September 30, 2011

Is the EU’s new SPRING Programme so new? Commentary on the EU’s new package for North Africa

Posted: 15:35 PM UTC

by Faten Aggad on September 30, 2011

The European Union has been criticised for its slow response to the events that have unfolded in Tunisia and in Egypt in the first half of 2011. But it is catching up with the new SPRING programme - Support for Partnership, Reform and Inclusive Growth - which it adopted this week. The four pillars of the new package are:

-    A €350 million flagship initiative to support the political transition (the SPRING programme);
-    A Special Measure designed to support poorer areas in Tunisia to the value of €20 million;
-    Additional resources for higher education through the Erasmus Mundus (€66 million); and
-    A Neighborhood Civil Society Facility totaling €22 million and covering the period 2011-2012.

So what do these ‘new’ measures imply?

Sure, the EU should be credited for seizing the opportunity of the (delicate) opening of the political space in North Africa and finally reacting to the changes in its southern neighbourhood. The Union was able to mobilise backing for support to a specific region which it views as strategic. Some elements of the new package suggest a recognition that changes in North Africa are not purely about the provision of democracy support but also other forms of support (i.e. economic), which have the potential to stimulate local demands for reforms. Furthermore, the package’s emphasis on institutional building in the changing context of North Africa post-revolutions is a crucial contribution in support of the transition. The proposal also gives a stronger role to the EU Delegations in the field in order to ensure that the initiatives take into account local dynamics and will therefore embrace differentiation. This is a step in the right direction given the different needs of the partner countries.

Nonetheless, the new package raises two fundamental questions:

  1. There are implementation challenges. The flagship SPRING programme is not the first EU initiative for the region. It implies additional funding – plus visibility for the EU – but the question of how it is linked to already existing programs being implemented in the country is crucial. The new package can be viewed as a financial top-up to ongoing initiatives within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENPi). Smart ‘integration’ of the SPRING programme into existing programmes will be particularly important in order to ensure its success. The integration of the different components of the new initiative into both regional (i.e. ENPI) and thematic instruments and tools (i.e. European Instrument on Democracy and Human Rights and Non-state actor support programme) is not yet clarified and its implementation in the field yet to be tested.
  2. The EU is building its future cooperation with North Africa (and beyond) on the principle of ‘more for more’ (the more the country embarks on demanding and painful reform across the spectrum of the life of the societies, the more the EC will support it). The other side of this policy is “less for less.” Yet, the results as defined in the Memo of the EC[1] on the SPRING programme[2] are too broad to be ‘traceable’, and therefore put into question the ability of the EU to assess how its contribution in the country is reaching its objective. The steps required to achieve full socio-economic and political transformation are not clearly spelt out in the document of this initiative. Furthermore, the timeframes are relatively ambitious. Democratic reforms, including the achievement of the results, are most likely to go beyond the period of 2013. A longer-term perspective of reforms in North Africa is yet to be reflected more strongly in the recent EU initiatives in its Southern neighbourhood.

The implications of the new initiative will depend on how smartly they are implemented and the flexibility headquarters provide to the EU Delegations in implementing them – considering what is possible in individual countries.

[1] “Concrete results are expected in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms, democratic governance, freedom of association, expression and assembly and free press and media” and “Results are expected in a number of areas including a better regulatory framework for business, increased numbers of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs); as well as a reduction in internal social and economic disparities

[2] MEMO/11/636


Faten Aggad is Policy Officer Development Policy & International Relations



This blog post features the author’s personal view and does not represent the view of ECDPM.

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