Aytan Gahramanova, Dublin City University
This Policy paper raises concerns about the double facet of the new EU Resilience Paradigm that came to replace the Transitional Paradigm in the EU Global Strategy (EUGS). It argues that the way EUGS accommodates the new Resilience Paradigm may prompt double standards in EU foreign policy and discourage in-country actors to challenge local circumstances. In order to lead to positive developments and accommodate authoritarian/hybrid countries, the policy paper proposes activities which can support the “change agency” within non-democratic environments.
On 28 June 2016, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, officially presented the “EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Security Policy” (EUGS) to the European Council. EUGS refers to building state and societal resilience in its neighbourhood as one of the key strategic priorities of the EU. Resilience is defined in the EUGS as “the ability of states and societies to reform, thus withstanding and recovering from internal and external crises.” The document reads:
“The EU will strengthen the resilience of states and societies by supporting good governance, accountable institutions, and working closely with civil society. Our support will target in particular the EU’s surrounding regions in the East and the South, spanning from Central Asia to Central Africa.”
This is reflected in the revised EU’s Neighbourhood Policy, the overall objective of which is to support the stabilisation of Europe’s Neighbourhood and its resilience. The implementation of the ENP Review 2017 reads: “The key principles of the policy – differentiated approach and greater ownership – will continue to guide its implementation in the next years through diplomatic action, trade and investment relations, financial assistance and long-term regional frameworks.”
While the EU has now dropped the emphasis on democratisation of the neighbourhood, the resilience paradigm is meant to replace it. However, what does it mean for the fate of democracy promotion in the post-Soviet countries, especially for hybrid and authoritarian regimes?
Existing assumptions that impact on current policies in this area:
The drive for a new theory of change came from the long-standing inability of the traditional paradigms to explain abrupt systemic crises. Resilience as an idea is not new. Originally, the term signified the capacity of states to respond to a crisis by rapidly repelling destruction and recovering. Resilience is also a strategy for building the necessary capacity of a state to deal with and to shape change.
At the same time, the resilience concept may bring a long awaited recognition (which lacked in the transitional paradigm) that uncertainty is a part of how systems and social processes work. That means acknowledging that social processes are inherently dynamic, involving interactions which may produce synergy, and even unexpected results. This very ‘expecting the unexpected’ may help to realise trade-offs between different courses of action.
Nevertheless, while the resilience approach may potentially open new entry points in international development aid contributing to positive change, there is another side of the coin, which needs to be stressed. There is a risk that resilience may be used for justifying and reinforcing a status quo, implying adaptation instead of challenging circumstances.
The ambiguity of the resilience concept has implications both for EU foreign policy and the countries to which it applies, namely, those recipients of the international development assistance.
Implications for EU / European Policy Makers:
First of all, it means that organisations and countries will have to define the idea of resilience for themselves by working out feasible goals and suitable measurement systems.
Resilience may bring what is called an integrated tailor-made approach that values local ownership, a sort of de-centralisation of the international development aid. Whereas resilience may lead to the development of important dimensions related to the understanding of sustainable development, the question is what it will mean specifically for democracy promotion work in general.
As the EUGS 2016 stands now, the reinforcing of the resilience paradigm will certainly lead to lower ambitions of democratisation to prioritise stability, therefore, alluding to the possibility that the EU will tolerate, if not support, authoritarian powers.
Still committed to a liberal narrative, the resilience term is used in the EU documents to ensure a ground for the EU to work only with governments that explicitly seek cooperation with the EU on a broad range of reforms. In other words, the EU tends to consider governments as the major cooperation partners, leaving out other in-state stakeholders of the host countries, such as civil society, media, political parties, private sector etc. As the Action Plan states:
“Country-owned and Country-led: It is primarily a national governments’ responsibility to build resilience and to define political, economic, environmental and social priorities accordingly”.
In other words, the new EU motto for democratisation can be read as “Stability for authoritarian regimes and supporting reforms in the countries the governments of which are eager to accommodate them.” A review of the 2017 ENP implementation report shows that most of the good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights related work in the post-Soviet context is concentrated on Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, i.e. the countries the governments of which were originally ready to accommodate reforms. In contrast, Azerbaijan promotes little cooperation although it figures a quite vocal civil society.
While resilience represents a shift from top-down institution-building to a bottom-up approach to building resilience in societies, the EU involvement will continue to prioritise the role of state/government institutions to the expenses of that of civil society. This approach may limit the efficiency of the EU development work and its soft powers by preventing the EU to reach a diverse range of non-governmental partners.
To really promote positive change as entailed in the new EU concept of resilience, the EU should go beyond approaching easy-to-work-with countries and target also those challenging countries like Azerbaijan or Belarus, for example, on a case-by-case basis, to really support change in these countries, where a large portion of civil society share European values but continue to be disempowered by the current political system, and remains unable to act as the voice of the people. The following approaches and strategies could support the EU in its exercise of soft-power, and promote the EU as committed to real change and civil society:
- Create a ‘knowledge sharing platform’ which would accumulate lessons learned and evidence from development work carried out in ENP countries;
- Promote assessment, monitoring and evaluation through experts’ pools with a profile relevant to ENP countries;
- Set up funding and programs to support civil society in establishing alliance-building and networks with policy and advocacy actors in other ENP countries across the region.
 EUGS 2016, p. 23
 EUGS 2016
 ENP Review Report, 2017
The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of CASPIAN or the universities affiliated to the project.