The EU and democracy promotion

by Henry on February 3, 2005

I meant to blog a couple of weeks ago about the EU’s decision to end sanctions against Cuba and accede to a Cuban government veto on invitations of opposition figures to Embassy parties. Now I see via Jim Lindgren that Vaclav Havel has condemned the EU’s action. Quite right too – but unfortunately the EU seems to have gone rather cool on democracy promotion across at least three fronts at once. In addition to Cuba, there’s the EU’s relationship with Iran. Here, the EU has effectively sidelined demands for greater democracy in favour of concentrating on the nuclear security issue. In its relations with China, the EU is abandoning the post-Tianamen arms embargo for no better apparent reason than to boost trade, and make nice with a rising power. Of course, it’s still interested in democracy promotion in its own back yard (various bits of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region), where it has a clear selfish interest in stabilizing wobbly governments, slowing down immigration flows etc.

It seems to me that there are three plausible explanations of what’s going on.

(1) Pure coincidence. It could be that this is just a random conjunction of three unrelated events. In favour of this theory – the changes in policy are being pushed by different coalitions of states within the EU. Spain has been pushing the change in Cuba policy, France the change in China policy, and a troika of France, Germany and the UK (with the tacit support of most other EU states) have been reshaping Iran policy. But still, it seems a little odd that these different policies would all change in the same direction within a relatively short period of time.

(2) A sea-change in the EU’s raison d’etre. A large part of the EU’s self-image is bound up in the idea that it represents an alternative order to the wars that ravaged mainland Europe in the first half of the last century, which is based on mutual coexistence and the spread of democratic norms. Critics like Robert Kagan have been telling the EU for a long while that it needs to wake up, and realize that it’s been leading a sheltered existence – its model depended on a unique set of historical circumstances. Maybe the EU is beginning to smell the coffee.

(3) A variant of old fashioned balancing. The EU (and its constituent states) are pushing back against US dominance, by (a) seeking new friends which give it new options vis-a-vis the US, and (b) demonstrating in the process that it isn’t to be taken for granted by the hegemonic power. As a side-effect, this means that the EU is less inclined to push for democracy, except where it’s demonstrably in its own self-interest to do so (i.e. around its own borders, or where it’s not liable to annoy potential friends).

My personal inclination is to plump for (3) as the most likely explanation of what’s going on. Which is personally disappointing for those, like me, who’d like to see the EU to continue to work seriously to promote democracy (it actually did pretty good work in Cuba back in the day). But the other two possible explanations have some merit too (as I’m sure do others that I haven’t thought of).

Update: Quentin Peel has an interesting article on EU policy toward China today (sub. required) – he seems to plump for a mixture of 1 and 3, with 1 dominating.

{ 28 comments }

1

ogmb 02.03.05 at 5:54 am

Or

(4) The late but necessary realization that embargoes only isolate the population and entrench ruling dictators?

2

Henry 02.03.05 at 5:59 am

I’m actually less concerned about the end of the embargo than the cessation of quasi-official relations with dissidents. The EU had done a pretty good job in creating ties with them, providing them with various sorts of unofficial support, and making it a little more difficult for the Cuban government to imprison them. The EU’s decision effectively to allow the Cuban government to veto who attends Embassy parties is a clear step backwards.

3

ogmb 02.03.05 at 6:22 am

Well if you look at the uncomfortable history West Germany had with its socialist twin, with the many occasions where hardliners (rightfully?) accused the Bundesregierung of pandering to the SED regime, you might find a blueprint for the current course of action of the EU. Clearly it is meant as an alternative to the U.S. schoolyard bully variety of regime change. But there was a reason why the Eastern Bloc regimes toppled from West to East.

4

Jon 02.03.05 at 6:23 am

The growing strategic divergence between the U.S. and the EU over a range of issues is key to a couple of pieces I posted recently (links below). And while the U.S. is completely preoccupied with Iraq, the EU discussion over Cuba (among other issues) goes largely unnoticed in America.

From “On the Wrong Side of History”

Once in a rare while, tectonic historical change occurs with the span of only few days. The dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall heralding the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, was one of those watershed moments. And for many Americans, the events of the last 10 days of January, with the Rice confirmation, the Bush second inaugural, and the Iraqi elections, represent a democratic tide sweeping the Middle East, a sea change the whole world is watching.

