Which impact had the Arab Spring on the relationship between Tunisia and the ENP?

The effect of the Arab Spring on Europe's neighbourhood policy

Essay, 2016

15 Pages, Grade: 1




The Impact of Arab Spring

Policy Suggestions




The Arab Revolution or the Arab Spring were protest in the Middle East who had their origins on the 17th December 2010 in Tunisia. It was the major revolutions against imperial governments in Arabic nations that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt amongst other Arabic countries. During this time, citizens staged several public demonstrations against their government calling for liberation, change of governance, freedom amongst other issues that directly and indirectly affected them. The population turned against the ruling regime in Tunisia. The share of pictures and videos during the protests in media and social media (such as Twitter or Facebook) had the effect that the protests spread like wildfire to the neighborhood countries. Besides Tunisia, other main actors were Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Iraq, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

Reasons for the protests were mainly the poor living conditions and the high unemployment in these countries. People are suffering every day from discontent and hopelessness.1

The straw which broke the camel's back was the sad story of the fruit street vendor Tarek al-Tayyib Muhammad Bouazizi from Tunisia. The government closed his fruit stand, because he had no authorization for the sale of its goods. The fruit stand was the only source by which Bouazizi could earn money to feed his family. This was taken from him. Thereupon, the 25-year lit him in front of the government building of Sidi Bouzid. This action has been disseminated by the media. Protests began in Sidi Bouzid. The distribution of photos and video clips of this revolt, from Al Jazeera2 and social media have been shared, which led to many demonstrations the next day throughout Tunisia. There were countless results, such as the resignation of the Tunisian Prime Minister Ben Ali, the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the assassination of Libyan leader al-Gadaffi.3

In most Arabic countries, governments responded to the demonstration using repression and isolation of the people demonstrating against them which actually heightened the problem. This paper investigates and discusses the impacts of Arab springs on the relationship between Tunisia and the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). In particular, the paper provides some sort of comparisons of successful and unsuccessful strategies, original and current state, procedural and substantive, as well as rhetoric and reality of the situation. The paper concludes by giving some policy suggestions to dealing with the impact of Arab spring as well as restoring the relationship between Tunisia and European Neighbourhood Policy.

The Impact of Arab Spring

One of the immediate impacts of Arab spring on the relationship between Tunisia and European neighbourhood nations is the creation of a new European Neighbourhood Policy document. According to Youngs4, the representatives of the European Union converged shortly after the surge of Arab springs in Tunisia to propose changes in the ENP. The main mission is to strengthen prosperity, stability and security in the EU neighbourhood.5 They included representatives of the European Union for foreign affairs. They proposed a revamped European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) on March 2011 that expressed new communiqués with the affected Arabic nations.6 The uprising and the related events that unfolded in Tunisia had direct influence on remoulding of the policy expressing new communiqués to be adopted by the European neighbourhood. The new communications, as indicated in the revamped policy document, expressed the need for more differentiation in the relations between Tunisia and neighbouring European countries.

The idea of differentiating the relations between Tunisia and neighbouring countries was to help Arabic nations that have progressed more in establishing democracies. This was a huge shift in the ENP policy given that before the Arabic springs the relations between Tunisia and European nations was not hinged on the idea of democracy. For instance, before the onset of revolution, the European nations fully supported the regime which was not based on the principle of democracy7. Tunisia and other European nations enjoyed stable relations especially with the regime government despite being undemocratic and based on monarchy system of governance. The revamped European Neighbourhood Policy expressed the need of Tunisia establishing democratically elected governance in order to continue her relations with European neighbourhoods.

The new ENP policy came up with a slogan of less for less and more for more8 for their relations with the affected Arabic nations. This means that the more Tunisia uphold democracy, the more they will get support from European neighbours and the less they become democratic the less they will get support from European neighbours. This was a totally new approach to the relationship between Tunisia and ENP and its key focus was on money, market access as well as mobility. Previously before the onset of revolution, Tunisia’s relation with the ENP was not based on money, mobility and market access. They had complete access to the European markets without consideration of the monarchy governance which was in place. However, the new policy demanded limited access to the European market if they do not uphold principles of democracy. In addition, they received funding from European nations without consideration of democracy.

