Arab CSOs warned Europe that its approach is dangerous for democracy

Ziad Abdel Samad, Executive
Director of the ANND.
(UN photo)

Arab civil society organizations warned that the European Union (EU) “more for more” approach and the economic model it promotes is inconsistent with the national paths towards democracy and social and economic policies that the region proposes.

The joint communication issued by the European institutions in May 2011 entitled "A New Response to a Changing Neighborhood" was the main topic raised by the delegation of civil society organizations from the Arab region during their one-week advocacy visit in Brussels.

In the aftermath, the delegation prepared a memorandum with a critical approach, focused on the needing of coherence in the EU policies between the developmental goals and the human rights on one hand and economic relations, trade, and investment on the other.

The delegation concluded that the EU's economic approach towards the region is still the same, as adopted in the relations with the previous regimes. The delegation stressed that the main reasons relying under the Arab Spring are the failure of the political nature of the regimes, the lack of democracy and of the active participation and roles of public and governmental institutions, as well as the failure of the development patterns and economic and financial policies adopted and implemented for decades.

The delegation stressed on the revision of the economic approach in the EU-Arab partnership, rather than the partnership merely focusing on economic growth. The approach should be based on the model that gives priority to building productive capacities, and establishing mechanisms of fair redistribution, the provision of decent work opportunities, promoting equality in economic participation and benefiting from the economic growth.

Therefore, respect for human rights, including the right to development and the standards of decent work must be ensured in EU programs addressed to the region through the promotion and the implementation of coherent policies and through the evaluation of the previous European Neighbourhood Policy based on the indicators of human rights.

The delegation noted the importance of reviewing trade and investment relations between the EU and the Arab countries, which constitute the basis of the partnership between the two parties especially that the EU is the largest trading partner for many Arab countries.

Their call included as well the revision of trade and investment liberalization agenda that have been applied since the launch of Barcelona Process, which led to strong pressure on productive capacities in the southern Mediterranean countries, the private sector, employment and average wages and government spending on social services. Thus, the delegation asked the European Commission to conduct an impact assessment of the results achieved to date from the liberalization process of the industrial and agricultural products from developmental and human rights perspectives and to take practical measures that can contribute to reducing the negative consequences on the productive sectors and labor.

In addition, the delegates recommended assessing the state of the new relations in the context of the deep and comprehensive free trade agreements (DCFTA) in the fields of competition policy, government procurement and investment protection, and their impact on the right to development which is an integral part of the economic and social rights, political, cultural and environmental rights prior to any new free trade negotiations.


Accordingly, Kinda Mohamadieh from the Arab NGO Network for Development confirmed the importance of promoting full transparency in the free trade negotiations and the comprehensive and deep assessment of the impact of the trade liberalization on the right to development before starting negotiations on new bilateral agreements.

She also noted that competition policy, government procurement and investment protection are areas of significant impact on the space for the national industrial policies, and that the negotiations on these three issues within the WTO has been rejected by many developing countries, including the South Mediterranean countries, thus the EU should not bring them under the bilateral agreements with Arab countries without assessing their impact on the national development policies.

The delegation felt the big differences in views with the European Commission on a number of core issues, perhaps the most important is that the Commission is still stuck in the same approach based on deepening trade liberalization and investment objective as the anchor of economic relations, without taking into account their impact on the political and developmental paths in the Arab countries.


The delegation denounced the preparations to launch bilateral negotiations on trade liberalization and investment with Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan, before the full completion of the assessment survey on the developmental, social and economic impacts of these agreements, which in fact may constitute a burden on the paths to achieve democracy and national policies in these countries.

The delegation confirmed the necessity of conducting evaluation and review of the role of the European financial institutions - including the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development - in order to achieve the above mentioned objectives.

This revision should also aim at enhancing opportunities for the participation of civil society in monitoring, following-up, engaging in policy making and implementing programs adopted by the European financial institutions and approaches promoted in the field of legal or institutional reforms in the countries receiving investments, and to emphasize the importance of assessing the impact of the implemented projects and programs on human rights and international labor standards.

The memorandum highlighted the centrality of achieving a just and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict because of its direct impact on the security and stability in the whole region and therefore for all the political and developmental efforts in the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The memo also included provisions of gender equality and cultural rights and the migration rights and mobility.

In this area, Allam Jarrar, representative of the Palestinian NGO Network, the need for the EU to deal with the Arab region with a comprehensive perspective based on a deep understanding of the mutual influence of the tracks and the harmonization of policies.

He stressed the importance of security, stability and peace in the region as a decisive factor for development in the Arab region. In addition, he said that the EU continues to upgrade the relations with Israel in trade and in cooperation gives a confiding message, which does not help in building the bonds of cooperation and does not contribute to the consolidation of the relationship and building trust between the peoples of the North and South of the Mediterranean.
The delegation stressed on the importance of mainstreaming the Istambul Framework of Action and the and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) during the periodic revision of the ENP policies and programmes and the necessity to establish the principle of equality and the rights of women in all aspects of cooperation and partnership in the Euro-Arab relations including economic and financial policies and cooperation, trade and investment, so as to ensure the contribution of these policies in the promotion of space and opportunities for women's participation in the economic sphere and her access to social protections.

In the other context, Mr. Sharaf al-Moussawi, Vice President of the Bahraini Transparency Association stressed the importance of developing economic and trade relations between the European Union and the Gulf countries, especially with the Gulf Cooperation Council on the basis of the principles and the respect of the international human rights conventions and instruments.

He added that this requires the consolidation of relations between civil society organizations in Europe and in the Gulf. Taking note that the region currently witnesses severe violations of human rights in the Arab Gulf states, he called for an immediate intervention to protect citizens.

Despite the warm and open welcoming by the European officials, the delegation stressed the importance of developing institutionalized mechanisms involving civil society groups as developmental actors and politicians in the framework of partnership in all stages of policy design and evaluation and in discussing ENP strategic  directions at the national and regional level, as well as the importance otrf broadening participation to affect a large number and variety of national and regional organizations.

The delegation stressed the common interest in achieving success in development and human rights, and that failure will reflect on the two partners reinforces the need to reach to carry formats concerns and common goals.