Sometimes, though, dramatic changes in the global balance of power and riches slip by almost without notice. And for the United States, the signs of silent upheaval come not from Iraq and the terror threat of radical Islam. Instead, while all eyes here were focused on Iraq, other January developments in Europe and China may augur more dramatic change and a more difficult future for American global leadership…

For more, see:

– “On the Wrong Side of History”

For more background on the changing global landscape and myopic Bush foreign policy, see:

– “The End of the Unilateral Moment: Five Global Challenges for a New American Internationalism”

5

Jon 02.03.05 at 6:25 am

The growing strategic divergence between the U.S. and the EU over a range of issues is key to a couple of pieces I posted recently (links below). And while the U.S. is completely preoccupied with Iraq, the EU discussion over Cuba (among other issues) goes largely unnoticed in America.

From “On the Wrong Side of History”

Once in a rare while, tectonic historical change occurs with the span of only few days. The dramatic fall of the Berlin Wall heralding the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, was one of those watershed moments. And for many Americans, the events of the last 10 days of January, with the Rice confirmation, the Bush second inaugural, and the Iraqi elections, represent a democratic tide sweeping the Middle East, a sea change the whole world is watching.

Sometimes, though, dramatic changes in the global balance of power and riches slip by almost without notice. And for the United States, the signs of silent upheaval come not from Iraq and the terror threat of radical Islam. Instead, while all eyes here were focused on Iraq, other January developments in Europe and China may augur more dramatic change and a more difficult future for American global leadership…

For more, see:

– “On the Wrong Side of History”

For more background on the changing global landscape and myopic Bush foreign policy, see:

– “The End of the Unilateral Moment: Five Global Challenges for a New American Internationalism”

6

JackM 02.03.05 at 6:59 am

Are numbers two and three really separate? Three is being loudly pushed for political gain and international leverage, but two seems to be the more quiet and long-term restructuring.

7

Sebastian Holsclaw 02.03.05 at 7:22 am

“Here, the EU has effectively sidelined demands for greater democracy in favour of concentrating on the nuclear security issue.”

The saddest thing about this explanation is that their concentration on the nuclear security issue isn’t likely to gain them anything concrete. So in all likelyhood they are trading democracy promotion in Iran away for nothing in return.

8

abb1 02.03.05 at 8:03 am

There is no such thing as ‘democracy’.

Why don’t you start promoting ending repressive regime in the country with the highest rate of incarceration in the world, for a change?

9

Matthew 02.03.05 at 8:13 am

“It’s still interested in democracy promotion […] where it has a clear selfish interest”

Just like the US, it is simply playing the realpolitik superpower game. The rest is all rethoric.

10

Jack Lecou 02.03.05 at 8:23 am

Gosh, perhaps feelings such as these might have something to do with it?

11

Austroblogger 02.03.05 at 9:36 am

Now we’re cooking.

I wonder sometimes if the EU as an institution is capable of actually formulating a coherent strategic policy. If one looks at how power within the union is divided, at the process of nominating the commissioners, with whom the power there is actually resides, then it becomes apparant that stable policy making (this includes interal affairs) is a VERY difficult proposition. This is one of the many reasons why a collective wish within the EU that proposition 3 be true, flounders on internal political reality.

That said. I personally believe very strongly that proposition 3 needs to become true as tempered by proposition 2.

It is true. The EU was formed on a set of ideas made feasible by unique historical conditions. These no longer pertain. European thankfulness for American support and protection in the past cannot mean that we sell our political and ethical soul and suborne our convictions (assumption here is that there IS a collective conviction) to US Policy for all time.

As to the mantra “Democracy:” The external ENFORCEMENT of democracy at high speed produces some very undesireable effects. I can remember the elections forced on Bosnia in the very early 90s. They were lauded at the time as being fair according to international standards. That the result was a 3 way split of equal proportions leading to precisely the situation that was feared does seem to have been forgotten. This cannot mean that one must forgoe the principle that those whom we call our friends must allow their people freedom and guarantee their basic rights. It is a question of method though. And therein lies the rub.
America has never been shy of propping dictators up it the democratic movements in those lands affected show signs of an ideology contrary to current ideological take of the incumbent administration.

So yes the EU does need to wake up, reform itself, set out a coherent policy based on priciple and thus create a strong but friendly counterweight to some of the more questionable certainties of US Foreign policy.

Good Post – I enjoyed it alot.

