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The EU’s Democracy Promotion and the Mediterranean Neighbors Orientation, Ownership and Dialogue in Jordan and Turkey

The EU has been involved in democracy promotion in the Mediterranean for many years. However, it is facing criticism from its members and partners for prioritizing security and stability over democracy.


The EU has been involved in democracy promotion in the Mediterranean for many years. However, it is facing criticism from its members and partners for prioritizing security and stability over democracy. Particularly following the Arab uprisings, the effectiveness of the EU’s efforts have increasingly been called into question and demands for a new approach towards democratization in the Mediterranean are growing. Ann-Kristin Jonasson’s book, The EU’s Democracy Promotion and the Mediterranean Neighbors: Orientation, Ownership and Dialogue in Jordan and Turkey, systematically evaluates the EU’s democratization efforts by focusing on democracy promotion in two Mediterranean countries, Jordan and Turkey, and effectively addresses the major pitfalls in the EU’s strategy. Therefore, it is a timely contribution as the Arab revolutions have forced us to reconsider the prospects for democratization in the region. 
The book consists of four chapters. The first chapter, which comprises an introduction to the study and a conceptual and theoretical framework, discusses the essential elements of democracy promotion. The chapter starts with a rich conceptual discussion and a thorough review of the literature on democratization based on an extensive bibliography. The theoretical framework seeks to identify the prerequisites for democracy promotion and compare them to the EU’s policies. Three distinct but interrelated concepts stand out in the conceptual and theoretical discussions: orientation, ownership and dialogue – stated in the title of the book. These constitute the three most important pillars in the analytical framework on democracy promotion. The book primarily argues that democracy promotion is likely to be successful if there is a genuine local orientation towards democracy in the partner country. Moreover, the ownership and dialogue need to be broad and encompass a wide array of actors in order to be democratic. Local actors should take the lead in the formulation and implementation of policies for democratization to take root.

Critical of the focus on the democracy promoters at the expense of partner countries in democratization studies, the author seeks to shed light on the local context, conditions and actors and emphasizes the need to develop country-specific models for democracy promotion to work. Hence, Chapter 2 and 3 present the reader with two elaborate case studies on the EU’s democracy promotion in Jordan and Turkey. Since the EU establishes relations with its southern neighbors through two programs – enlargement and the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) – launched in 2004, the author selected one country from each framework in order to analyze the extent to which the policies differ. As a political scientist, the author’s research interest in EU democracy promotion in the Mediterranean and her previous research experience and contacts in both Jordan and Turkey impacted the case selection.

By using the analytical framework set out in the first chapter, Chapter 2 and 3 competently assess the partner countries’ perceptions of the EU’s democracy promotion and the EU’s view of its relations with the partner country in question. These chapters critically examine the local orientation in EU policy, ownership of the project from the perspective of both the partner countries and the EU, and the level and scope of the dialogue between the EU and local actors based on in-depth and semi-structured interviews conducted between 2006 and 2011 with a variety of actors in Jordan, Turkey and the EU. In order to reveal the differences of opinion among the EU institutions, the author interview representatives from the three EU institutions – the Council of Ministers, the Commission and the Parliament – at the country’s desk in Brussels and its Delegation in the respective country. On the partner side, the author questioned government representatives who were directly involved in the negotiations with the EU, representatives from the main opposition party – the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan and the Republican People’s Party in Turkey – and representatives from different NGOs, as well as independent analysts and experts in both countries. Other sources of data for the book include various documents, surveys, reports and academic research from both countries and the EU. The author is successful in analyzing and presenting a large amount of data, as the clarity of her writing style makes it easy to follow the argument, even if the theoretical premises of the study are reiterated perhaps a little too often.

Jordan and Turkey may appear as odd choices for comparison. Jordan is an authoritarian state, while Turkey is a democracy with serious problems. While Turkey aspires to become a member of the EU, Jordan does not have such a prospect. The history and terms of their relationship with the EU also differ. However, despite these differences, the problems encountered in democracy promotion in both countries are very much alike and reveal the shortcomings in the EU’s approach. In the case of Jordan, a genuine orientation towards democracy is lacking, even if the Jordanian government claims otherwise. As for Turkey, despite a foundational inclination towards the EU, orientation towards EU democracy promotion is reactive and very much dependent on the EU’s attitude. As one of the core elements of the EU’s democratization efforts in both cases, conditionality takes the form of respect for the common values defined within the ENP framework and the Copenhagen criteria. Thus, in both frameworks, it is the EU that sets the criteria, while the partner governments are expected to implement the reforms, which does not augur well for local ownership. Rather than a process that involves different actors and segments of society, the EU’s democracy promotion is intergovernmental in character. Furthermore, as the research findings indicate, the limited number of NGOs that the EU works with and its funding scheme do not bode well for NGO capacity building or the NGOs’ contributions to democratization in partner countries.

After a brief assessment of the EU’s new approaches, the last chapter discusses the extent to which these approaches – the New Response for the ENP following the Arab uprisings and the Positive Agenda towards Turkey – differ from previous policies or programs. Based on a comparison of the research in both contexts, the chapter critically evaluates the deficiencies in the EU’s democracy promotion and offers a number of recommendations to correct policies.

While the negative impact of the pitfalls in democracy promotion on the local context is discussed in detail in the book, its impact on the EU and its image is not accounted for. The foundational treaties of the EU, various decisions and conclusions of the Council of Ministers, and Commission communications, reports and financial instruments – namely pre-accession assistance and development cooperation that reiterates the EU’s commitment to human rights and democracy – form the basis of the civilian power image that the EU wishes to project. Thus, problems in democracy promotion weaken the soft power that the EU wields on a regional and global scale. Furthermore, even if a full-fledged comparison is beyond the scope of the book, a more explicit comparison with the democracy promotion strategies of the U.S., as the other major promoter in the region, could have better highlighted the EU’s capabilities, potential and limitations in reaching out to pro-democracy forces. Still, the book demonstrates that democracy cannot be exported or imposed by an external power; domestic dynamics play a decisive role. External forces, considered to be authoritative and legitimate by the recipient society, could play an important role that is conducive to democratization by collaborating with local actors, supporting pro-democracy forces against authoritarian tendencies and listening to local conceptualizations of democracy.

The book will primarily appeal to students of European integration, EU Neighborhood Policy and enlargement studies. It will also be of interest to those involved in democracy studies, comparative politics and regional studies as well as student of political science and IR, even those not well-versed with the European integration studies. The book might be particularly appealing for readers interested in Turkish-EU relations.especially at a time when the EU’s impact on the reform process in Turkey is growing weaker and the prospects for membership look bleak at best


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