Europe and the Arab revolutions: a new vision for democracy and human rights

The EU’s role in building accountable societies in North Africa

Susi Dennison
Director, European Power programme
Anthony Dworkin
Research Director
Senior Policy Fellow


The Arab revolutions present the EU with a challenge: embarrassed by support for the stability offered by former leaders, it now wants to support democracy and human rights in a region where popular representation may conflict with liberal values.

In a new policy brief published by ECFR (“Europe and the Arab revolutions: a new vision for democracy and human rights”), Susi Dennison and Anthony Dworkin lay out the dilemmas presented by the Arab revolutions. They argue that Europe should concentrate on helping create the building blocks of accountable states while encouraging the background conditions of social, economic and cultural factors that create sustainable political openness.

The authors argue that:

  • In Libya, Tunisia and Egypt the EU must push for the political and institutional foundations of an accountable state. It must build relationships with all political groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic parties.
  • Where overt repression continues, as in Syria, the EU must make a stand while looking for ways to end the violence and move towards legitimate government, working with other neighbourhood states.
  • The EU’s relations with recalcitrant regimes must be businesslike, for instance by voicing concerns over lack of reform when dealing with Algeria over energy.

“Public and political figures in these countries may not want to be associated with the West. The EU needs to throw its weight and resources behind the broader goal of popular empowerment rather than simply search for those who share our values.”
Anthony Dworkin

“Europe should make clear its offer on supporting democracy, including assistance for the region’s economies – even if measures like encouraging agricultural trade and travel may face resistance in some EU countries. Progress in the Southern neighbourhood is crucial for Europe’s longer term stability and prosperity.”
Susi Dennison

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.