The Al-Asads and the dog that did not bark. EU Democracy Promotion in the Middle East - The case of Syria

Seminar Paper, 2005

33 Pages, Grade: A


Table of Content

I.) Introduction

II.) Opening Theoretical Remarks

III.) Democracy Promotion as a EU Foreign Policy Objective

IV.) The European Union and the Middle East – Relations in the Framework of the Barcelona-Process
a.) Genesis and historical Foundations
b.) Content and Objectives
c.) Democracy Promotion and the Political Dimension – Results and Shortcomings

V.) Case Study: Syria
a.) Overview
b.) Syria-EU Relations
c.) EMP and Democracy Promotions – The Experience with Syria

VI.) Concluding Remarks

If Europe [...] can demonstrate that civil relations between already friendly states can actually be extended into the realm of relations between the suspicious, the adversarial, or the merely different, then it will have performed a profound service for the community of mankind”.[1]

“It would be naive, unrealistic and damaging to suggest that the EU should take on the objective of ‘exporting’ democracy to the South. Yet political instability and many of the security risks emanating from the region are linked to the endurance of regimes which fall far short of observing the most basic democratic standards. (…) It is obvious; however, that European-styled democracy cannot blossom overnight in Mediterranean states that have little in the way of democratic tradition.”[2]

I.) Introduction

The crucial geo-strategic importance of the Mediterranean Region for the states in the European Union (EU) became once again very clear with the international de­velopments after the 9/11 attacks and the following and ongoing so-called “war on terror”. One could enumerate the main big security and political challenges in the Middle East with issues such as religious radicalism, continuing state conflicts, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), growing migration pressure towards European states and political systems between the poles of autocracy and instability. These characteristics, perceived as threats to Europe’s own welfare and security interests, are likely ascribed to the region’s distinctive persistence to the gradually accumulating “third wave” of democratization and are linked to the lack of basic democratic structures and human rights there.

However, these circum­stances raise serious question for Europe’s Mediterranean Policies. Since the Barcelona-Conference of 1995, the Union’s institutionalized response to the destabi­lizing tendencies in the Middle East is the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP). According to its, at least formulated, holistic approach to the existing problems in the region, the promotion of democracy is an essential part of it. This follows the wider EU Foreign policy goals, since democracy promotion is, amongst other objectives like economic interests, a centrepiece of it. Recent documents by the Commission, for instance the New Neighbourhood Policy, stressed the significant role of norms and values like democracy, the rule of law and strengthening of human rights out again. This does not necessarily imply any form of altruism, as we will see later, but is, at least to some extent on a theoreti­cal level, simply due to a traditional understanding of foreign policy, namely “to change what others do”.

Nonetheless, it is questionable to what extent this policy is in fact influential. For many observers it is a clear-cut, that the well-known structural and practical deficits of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), but also the divergent interests between the EU and its partners in the Mediterranean impede a greater progress in the political dimension. This research paper takes up this discussion and examines the actual impact that EU democratization policy on processes towards political liberalization and system opening has, especially in the context of the EMP framework. Therefore, we will particularly discuss the politi­cal dimension of the Barcelona-Process and for a further detailed look; it will in­clude a case study as well. The paper will analyze neither the EMP as a whole nor the European Policy regarding the Middle Eastern states in general. Likewise, the principal compatibility of Islam and democracy will not be the subject of the dis­cussions. Instead of this, this paper focuses on the question whether or not there is a certain and decisive influence of Euro­pean Policy on the supposed democratization processes in the Middle East.

Before going into empirical problems, we shall narrow down our theoretical basis to have a framework for later assessments. Therefore, this paper will start with some theoretical remarks. In a second step, the spread of democracy as an EU Foreign Policy objective will be briefly recapitulated. This means to sum up the major developments and out­lines of democracy promotion policy in the past. A third chap­ter takes stock of the Barcelona-Process up to now. To clarify the above-mentioned question sufficiently, it is indispensable to see the discussed cir­cumstances in their historical context. Therefore, the paper will illustrate the gene­sis of the Barcelona-Process, before going deeper into the structure and the actual content of it. With respect to the shortcomings and un­derlying problems of the EMP, the next section will start to evaluate the achieved re­sults in the political dimension and its current state as well.

