The Elite Survey Policy Brief looks at the concise data from a survey conducted with “elites” in nine countries including Lebanon, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Morocco, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey. Elites within the survey were described as decision makers, bureaucrats, business people, leading academics, and media professionals. Within this comment, I would like to focus on the third and final category of “On EU instruments in the area of civil society, democracy assistance and economic development,” and how this was perceived by the elites that were surveyed.
By and large, the elites acknowledged the work the EU has conducted in the realm of civil society within these nine countries. However, the interlocutors criticized the EUs approach, stating that Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) were used more as service agents rather than acknowledged as independent organizations and supported as such. Indeed, EU’s policies and agendas in regard to support of CSOs and priority areas a decided in the EU, instead of local actors. EU actors decide to, for a hypothetical example, support policies in regard to women’s rights, improved access to employment for women, and raise awareness on LGBT rights. If these policies and agendas are not developed with local actors, then CSOs indeed become only service agents. CSOs are then required to construct their strategic plans and goals around the agendas of the EU, if they wish to collaborate or partner with the Union. Another danger of this approach is that the EU will be blind in regard to key issues that must be addressed in the country of focus. For example, the elites surveyed in Lebanon highlighted the abuse of human rights faced by migrant workers as a key problem, and one that was not discussed by the EU in Lebanon. While the EU did focus on women’s right in Lebanon, it did not consider all women in the country, including migrant women who face particular challenges.
In regard to EU’s tools in promoting democracy in the region, the elites surveyed communicated that the EU chooses to apply its notion and understanding of democracy on a region that sees a wide range of democratic approaches and that hosts a variety of governing systems, some more democratic than others. Elites understood that steps to democracy by EU standards are slow and take many years and efforts to accomplish, if at all. Meanwhile, improvements in human rights, decrease in poverty levels, and lessening of corruption can all be sought after even within precarious at best democratic realities.
Finally, actors in the nine countries called for greater trade opportunities with the EU, likely on a bilateral level with individual member states. Indeed, and as outlined on a particular policy brief on this topic, trade was highlighted as a key approach to improving EU relations with partner countries. Interlocutors saw this as an economic opportunity that would widen the reach of their countries’ products, create employment opportunities, drive economic growth, and decrease stagnation. Interlocutors saw EU bureaucracy as a limit to achieving those goals and called for greater leniency.
MEDRESET is a consortium of research and academic institutions focusing on different disciplines from the Mediterranean region to develop alternative visions for a new Mediterranean partnership and corresponding EU policies. It aims at designing an inclusive, flexible, and responsive future role for the EU in the region based on the multiple perspectives of local and bottom-up actors.