Europe's Response to the Arab Spring
During the two decades preceding the Arab Spring, the European Union and its member states took a two-pronged approach to relations with Mediterranean countries. Member states pursued bilateral relations in a pragmatic fashion, establishing close diplomatic and commercial ties. The EU institutions, by contrast, were tasked with promoting regional cooperation, good governance, and the protection of human rights. On the eve of the Arab Spring, the EU undertook a major review of the European Neighborhood Policy, and in March, the European Commission and the High Representative put forward a proposed new EU strategy towards the region called “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity,” which placed democracy promotion at the heart of the EU’s Mediterranean policy. Reformers will only embrace the EU initiative if it is implemented with sensitivity, taking into account the fundamentally different situation in each country, and provided delivery mechanisms are swift and effective. The approach of outsiders needs to be flexible, recognizing that conditions of uncertainty, and perhaps civil strife, may persist for several years.