Among the states in the Mediterranean, Syria had always a role of a country lagging behind. We could see less cooperation with European agencies, a higher inclination of cut itself off from political developments and much involvement in the intraregional conflicts. As one of the most crucial countries in the region, Syria will serve as a case study in chapter four. Two reasons should explain why Syria could serve as model while examining democratisations processes in the Middle East. Compared to other states in the Middle East, Syria shows fewer tendencies to an opening towards cooperation with different external actors and is still immune against political liberalization processes that, albeit on a lower level, take place elsewhere. Therefore, an analysis of Syria shows how effective the EU can deal with ‘difficult’ cases. Secondly, Syria has relatively little experience with external interference and thus a preoccupation with the relation can help to under­stand if and how the EU finds access to those political systems and societies. A last chapter is reserved for a summary, some concluding remarks and, as far as possible, a brief look on the as­sumed prospects.

II.) Opening Theoretical Remarks

There is very much disagreement between ‘western’ democracy promoters and the state agencies and social fabrics in aidrecipient countries about how basic terms like democracy or human rights should be defined. Frequent, it is just a rhetori­cal phrase to use the, in principle, overall respected expressions. Even re­pressive states are paying lip service to the democratic ideal. The whereabouts of democ­racy as the only strong value system worldwide left not much precision about where to draw the line between democracies and the ‘others’.[3] Many of the practi­cal problems of democracy support are caused by this great level of vagueness and unspoken assumptions in politics and the concerned literature.

Democracy is both, a descriptive label and a desirable value and each of it without much-unquestioned conceptual boundaries and to a high degree context-dependent.[4] What makes the essence of a democratic political system is very much disputed and the term itself is subject of various notional battles, especially between theorists who emphasize the institutional components and those who take more attention of the egalitarian components.[5] The (famous) characterization by Robert Dahl containing seven procedural conditions represents at least a minimal definition of what the debates are all about but a point of reference for later em­pirical assessment.[6]

If democracy itself is not viewed as a sharp outlined concept, democratization as a notion contains the same difficulties. Generally spoken democratization is understood as the process of the formation or deepening of democracy and, how­ever, rather as a complex, long-term, dynamic and openended process than a lin­ear development.[7] While one strand of the discussion revolves around these divid­ing lines between different understandings of the democratic concept, another set of questions relates to the implementation of democracy and in which way it is best structured and sustained in non-democratic states.[8] Is a controlled transformation from above (top-down) or gradual change from within the society (bottom-up) preferable? Further, the question arises which role external players have. In short, it is widely accepted that “democrati­zation will have to be worked out in each country by the people of that country. But [that] there is often considerable space for positive influence from the outside [as well].”[9] Various countries fol­lowed this path by using just this space to influ­ence transformations in other states, whether direct or indirect. From the Wood­row Wilson declaration in 1918 on, the attempt to form others political structures had a, albeit weak and narrowly defined, normative connotation.

In its principle, to form political structures of others, democracy promotion is not new phenomenon. From the historical perspective one can see, that political systems always tried to establish or support political orders around them which were corresponding or at least alike to them.[10] This originates from the conviction, that states can easier cooperate with partners with whom a country shares a maximum of norms, values and procedures. However, the main underlying assumption is about security concerns. Democracies are widely seen to be less involved in in­ternational conflicts, more open for negotiated solutions, and more embedded in mutually constraining economic interdependencies.[11] Analogues to the Kantian ‘De­mocratic Peace’ theory, according to which democracies do not go to war with each others, it is a self-evident implication that spreading democracy is a means of lowering the probability of violent confrontations between state actors in the international system.[12] These inter-linkages shall form an environment where when a dispute arises between democratic countries, their common ideals and relatively similar open political institutions predispose the parties to negotiate rather than using force.[13] Most recently, it is agreed that the greatest danger radiates from non-democratic states respectively that those are providing a better breeding ground for non-conventional threat scenarios like proliferation, drug- and body trade or terrorism. However, for many decades every policy was restricted from being under the banner of the Cold War and its ideological determination.