12

rd 02.03.05 at 9:39 am

I’m not sure I see the “balancing US power” payoff to hobnobbing with Castro, largely a spent force except for imprisoning his own people. And a real balancer against the US, a la Ken Waltz, would *encourage* Iran to be a nuclear power, not sacrifice democracy promotiont to try to stop it. I would say option 4, narrow economic self-interest, is the common denominator, leavened with a genuine security fear about “crazy mullahs with nukes” in the case of Iran. The EU has long been mostly about getting paid.

13

Maynard Handley 02.03.05 at 10:22 am

As a purely empirical matter, it would seem to me (I welcome corrections) that the path of “authoritarian regime creates a middle class followed by democracy” has been rather more successful than the path of “create a democracy in some god-forsaken civic wasteland”.
Assuming this is the case, it is not to me immediately clear that this is a bad thing. It would seem that authoritarian regimes that are not too horrible (Malaysia or Indonesia) should perhaps be kept in place and worked with.
Now this doesn’t solve the problem of what to do with authoritarian regimes that either are horrible (Burma, North Korea) or apparently incompetent at or uninterested in creating a middle class (Cuba, Iran). China is a controversial case — apparently sincerely interested in creating a middle class, many will consider it on the horrible side of authoritarian regimes while others will consider what it is doing as what has to be done to keep the country moving forward while not flying apart.

I think in judging the EU’s actions, one should bear in mind first my empirical point; and second that the alternative to a bad ruler, in many societies, is not a good ruler but the chaos and bloodshed of large parts of Africa. Thus it seems to me that the best thing the EU can do in most places is to do what it can to hasten the rise of the middle class, and poorly targetted sanctions do not do much towards that end. The fact of the matter is that the fate of Iran and China are in the hands of their citizens, both of whom have suffered immensely from foreign meddling, and it takes a singularly confident mind to be sure that this time round the meddling would be to everyone’s benefit and would have the hoped-for consequences.

The most disturbing item on the list, to me, is the item about dissidents in Cuba, but realistically, how much of that is purely posturing? I imagine these people will still speak to the people they used to speak to, they just won’t exchange meaningless pleasantries in public. I suspect that, in return for a pretty useless concession that makes Castro look good to some locals, the EU achieved some, probably not to be publicized concession with more important consequences.

Yes this is rather panglossian, but as I have now said twice, look at empirical history. All the wishing in the world appears unable to create a civil society from certain situations.

14

Austroblogger 02.03.05 at 11:38 am

As a matter of interest, the piece in this morning’s german language “Die Presse” stated that the EU foreign minister simultaneously voted to strengthen contacts with opposition groups….

15

Abiola Lapite 02.03.05 at 11:55 am

“in many societies, is not a good ruler but the chaos and bloodshed of large parts of Africa. Thus it seems to me that the best thing the EU can do in most places is to do what it can to hasten the rise of the middle class”

And how exactly does tolerating rulers like Sani Abacha, Mobutu Sese Seko or Robert Mugabe help to foster the rise of a middle class?

16

markus 02.03.05 at 12:54 pm

mostly what Maynard Handley said.
In Germany the concept is sold as “change by approach” (as opposed to “change by opposition”), born from the realisation that carrots and sticks work best if you are on somewhat friendly terms with the one they are applied to.
A hostile regime will not appreciate small diplomatic guestures, you can more or less only threaten sanctions or war. If a tyrant has given up all hope of earning some international respect, he’s unlikely to agree to small reforms in exchange for a little more recognition.
That said, the concept is of course dubious and economic self-interest obviously plays a role in all foreign policy. Right now I think it might work well if the US continues to play the bad cop to Europe’s good cop, though I hasten to add that while I believe the US has that role by (Bush’s) choice it is of course not a usefull long-term strategy to loose goodwill towards the US in exchange for goodwill towards the EU and thus have the US pick up the bill and at the very least the important role of the “bad cop” in the grand scheme of things is underappreciated and underacknowledged.

17

Doug 02.03.05 at 1:39 pm

Except that Annäherung may well have lent more apparent legitimacy to Honnecker &Co than was necessary. The communist regimes did not fall West to East back in 1989. Poland’s change came well before the GDR’s.

An EU that is ignoring Havel on how to deal with dissidents and repressive regimes is an EU that is not using its resources effectively.

