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Title: Global player status? EU actorness and democracy promotion
Other Titles: EU global actorness in a world of contested leadership : policies, instruments and perceptions
Authors: Khakee, Anna
Keywords: European Union countries -- Foreign relations -- 21st century
Democratization -- International cooperation
Issue Date: 2022
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Citation: Khakee, A. (2022). Global player status? EU actorness and democracy promotion. In M. R., Freire, P. D. Lopes, D. Nascimento & L. Simão (Eds.), EU global actorness in a world of contested leadership : policies, instruments and perceptions (pp. 53-71). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Abstract: This chapter argues that, in a comparative perspective, the European Union (EU) does not suffer from any “actorness deficit” when it comes to democracy promotion. There are certainly some fundamental problems with the EU democracy promotion agenda globally. However, it is not particularly useful to analyze these in terms of limits to the EU’s internal or external actorness. In fact, EU Member States have been quite happy to “upgrade” a substantial part of their democracy promotion policies to the European level. Thus currently, the EU institutions are clearly, together with the USA, the key global players in this respect. An assessment of internal actorness in terms of financial capabilities and cohesiveness, and external actorness as measured by global presence, the breadth of initiatives and recognition by other actors, all point essentially in the same direction: EU actorness is not in doubt, even though on one score, institutional autonomy, it is less solid. A brief comparative analysis between the EU institutions and EU Member States in terms of financial capabilities and global presence further supports this argument. Although a majority of EU Member States has enshrined democracy promotion in their foreign policy doctrines, they cannot match the European Commission on the ground. As the analysis below shows, in recent years, the three top bilateral EU Member State donors together accounted for approximately as much democracy assistance as the EU institutions pledged by themselves. Likewise, the extent of the global presence of EU institutions is unmatched by even top Member State donors. The holistic and comparative approach adopted in this chapter differs from that taken by the few existing studies on EU actorness in the area of democracy promotion. The focus here is global, examining (a) total levels of democracy assistance (defined as foreign aid funding specifically aimed at institutions and groups considered fundamental for democracy to emerge/consolidate) and (b) democracy promotion policies more broadly, thus also including positive/negative conditionalities as well as public pronouncements in support of democratic actors and aims in third countries. In contrast, current studies tend to centre on the Neighbourhood policy exclusively or have a broader focus than democracy promotion. Current studies also do not contrast EU democracy promotion with that of states, as does this chapter. This global and comparative take puts EU actorness in perspective, and conclusions differ as a result. While actorness as a concept will, quite logically, be action-focused, it is argued here that it would be analytically unproductive—as some of the actorness literature has tended to do—to compare the EU to some ideal standard of perfect policy effectiveness. How can we expect levels of effectiveness of EU policy that states, which are considered the “baseline” actors in the international system, do not achieve? Thus, the main, glaring problem of EU democracy promotion noted time and again in the literature is the recurrent policy clashes between the purportedly “European” values of democracy and human rights, on the one hand, and hard-nosed economic and security interests of the EU and EU Member States, on the other. More recently, the internal challenges to liberal democracy manifest within many Member States are also increasingly seen as diminishing the credibility and effectiveness of EU democracy promotion outside of the block. However, and crucially, this fundamental problem of conflicting agendas is not unique to the EU. It hampers the legitimacy and ultimately the effectiveness of virtually all state-sponsored democracy promotion efforts. It is thus not a problem of actorness per se, lest we conclude that all democracy promoting actors suffer from a deficit in actorness. Rather, the problem is better analyzed in terms of (lack of) policy consistency or, alternatively, coherence as discussed in the EU context by Simon Nuttall and Carmen Gebhard respectively, and the consequences of these on effectiveness. So while existing studies such as those by Juncos and Whitman and Noutcheva have essentially come to a negative conclusion regarding EU actorness, this chapter’s findings are more in line with those pertaining to EU actorness in the wider development policy arena, which are more sanguine. This chapter is structured as follows: It starts by setting the conceptual and methodological foundations in section one, before analyzing EU democracy promotion in terms of internal and external actorness in section two. The third section compares EU actorness to that of EU Member States, financially, geographically and thematically. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the extent to which the EU’s unique actorness position in world politics—neither a state nor an international organization—does in fact strengthen its position as a democracy promoter.
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