The revamped European Neighbourhood Policy limited mobility of some Tunisian citizens as well as regime members in the neighbouring European countries9. This was contrary to the previous relationship in which the Tunisians including regime members enjoyed free movement and access of the neighbouring European nations. The new policy specifically targeted the regime members limiting their access and mobility in the neighbouring European nations. This was specifically done to put pressure on the Ben Ali’s government to implement changes demanded by the opposition members. The restrictions explained above had severe impacts on the relationship between Tunisia and the neighbouring European countries. First, it eliminated free access of the European market which eventually led to staggering economic growth in Tunisia. For instance, export and import volumes reduced drastically and many Tunisian companies that traded with the European countries collapsed due to loss of market access. Secondly, it reduced free movement of goods and human capital between Tunisia and the rest of neighbouring European nations. For instance, some members of the regime and opposition were banned from travelling to European countries thus straining the relations between Tunisia and ENP. Lastly, the European countries abandoned most development projects which they were undertaking in Tunisia thus leading to great economic and development downturn.

The original idea behind the revamp of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the relations was to establish democracy and the rule of law in Tunisia and other Arabic countries. Members of the European Council and the European Parliament endorsed this policy unanimously believing that by differentiating their relations with Tunisia, the country will eventually endorse principles of democracy and rule of laws in their sovereignty. However, this approach did not succeed immediately as initially planned by the ENP. Instead, it scaled up violence and demonstrations in Tunisia and worst still, it worsened the relations between Tunisian government and the neighbouring European nations10. Anti-government crusaders saw it as an opportunity to increase violence and riots so that the European nations could put more pressure on the Ben Ali’s regime to step aside which did not happen immediately.11

The European Union recognized the need to extend and toiler the ENP policy to all neighbouring countries. They justified the new policy by considering that they cannot change the geography but rather deal with all the countries within its rim in democratic manner. They wanted to demonstrate that democrats are their only best friends within the circle of their friends. However, this dream was not successful as it caused several animosities between the European neighbours and the autocratic regime government in Tunisia that saw the policy as a mechanism of depriving them of their power, sovereignty as well as authority and governance. Instead, the regime formed strong opposition against the European ideology of democracy and insisted on maintaining their power and sovereignty.

Regarding money, the revamped European Neighbourhood Policy pointed towards increasing short term money inflow in Tunisia and other Arabic countries. The policy document increased short term money inflow to Tunisia in terms of aid provision which were made possible through certain budget reallocations. They availed new funds to the country to support their development projects and reform agenda. For instance, both the MENA and the EU region increased funds by 25% in the year 2012 and 2013.12 The policy created SPRING Programme that was aimed at promoting reform, partnership as well as inclusive growth in the region. These new instruments and programmes increased funds to Tunisia and other Arabic countries affected by the revolution. The European investment bank was then allowed to lend more money to all the MENA countries affected by the revolution in order to create stability13.

This strategy of increasing funds was successful in Tunisia by increasing funds for the humanitarian needs and put interventions in the conflict. However, it was also considered unsuccessful since it increasingly heightened the relationship between the regimes and members of the European Union. Another failure was the inability to meet the expectations of the Marshal Plan. In essence, it the new European Neighbourhood Policy fell short of the Marshall Plan which it was meant to achieve. Financial assistance under the ENP 2014-2020 will amount to 15.4 billion Euros, where 2/3 will go for the neighboring countries of North Africa.14

The market liberalization also faced a number of challenges that prevented its immediate success. The initial plan of market liberalization as expressed in the European Neighbourhood Policy was to continue progress towards achieving free trade in the Arabic nations, especially the MENA member countries. To achieve this, the initial plan was designed to use a strategy of attacking non-tariff barriers and extending trade liberalizations especially in agricultural goods and services. According to Kourtelis15, the European Union argued that democracy cannot work without trade thus enhancing trade is essential in making democracy work by achieving essential economic developments. They considered trade as essential tool and platform in advancing democracy in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) nations.