I’m going to plump for (1), based on the view of EU policy being generally the policy of the most interested member state. There are rare exceptions where the CFSP actually is common. Generally, however, policy is driven by either a single member state or a small coalition of member states. Thus Adamkus and Kwasniewski in Kiev. Thus earlier Denmark, Sweden and Finland taking the lead on Baltic integration. Examples multiply.

EU policy on democracy promotion, such as it is, does not seem strong enough to trump commercial interests (French arms to China) or old imperial prestige questions (Spain on Cuba), let alone common security questions (Iran).

Iran does seem an example of a common foreign policy (though not one run out of Solana’s office), but one where the long-term security of a democratic Iran is subordinated to the hoped-for short- and medium-term gains of a non-nuclear Iran.

Keeping 1940s technology away from 21st century states is not an easy task, and there are certainly valid disagreements on how to go about it.

Explanation (1) is also more parsimonious from the point of view of people making day-to-day decisions in the EU governments, and in Brussels. Changing the raison d’etre and balancing the US are both second-order items; that is, neither can be done directly. On the other hand, putting sales above human rights in China relations can be done directly. Any larger effects come inductively. Unless and until someone can ride herd on what the small initiatives add up to, (2) and (3) remain unlikely as conscious effects. The national governments by definition can’t do this, and I don’t think that Solana’s office has the resources or the clout to do it. (Not that foreign policy incoherence is a problem unique to the EU.)

18

Luc 02.03.05 at 2:19 pm

(4) a continuation of current policies.

The EU hardly ever uses a confrontational style in international relations.

With the exception of economic issues, the EU hasn’t even got the political tools for it.

Boycotts can be useful to achieve certain political goals, but to sell them as democracy promotion is overstating it more than just a little.

If the target is democracy promotion, then the only credible option is maintaining relations with a country. If the target is a specific cause, like the treatment of protestors, or dissidents, yes then a boycott of some sorts can have an effect. But that effect has largely faded in the China and Cuba case.

Thus, if one assumes that boycotts of all sorts are not effective tools in democracy promotion, the EU policy almost explains itself.

This is not to state that selling arms to China, not inviting Cuban dissidents, or negotiating with Iran over nuclear issues is democracy promotion. It isn’t.

19

remi 02.03.05 at 3:21 pm

Boycotts do not work. They just lend more legitimacy current governement and help the rise of nastionalitic sentiment among the population.
Avoiding official contact is good, let trade do the job.
Its a medium term solution for sure. Embargo are offective but only over the very long term.

The only reason we have embargo on Cuba is for internal policies. Cuban vote in florida is important. But we can’t push it too hard. Look at the backflash that happened after the most stupid stringent where put in place last year.

20

Henry 02.03.05 at 4:04 pm

bq. the many occasions where hardliners (rightfully?) accused the Bundesregierung of pandering to the SED regime

ogmb – I’m not sure if I agree with your analogy here. As far as I can tell, you’re arguing that the Ostpolitik worked in helping to topple C.E. Europe Communist regimes – I’m absolutely in agreement. But the Ostpolitik had a quite specific political rationale, and was aimed at promoting democracy, even if it did so softly-softly. I’m not sure that some of the current policies (viz. China, Iran) have any such aim.

If the foreign ministers may be backing down on Cuba, this is very good news (and almost certainly in part attributable to Havel).

21

Antoni Jaume 02.03.05 at 4:39 pm

“[…] old imperial prestige questions (Spain on Cuba)[…]”

is a silly sentence. Spaniards care about Cuba for very personal motives, since a lot still have family living there.

DSW

22

John Davies 02.03.05 at 5:25 pm

(5) They know that the US is going to do all the hard work and prefer to sit on their hands and criticize from the sidelines.

23

abb1 02.03.05 at 5:36 pm

God, this is so silly. None of this has anthing to do with any ‘democracy promotion’ or any human rights, especially the West trying to pull down the Soviet empire. How can anyone take this crap seriously? NGOs can promote democracy and human rights abroad, not national governments; never, it’s just crazy talk…

24

Tracy 02.03.05 at 7:38 pm

I go for (1). Why on earth do people expect democratic countries to have a consistent government policy (or goals, or whatever) across a number of different areas? One of the main points of democracy is to stop one person being able to get their way all the time. Instead we have a bunch of people who get some of their way some of the time. And a lot of trading going on – “I’ll vote for your pet project if you vote for mine” – “Okay, let’s split the difference and get the Budget passed sometime this year” – “well, doing policy y does conflict with policy x, but it does mean that we’ll get Kelly’s support on policy z”.

