Reframing the EU’s Middle East Democracy Promotion Policy
Submitting InstitutionUniversity of Birmingham
Unit of AssessmentPolitics and International Studies
Summary Impact TypeSocietal
Research Subject Area(s)
Studies In Human Society: Political Science
Summary of the impact
A key priority of the EU since the 1990s has been the promotion of
liberal democracy in undemocratic and illiberal societies such as those of
the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Pace's work has furnished
important insights to policy practitioners working on the EU's role
in democracy promotion. She has provided advice and recommendations to the
EU External Action Service, the European Commission and the European
Parliament (EP) as well as the Swedish government (via the International
Institute on Democracy and Electoral assistance [IDEA]). This work has directly
informed the following decisions: an EP Resolution on Democracy
Building in the EU's External Relations (dated 22 October 2009); and the
European Council's Conclusions on Democracy Support in the EU's External
Relations (dated 17 November 2009).
Michelle Pace (Professor in Politics and International Studies,
University of Birmingham) has undertaken funded research on EU democracy
promotion since 2007. That year, she was awarded a Research Councils
United Kingdom (RCUK) Birmingham Research Fellowship on EU Enlargement
attached to the European Research Institute at the University of
Birmingham. She has also been the PI on two separate British Academy and
ESRC funded projects on democratisation in the MENA region (see below for
These awards funded fieldwork in Egypt and Palestine, and allowed access
to key members of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Interviews with these
figures (as well as a series of public events in both countries) shed new
light on how Islamists have been thinking about political transformation
in their societies; that, in turn, has allowed inferences to be drawn on
the efficacy of EU democracy-promotion efforts.
The key finding has been that the EU has misread the internal dynamics of
regime transformation and so its democracy promotion efforts have been
misdirected. Historically, the EU has worked with existing, often
authoritarian, regimes in the MENA in the hope that these regimes would
succumb to socialisation pressures leading to economic, social and
political reforms. For their part, those same regimes have responded to
the EU by introducing incremental and often cosmetic reforms (see output
What was not fully appreciated in EU policy was that even small moves
toward the liberalisation of entrenched authoritarianism would lead to
heightened expectations and the galvanising of popular movements for
reform. By banking on regime-led change, the EU was consequently
ill-prepared for the sudden political transitions occasioned by the Arab
Spring — that is, the revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests
against authoritarian rule that have occurred across the MENA region since
December 2010 (R2, R4, R6).
Pace's research made clear that Arab exceptionalism — a predisposition
against democratisation — should not be assumed a priori. While the Arab
Spring has suffered reversal since 2012, it is nonetheless clear that
large sections of the population in the MENA region hold a deep-seated
belief in government accountability and political and civil rights (R1).
Further, Pace's research also served to highlight the fear harboured by
the EU in regard to Islamist actors' involvement in the political process
— namely that substantive political reform would empower anti-Western
References to the research
R1) Pace, M. (forthcoming 2013) 'An Arab 'Spring' of a different kind?
Resilience and freedom in the case of an occupied nation', Mediterranean
Politics, vol. 18, no. 1. [available from HEI on request]
R3) Pace, M. (ed.) (2011) Europe, the USA and Political Islam.
Strategies for Engagement, Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan [available
from HEI on request]
R5) Pace, M. (2010) 'The European Union, security and the southern
dimension', European Security, vol. 19, no. 3, September, pp.
R6) Pace, M. (2009) 'Paradoxes and contradictions in EU democracy
promotion in the Mediterranean: the limits on EU normative power', Democratization,
vol.16, no. 1, February, pp. 39-58 [doi:10.1080/13510340802575809].
• Pace, M (PI) Paradoxes and Contradictions in EU Democracy Promotion
Efforts in the Middle East, Sponsor: Economic and Social Research
Council (ESRC) First Grant Scheme large project. February 2008 — April
2012 (RES-061-25-0075) £294,632
• Pace, M (PI) A `Modern' Islamist Democracy? Perceptions of
democratisation in the Arab-Mediterranean world, Sponsor: British
Academy (BA) Large Research Grant. April 2007 - March 2009 (LRG - 45504)
• Pace, M (PI) The Arab `Spring' Made Simple, Sponsor: ESRC Festival of
Social Sciences. November 2012 (RES-622-26-615) £1,120
Details of the impact
Pace's impact can be evidenced in three ways: (i) informing EU policy
decisions; (ii) influencing the EU's policy agenda; (iii) contributing to
Informing EU policy
Pace was invited by IDEA in Stockholm to share research findings and
insights from her British Academy and ESRC funded research grants in 2008.
This gave rise to two commissioned papers (source 1 below) and involvement
in a series of meetings between 2008 and 2010 under the heading of Global
Consultations on the EU's Role in Democracy Building. The Senior Advisor
to the project is clear that Pace's research input was influential — she
states that it provided the project `with deeper insights and additional
legitimacy — and made a very important contribution to the credibility
of [the] project report' (source 2). Under the auspices of the
Swedish Presidency of the EU, the report that emerged from the IDEA
initiative was subsequently `used to inform EU member states and
institutional deliberations, and with its substance inspired the
EU Council conclusions adopted' (source 2): the EP's Resolution of
22 October 2009 on Democracy Building in the EU's External Relations (www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-
//EP//TEXT+TA+P7-TA-2009-0056+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN) and the 17 November
2009 European Council Conclusions on Democracy Support in the EU's
Influencing the agenda of the EU
Pace's research has challenged conventional wisdom about the type of
political reform that the EU has been promoting in the MENA region. Her
research has stimulated policy debate and has improved EU policy
makers' understanding of some of the deeper social issues within
MENA societies. Pace has engaged with policy makers in a number of ways.
