Two and a half years after the Arab Spring exposed European leaders’ cozy relations with the region’s autocrats and the European Union’s foreign policy chief promised that human rights would be a “silver thread” running through Europe’s external relations, analyst Petr Pribyla considers how Brussels is performing. Despite recent commitments to fund a new European Endowment for Democracy, the bloc’s commitment to promoting human rights and democracy remains ‘hazy’, conceptually confused and more rhetorical than substantive, he suggests.
The first step goes back to December 2011, when the European Commission adopted a new document called “Human Rights and Democracy at the Heart of EU External Action – Towards a More Effective Approach” aiming to boost the human rights policy and foster democratization efforts throughout the matrix of EU foreign policies. The next step followed with the appointment of former Greek foreign minister Stavros Lambrinidis as Special Representative for Human Rights and the most recent initiative was the publication of a “Strategic Framework and Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy” from June 2012…..
Within a plethora of the EU instruments and initiatives developed over the last years, the substance of democracy promotion remains blurred and unclear. ….. As Anne Wetzel and Jan Orbie stated in a Policy Brief for the Centre for European Policy Studies, “[the] EU’s haziness with respect to the goal of democracy promotion and the steps needed to reach this goal allows it to stretch the definition of democracy promotion too far; potentially too far. This may be beneficial to the EU’s own interests since it allows for a flexible interpretation of what will (not) be supported under the banner of democracy, but (…) it may actually be detrimental from a democracy promotion perspective.”
In other words, the EU should seriously reflect on a role of elections, economic development, civil society and rule of law within its democracy promotion activities and bring more clarity of what it aim support in the first place.
Throughout the Strategic Framework, no attention is given to clarifying the relationship between human rights and democracy. “Human rights” appears 149 times, “democracy” 31 times and “human rights and democracy” hand-in-hand only 16 times.
In sum, if the EU aims to have a strong voice in human rights-related initiatives and start stitching the patchwork of EU external policies with the “silver thread”, it still needs to: (1) clarity what it aims to support through democracy promotion initiatives; (2) clarify the relationship of human rights and democracy in external policies; and (3) demonstrate stronger commitment to human rights protection within European borders, including the treatment of asylum-seekers, refugees, migrants and Roma.
This is a slightly edited extract from a longer paper published by the Foreign Policy Association. RTWT