Member states struggled to agree on how to implement conditionality and a lack of European unity undermined the EU’s political reform message.
2012 saw less widespread turbulence than the previous year in the Middle East and North Africa, but the EU’s goals in backing the rule of law, human rights, and democracy were even more complex: to protect fundamental rights in the transitions in Tunisia and Egypt; support the construction of a democratic state in Libya; push reluctant reformers such as Morocco, Algeria, and Jordan; maintain a consistent line on rule of law with Gulf states such as Bahrain; and guarantee accountability in the Syrian conflict.
The EEAS made important advances in 2012 in developing an effective foreign-policy machinery, including the adoption of a global Human Rights Strategy in June and the appointment of Stavros Lambrinidis as EU Special Representative for Human Rights in July. Expert missions were sent to Morocco, Egypt, Yemen, and Iraq, and EU election observation missions to Algeria, Libya, and Tunisia. The European Endowment for Democracy was further developed in 2012 and is next year expected to begin disbursements, with a priority on the neighbourhood. Some EU member states – notably Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Sweden – have made pledges of financial support.
However, the EU was less united in 2012 than in 2011, particularly on the issue of the use of conditionality to promote political reform. Germany held back some promised support from Egypt until after the elections, and Finland and the Netherlands were firmly of the view that “more for more” should also mean “less for less”, whereas Italy and Portugal were against penalising non-revolutionary countries for a lack of reform. This divergence led to a lack of coherent European red lines on human rights. For example, EU representatives simply accepted the Egyptian foreign ministry’s last-minute withdrawal of an invitation to Egyptian human rights NGOs to attend the EU–Egypt Task Force in November. Similarly, the EEAS was unable to hold the line when the civil society component at the Jordanian Task Force was relegated in the face of business and economic priorities on the insistence of the Jordanian government.