In February 2012, she co-organised a Public Hearing under the auspices of
the European Parliament's (EP's) Committee on Foreign Affairs, held at the
EP building in Brussels (source 3). This followed an earlier invitation by
the EP for Pace to present critical feedback on the Review of the European
Neighbourhood Policy to Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood
Policy (Štefan Füle) at a Public Round Table on Making Democracy Promotion
Work in June 2011 (source 4). One MEP involved in both events noted that
Pace's 'research produces factual solutions and approaches that can and
have influenced and guided real life policy making in the European
Parliament and beyond' (source 5 — see also sources 6 and 7, which
confirm the position that Pace's research has been translated into
`tangible, effective policy' and has influenced individuals' `inputs into
the EU's policy making process').
Pace's research also led the EP to select her as an expert to deliver a
commissioned briefing on the Social, Economic, Political and Geo-Strategic
Situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories in October 2011 at the
EP in Strasbourg. Further, Pace was commissioned to write a paper on `The
End of EU Democracy Promotion and of the Two-State Solution?' for the
extended research arm of the Council of the EU, the EU Institute for
Security Studies (EUISS) in Paris (source 8). The EUISS Chaillot
Papers Series in which her contribution was published was mentioned
in the Jerusalem Post and Le Monde and cited by Biladi
and Publico in February and April 2011 (source 8).
Contributing to public debate
Following Pace's published research work, and her appearance at the EP,
she was contacted by a number of funding bodies in the UK and
international media representatives for her views on political
transformation processes in the MENA region. This latter contact has had
an impact on the way in which journalists report on democratization in the
MENA. The following are examples of these sorts of activity:
- In 2009, the British Academy Review commissioned Pace to write
a piece on `Democracy in Palestine and the Middle East Peace Process'
aimed at a non-specialist readership.
- In December 2009, Pace was interviewed by Danish National Radio
during an International Conference held at the Centre for Contemporary
Middle East Studies, University of Southern Denmark, Odense (at: http://www.dr.dk/P1/orientering/indslag/2009/12/03/183739.htm).
- That same year, Pace's research acquired affiliation status with the
Council for British Research in the Levant in Jerusalem and was included
in the ESRC's Catalogue of Projects with Research Impact.
- In February 2011, she was interviewed by the Times of Malta on
the political unrest in the MENA (at: http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110203/local/eu-has-lost-all-credibility-on-democracy-in-middle-east.348320).
- In May 2011, Pace was interviewed by the Brazilian newspaper A
- In June 2011, after Pace's contribution to the EP's Round Table on the
Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, she was interviewed by the EUobserver
- In June 2011, she was interviewed by the BBC Arabic Service following
her contribution to a workshop at Westminster University on `Islamism and
the Arab Revolutions: The Promise and the Pitfalls.'
- In June 2011, Pace was interviewed by Arild Foss on the `Arab Spring'
for the ESRC magazine, Society Now (at: http://www.esrc.ac.uk/_images/Society%20Now%20issue%2010_tcm8-16400.pdf).
- Demonstrating continuing contribution to the public debate with an
article in The Conversation in July 2013 (http://theconversation.com/morsis-authority-ebbed-away-but-egypt-is-dangerously-divided-15774)
Sources to corroborate the impact
 2009. Institute on Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA),
Stockholm, Sweden, reports entitled `Liberal or Social Democracy? Aspect
Dawning in the EU's Democracy Promotion Agenda in the Middle East', at: http://www.idea.int/resources/analysis/liberal_or_social_demo.cfm;
and `Perceptions from Egypt and Palestine on the EU's role and impact on
democracy-building in the Middle East' and at: http://www.idea.int/resources/analysis/upload/Pace_low_2.pdf.
 Factual statement provided by former Director, Ministry for Foreign
Affairs, Sweden — currently Senior Advisor (democracy support), European
External Action Service.
 1 Feb 2012 — joint event with the EP at: http://www.franziska-brantner.eu/en/europaeische-aussenpolitik/mittelmeerraum-naher-osten/english-egypt-one-year-on-eu-must-rethink-what-e-offer-how-we-offer-it-and-who-we-engage/
 12 June 2011. Public Round Table with Commissioner Štefan Füle, at:
 Factual statement provided by MEP, Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs
of the Greens/EFA group.
 Factual statement provided by Ambassador of Malta in Vienna, Austria
(Former Political Advisor to the EU Special Representative for the Middle
East Peace Process at the European External Action Service)
 Factual statement provided by Policy Advisor, European External
 `The End of EU Democracy Promotion and of the Two-State Solution?' in
European Involvement in the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Edited by Esra
Bulut Aymat (Paris: European Union Institute for Security Studies.
Chaillot Papers, Series Number 124), pp. 87-95. At: http://www.iss.europa.eu/publications/detail/article/european-involvement-in-the-arab-israeli-conflict/