds itself at a critical juncture; not only has the deepening crisis in the eurozone weakened the EU’s internal structure, it has impacted significantly on its international image and external relations. The third edition of European Union Foreign Policy in a Changing World offers a clear and detailed analysis of the complexities and challenges of contemporary European foreign policy-making. Thoroughly revised and expanded, the book explores how and why the EU endeavours to achieve five core foreign policy objectives: •The encouragement of regional cooperation •The advancement of human rights •The promotion of democracy and good governance •The prevention of violent conflicts •The fight against international crime, including terrorism The book shows how the EU must grapple with acute policy dilemmas because the five objectives not only clash with each other, but also with other policy priorities. The Lisbon Treaty may have resolved some of the difficulties of making sound EU foreign policy but, the book contends, coherence remains an ongoing problem. It also explores the challenges the EU faces in achieving its objectives in a multipolar world, against the backdrop of a euro crisis which has damaged the EU’s international standing and drained attention and resources away from foreign policy-making. This accessible and thoroughly researched book will be a valuable resource for undergraduate and postgraduate students of European politics, foreign policy analysis, international relations and related disciplines.