III.) Democracy Promotion as a EU Foreign Policy Objective

In the beginning of the 1990s, democracy promotion in the sense of active support to political liberalization and democratic consolidation processes gained increasingly importance.[14] With the end of the Cold War, the overall dominance of the for­mer dichotomies had lost its power and opened the way for broader efforts to promote and support democratic systems. In the light of the determining modernization theories at that time before, a decidedly support of democracy was not nec­essarily consistent, since the assumed preconditions for a political change, such as culture aspects and economic prosperity, were not seen as granted.[15] Therefore, external factors were not of significant importance. The beginning democracy promotion was then rather a reaction to the ‘Third Wave’ of democra­tization than an original development policy motivated programme.[16] However, the end of the bipolar world order brought a change for the foreign policy agendas in the world’s capitals. The changed international security framework underlined the need and the possibility for a new approach to regional policies, which could take into account non-military threats and soft security issues like immi­gration con­cerns.[17]

Democracy promotion became thus established as a main objective within the development strategies on the level of individual states like the United States or Germany and of international organization such as UN or the World Bank. Of course, the EU is not excluded from this list. On the contrary, the EU has been one of the first states or actors like international organization to write human rights, democracy, and the rule of law into its written catalogue of norms to spread as well as in its agreements with external partners.[18] Today, the EU has a wide-ranging programme for democracy promotion in place governing all its external relations with third countries and this is backed up by substantial monetary and per­sonal re­sources. Together with the foreign aid of individual member states, the EU is responsible for more than 55 percent of all financial aid to so-called developing countries worldwide and even just the funds managed by the EU Commission representing 12 percent of the global aid.[19]

These efforts are to a high degree related to the self-definition of the European Union as a community of values and are influenced by the long history of European integration and this became once again all too clear in recently published documents.[20] In the European experience democratization and stability were firstly perceived as being integrally linked to economic modernization and were secondly seen as a result of the ever-closer co-operation among European states in common institutions. From this point of view, it is understandable that “(the) goal of democracy promotion is enshrined in the EU treaties since the early 1990s and has been formulated in the 1999 Regulations on Democracy and Human Rights in a comprehensive fashion.”[21] According to the Constitutional Treaty, the EU is, amongst other principles, founded on freedom, democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights. More remarkable, it appears at prominent position as a general objective of the Union, that the EU “shall uphold and promote its values and interests” in its relations with the wider world.[22] Further, it demands that the “Union’s actions on the international scene shall be guided by the principles which inspired its own creation, development and enlargement, and which it seeks to advance in the wider world: democracy, the rule of law, the universality and in­divisibility of human rights and fundamental freedoms, (…), and international law”.[23] Since the very beginning of a common foreign and security policy one can identify a gradually increasing importance of the broad normative basis of the EU in its relations with third countries.[24]

However, until the end of the 1980s, EU development policy remained rela­tively apolitical, preferring to offer privileged trade opportunities and financial aid to former colonies of member states or other developing countries. Thus, these cooperations dealt mainly with economic issues and paid very little attention to democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Certainly, in these documents were different political considerations announced but without any form of sanctions in cases of non-obedience to these norms. Nevertheless, political conditionality was gradually incorporated into these association and cooperation contracts between the EU and different third countries.[25] The Lomé IV agreement with the ACP coun­tries in 1989 was the first multilateral example, which integrated provisions on democracy, human rights and the rule of law as well as, albeit not specified, measures for violation cases. Even if there is a considerable discrepancy between the EU foreign policy actions on the one hand and the articulated policy axioms, there is nonetheless an admitted tendency towards a coherent scheme. Today all agreements with third countries contain clauses concerning democracy issues in­cluding the possible application of suspension or sanctions. Moreover, there is a comprehensive strategy in place regarding dissimilar types of states such as accession candidates, the ‘circle of friends’ in the direct neighbourhood without a membership perspective, as well as the ACP countries, Latin America, and Asia with a range of diverse instruments. Usually, three different kinds of instruments are employed. First, there are ‘political dialogues’ concentrating on persuasive and learning processes. Secondly, with political conditionality the EU tries to de­termine the cost-benefit calculations of regimes by applying positive or negative measures to them. Thirdly, the various programmes for capacity building among the society and political elites, for instance with NGOs or state agencies, in order to institutionalize democracy and human rights are worth mentioning.[26]