Even though trade liberalization was a good approach, it was not successful in controlling the Arabic spring in Tunisia and other Arabic nations. For instance, the dismantling barriers in service and agriculture eventually faced strong opposition for the European Union itself. Because of these barriers, they proposed a long term prospect that required Tunisia to join the European Economic Area (EEA); however, this faced other challenges. For instance, the country (Tunisia) needed to develop strong regulatory and administrative framework before joining the EEA which actually did not exist at that time thus causing delay in implementation. Logically, Tunisia was not able to cope with the “acquis communautaire” thus joining the European Economic Area could not help the country deal with the problem at hand. It was not an easy for Tunisia to develop strong administrative and regulatory structures at that time because the country was facing strong revolution from the opposition16.

Another problem is that it required such countries to sacrifice their sovereignty in order to join the European internal market, which would not be politically acceptable by the MENA countries such as Tunisia. The result was an outright failure of Tunisia to join the European internal markets. Eventually the trade liberalization in Tunisia failed to achieve its initial gaols as the conflict continues. Trade liberalization was a good idea promoting democracy in Tunisia and stoping revolution but its poor structure and implementation led to failures to liberalization trade and market.

An important element of cooperation with neighboring countries is the factor of migration and mobility. (Easier travel to the EU)17 Europe wants to achieve with its neighboring countries some important objectives in the field of mobility, like the expansion of refugee protection or curbing the illegal migration.


1 Nordhausen F. Die arabische Revolution: Demokratischer Aufbruch von Tunesien bis zum Golf. p.13.

2 Marzouki K. Has life changed for Tunisia after the revolution.

3 Simon J. who are the winners and losers from the Arab Spring?

4 Youngs, R. Europe in the new Middle East: Opportunity of exclusion?. p.67.

5 European Union External Action. European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP)

6 European Commission. European Neighbourhood Policy in 2012: Continuing engagement for a stronger cooperation with neighbours despite turbulent political and economic conditions.

7 Gstohl S. & Lannon E. The European Union’s Broader Neighbourhood: Challenges and Opportunities for Cooperation Beyond the European Neighbourhood Policy. p.210.

8 Grin G. The Arab Spring and the European Neighbourhood Policy: An economic Outlook. Current Affairs in Perspective. Fondation Pierre du Bois. p.4.

9 Celata, F., & Coletti, R. Neighborhood policy and the construction of the European external borders. p.87.

10 Peters, I.. European Union's Foreign Policy in Comparative Perspective. p.135.

11 Simon J. who are the winners and losers from the Arab Spring?

12 Grin G. The Arab Spring and the European Neighbourhood Policy: An economic Outlook. Current Affairs in Perspective.

13 Haas, M. L., & Lesch, D. W. The Arab Spring: Change and resistance in the Middle East. p.89.

14 Grin G. The Arab Spring and the European Neighbourhood Policy: An economic Outlook. Current Affairs in Perspective. p.4.

15 Kourtelis, C. The political economy of Euro-Mediterranean relations: European neighborhood policy in North Africa. p.102.

16 Wetzel, A., & Orbie, J. (2015). The substance of EU democracy promotion: Concepts and cases. p.110.

17 European Union External Action. European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).

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Which impact had the Arab Spring on the relationship between Tunisia and the ENP?
The effect of the Arab Spring on Europe's neighbourhood policy
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ENP, Arab Spring, EU, Europe, Tunesien
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Dino Agovic (Author), 2016, Which impact had the Arab Spring on the relationship between Tunisia and the ENP?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/316967


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