Mathlouthi, Naim (2019) EU AS A NORMATIVE POWER IN THE MED REGION: DEMOCRACY PROMOTION IN TUNISIA. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Following the “Arab Spring,” the EU’s approach in the Mediterranean region necessitated a reconsideration of the process, impact, and limits of the so-called normative power upon which its approach has been based. The EU aimed to create a ring of friends in the neighbourhood and pledged to promote democracy in the region as a way of tackling the root causes of illegal migration and terrorism. Democracy, then, was one of the main objectives, the EU as a normative power, intended to promote. This thesis will critically examine the effectiveness of the EU’s promotion of democracy in the Southern Mediterranean and Tunisia in particular as a case study.
The EU engaged in the democratisation of the Southern neighbourhood since the inception of the Barcelona process in 1995. However, this process has turned into “stability partnership”, where the EU has provided extensive financial and political support to the authoritarian regimes in exchange for stability, security, and economic opportunities. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) failed in re-balancing the security and stability prioritisation to the detriment of democracy promotion, despite reforming its approach from multilateralism to bilateralism. The EU’s democracy promotion agenda remained a secondary objective rather than a priority.
The Arab uprisings revealed the limitations and contradictions of the democracy promotion policy. The multiplicity of the objectives and the security dilemma rendered the ENP unfit to achieve any substantial political reforms in the Southern Mediterranean. In search for more effectiveness, the EU responded by announcing a paradigm shift in its approach towards the Southern neighbours through the ENP review. An approach based on differentiation, sustainable and inclusive growth, further socialisation with a greater role for civil society and enhanced conditionality. What emerges is not just that the EU failed to reform its democratisation policy substantially, but despite its rhetoric, it has consistently prioritised its security and economic interests over the democracy promotion objective.
This thesis draws on the analysis of historical relations between the European Union and the Southern Mediterranean countries and highlights the main initiatives and consequences of the adopted practices of democratisation in the region following the Arab Uprisings. The main focus is on the continuity and limited changes in the new approach. One of the main findings is that the limited reform of the EU approach primarily resulted from the inherited political constraints. The net result was a set of structured security orientated relationships which will continue to repeat earlier mistakes before 2011. The mechanisms of democracy promotion, whether conditionality or socialisation remained inherently full of contradictions. The overall EU approach is still wanting due to lack of leverage, incoherence, double standards, too much priority awarded to economic liberalisation and security.
This thesis attempts to further the understanding of the democratisation evolution of Tunisia and to assess its effectiveness. Tunisia, uniquely, became the only viable democracy in the Arab world. Although the EU failed to achieve any substantial reforms in the past, following the Jasmin revolution, the EU support in conjunction with the Tunisian willingness for reforms has created an environment where democracy could flourish. The thesis argues that the EU did not apply a democracy promotion but rather democracy support following the regime collapse in 2011.The EU’s (socialization through civil society and more-for-more) were important mechanisms in supporting the Tunisian young democracy through the transition and consolidation phases. The EU approach, nevertheless, tends to be fluctuating between continuity and changes. Although security remained an important factor in the EU’s democracy support to Tunisia, the positive engagement with Islamic party Enahdha indicates a substantial shift in the security- democratization relationship. However, in terms of continuity, the EU emphasis on further economic liberalisation may have a negative impact on this young democracy.

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