‘Struggling transitions’ at Europe’s borders

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The EU’s influence on its greater neighbourhood – from Eastern Europe to Central Asia and North Africa – is fading in some places but offers under-utilised potential in others, according to Richard Youngs, research director at a Spanish think-tank, who presented a new study this week in Brussels.

“In the last five years, there has been a virulent intellectual debate about the backlash against democracy,” said Youngs, who presented his publication, ‘Democracy’s plight in the European Neighbourhood’, in Brussels on Wednesday (20 January).

Georgia and Ukraine, he said, have all voiced their EU ambitions, representing a success for Europe’s proclaimed objective to spread democracy beyond its borders (EURACTIV 15/01/10).

But “the EU’s unwillingness to extend official membership perspectives dampens the incentive for democratic reforms,” he argued.

Youngs, a researcher at the Spanish Foundation for International Relations and external dialogue (FRIDE), gathered – along with Michael Emerson of the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) – contributions from political analysts in 15 different countries in the EU’s neighbourhood.

Presenting his results at Brussels-based think-tank CEPS, he said the EU “suffers from acute problems of reconciling its enlargement and deepening with democratic legitimacy”.

As a result, “very different things are happening at different places of the European neighbourhood,” he noted.

“Our study distinguished two clusters of countries,” said Emerson, senior fellow and Head of the Neighbourhood Policy Unit at CEPS.

Some of the EU’s near neighbours – the Balkan states, Turkey, Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia and Moldova – are seen as “struggling transitions” that are still aiming for the European model of democracy, according to Emerson and Youngs’ research.

The same is true for Romania and Bulgaria, the two analysts added, despite the fact that they joined the EU in 2007.

“In these countries, democracy is alive,” Emerson said. He insisted on last week’s Ukrainian elections, which he said were “clean for the first time, unlike five years ago” (EURACTIV 15/01/10).

“In spite of chaotic governments, democracy has been taking place in these countries since the disappointing ‘colour revolutions’,” he commented, saying it offered encouraging signs.

The second cluster gathers Russia, the states of Central Asia (Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan), Belarus and North African countries, where “there is a contrary trend of ‘proliferating dynasties’,” Emerson said.

“It remains for the European policymaker to draw conclusions for democracy promotion strategies,” he said, underlining that EU neighbourhood policies do not really fit with his categorisation.

“For the authoritarian states without a European perspective, there may well be a long period ahead when a brand of ‘neo-enlightenment’ may be the most plausible scenario,” the CEPS researcher said. 

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) aims to forge closer ties with countries to the south and east of the EU without offering them a membership perspective.

Through this policy, the EU seeks to promote greater economic development, stability and better governance in its neighbourhood.

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