It’s hard enough for one person to be consistent, let alone a whole government. And let’s face it, the most fervent supporters of the EU would not call it a structure designed with the sole purpose of allowing one strong man to impose his view on the whole continent.

25

ws1 02.03.05 at 8:08 pm

abb1 is absolutely right. Can anybody say with a straight face that the US interventions around the world since 1898, and especially since 1945, have been to promote “democracy”in these places? It is national security, or national interest that has driven all these wars America fought, and all the regimes that America installed. Although some of these countries did become (or from the begining have been) democracies, that was never the objective of the wars. The US has never hesitated in toppling a democratically elected government just because it was a democracy. The increasingly loud noise about promoting democracy (actually it is not even democracy, it’s “freedom” as defined by the US and the US alone)was a very recent thing: much later than the invation of Iraq: after the original pretext of WMD blew up, and after no connection was found between Iraq and bin Laden. I am not saying the US can’t approach international affairs with only its own interest in sight. Quite the opposite, it has every right to choose its tools (or weapons) to deal with other countries. But that’s exactly what the EU is doing with Cuba, Iran, and China: based on its own interest. I don’t undersatnd why the EU has to take the same approach as the US to promote its own interest, as long as national (or regional) interest is the motive. In the end, whether Cuba (or Iran or China or Chile) has a democratically elected government is a much weaker predictor of US policy toward the country than whether it has a government that’s frendly to the US. Just look at the recent and close-to-home examples of Braizil and Venezuela.

26

Maynard Handley 02.03.05 at 8:34 pm

“in many societies, is not a good ruler but the chaos and bloodshed of large parts of Africa. Thus it seems to me that the best thing the EU can do in most places is to do what it can to hasten the rise of the middle class”


And how exactly does tolerating rulers like Sani Abacha, Mobutu Sese Seko or Robert Mugabe help to foster the rise of a middle class?

And what would you have them do instead? Yes, all options suck. That doesn’t change the fact that there’s no obvious reason to believe that aggressive opposition would have improved things. Mobutu Sese Seko is gone and Zaire/Congo is not obviously better off now. Sani Abacha is gone and while Nigeria is better off, the change is not particularly dramatic.

So let’s consider Robert Mugabe — what do you want the EU to do? Perhaps, if the EU were South Africa they could shut off his power. Perhaps the EU could declare him, his ministers and their wives personae non gratae and have them all buying their goodies in Asia rather than Paris. But beyond that, the simple fact is that if one doesn’t want to get involved with real violence — arming the opposition by dropping weapons in western Mozambique, one doesn’t have much power over nasty regimes.

27

giles 02.03.05 at 10:59 pm

5) The EU is in a recession, 5 million unemployed in Germany etc. Beggars cant be chosers

28

ogmb 02.03.05 at 11:21 pm

henry: But the Ostpolitik had a quite specific political rationale, and was aimed at promoting democracy, even if it did so softly-softly.

I would claim that democratic regimes have principally the same goals when engaging authoritarian regimes, namely:

1. Improve current living conditions under authoritarian rule, both socially and economically.

2. Pave way for a transition to a democratic regime sooner rather than later.

3. Minimize the human cost of the transition (Promote non-violent means of transition).

4. Provide support for a new democratic regime to allow it to take hold and provide tangible benefits to its citizens quickly and lastingly.

The problem is that those goals tend to be mutually exclusive, and policies can only be devised to stress some at the cost of others. For instance the GWB policy re: Iraq clearly stressed 2 (instant regime change) over 3 (non-violent regime change), and faltered because it did not plan for point 4 (quick tangible improvements). A policy that stresses 1 quite possibly endangers 2 (provides legitimacy to the authoritarian ruler) and 4 (if life under authoritarian rule is better the perceived improvement will be less pronounced, think Ostalgie) and can be attacked on those grounds. But it’s the opposite to an embargo policy which ignores 1 to promote 2 and 4. But you name a recent case of an embargo policy that was successful. Cuba, Balkan, Iraq all exacted a high human toll and did nothing to direct popular anger at the dictator — quite to the contrary. So yes, I see the current EU policy as very much in the tradition of the Kniefall and the German Annäherungspolitik and as an alternative to the Bush Doctrine.

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