Nevertheless, the mere existence of a democracy promotion policy does not necessarily mean that there is a decisive impact on actual political dynamics in re­cipient countries. The EU is frequently accused to stick to ‘double standards’, therefore to treat the same inadequacies differently. Furthermore, many critics reproach the EU of having other motivations like economic interests, hegemony aspirations or concerns like mass immigration and energy security behind the official agenda.[27] Even though this circumstance shall not be denied at this point, there is only little sign to assume any form of altruism as an obligatory requirement for en­forcing values and assisting democratization processes.

As a nearby region of the EU and with strong historical ties, the Middle East faced the developing and changing democracy promotion policy of the EU in a distinctly way. The next chapter will recapitulate this from a regional perspective.


[1] Hill, 1990, p. 55.

[2] Balfour, 2004, S. 28.

[3] McMaul, 2004, p. 6. See also Fukuyamas well-known proclamation of the ‘End of History’ in 1992.

[4] Whitehead, 2002, p. 7

[5] Rothstein, 1995, p. 65 f.

[6] For that reason, I will use this definition as a working definition in the paper. In particular Dahl named the following conditions: 1. Government Control; 2. Frequent and fair elections; 3. Voting rights, practically for all adults; 4. Practical all adults have the right to run for elective officials; 5. Right to express themselves without danger of punishment; 6. Alternative information sources exist and are protected by law; 7. Citizens have the right to form associations, organisations, including those with political meanings. See Dahl, (1971, 1989).

[7] Whitehead, 2002, p. 27

[8] Youngs, 2001, p. 14

[9] Carothers, 1997, p. 16

[10] Schmitter/Brouwer, 1999, p. 4

[11] Youngs, 2002, p. 4

[12] Youngs, 2001, p. 11

[13] Kegly/Hermann, 2002, p. 17

[14] Spanger/Wolff, 2003, p. 6

[15] Emerson/Noutcheva, 2004, p. 2 and Youngs, 2001, p. 3 f. The list of influential modernization theory writers is long. This strand of political sciences originated from the works of Lipset, Seymour,1960; Almond, Gabriel/Verba, Sydney, 1963; Huntington, Samuel P., 1968; let alone fundamental works such as Max Weber’s ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ (1930).

[16] In his famous analysis of the ‘Third Wave’ of democratization, Huntington explicitly disregarded a potential role of external players. However, he can be viewed as just one outstanding example for a strand of theorist at that time. See Huntington, 1991.

[17] Olsen, 2002, p. 132

[18] Börzel/Risse, 2004, p. 1.

[19] Börzel/Risse, 2004, p. 1-2

[20] For an overview on values in the EU’s external relations, see Cremona, 2004.

[21] Börzel/Risse, 2004, p. 26

[22] TCE, Art. I-3, (2) and (4).

[23] TCE, Art. III-292, (1).

[24] Manners, 2002, p. 242

[25] For an overview on Political Conditionality in EU’s external relations, see Smith, 1998 and Schmid, 2003.

[26] Börzel/Risse, 2004, p. 26

[27] For instance, Youngs (2001, 2002 and 2003) holds a very critical standpoint to EU democratization policies.

Excerpt out of 33 pages


The Al-Asads and the dog that did not bark. EU Democracy Promotion in the Middle East - The case of Syria
Sabancı University
Middle East Politics and Governance
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
624 KB
Al-Asads, Democracy, Promotion, Middle, East, Syria, Middle, East, Politics, Governance
Quote paper
Timo Rahmann (Author), 2005, The Al-Asads and the dog that did not bark. EU Democracy Promotion in the Middle East - The case of Syria, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: The Al-Asads and the dog that did not bark. EU Democracy Promotion in the Middle East - The case of Syria

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free