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European Commission

Press release

Brussels, 03 October 2012

Supporting societies in democratic transition

Today, the European Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign and Security Policy/Vice-President Catherine Ashton have made proposals on improving the EU's support to countries undergoing major political, social and economic reforms – so-called transition countries. This comes at a time of historical transformational changes in the Southern Neighbourhood region following the popular uprisings witnessed over the past year and a half in the Arab world and beyond. Swift, tailor-made, comprehensive and driven by the reform countries themselves, EU support uses the full range of EU policies and instruments and the rich experience it has with such transitions.

"The aspiration of an entire generation for more freedom and democracy – as we have seen in the Arab Spring, in our Southern and Eastern Neighbourhoods and throughout the world – brings with it challenges that are difficult to face alone. The European Union stands ready to do what it can as a partner, a neighbour and a friend to those who strive for democratic reform", said Catherine Ashton.

Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood policy Stefan Füle commented: "This new Communication offers a comprehensive overview of tools we are placing at the disposal of our partners. Though it is for our partner countries to lead and drive their own transition process, the EU can draw on its tools and experience with transition both inside and beyond its frontiers, to accompany them on this challenging journey towards deep democracy and a sustainable and inclusive growth model".

EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs commented: “The fight against poverty can only be won if people feel that their human rights are respected and that they are empowered to build their own future. Only stable and secure countries with organised civil societies can provide the conditions for people to grow, find jobs, and educate their children. Transition to democracy can be 'make or break' for states and societies.”

The proposals in the joint Communication aim at helping partner countries and their citizens achieve accountable government, political freedom, economic inclusiveness, decent jobs, social justice and equity. This approach comprises incentives (such as more support for greater reform efforts an approach embedded in new programmes such as our "Support for Partnership, Reform and Inclusive Growth", SPRING, for the Southern Neighbourhood countries) as well as constraints (such as sanctions) to foster reforms. It emphasises the important role of civil society in reform processes and political dialogue, as well as at the core of one of our newly created instruments for the Neighbourhood countries, the Civil Society Facility (CSF). Among other things it also calls for better cooperation with EU Member States and international and regional organisations.


The Joint Communication on EU Support for Sustainable Change in Transition Societies draws on the rich experience of transition many EU Member States have themselves, but also on the success of EU policies within the enlargement process, Neighbourhood policy and development cooperation. It aims at better mobilising the full range of available EU tools to support transition countries in their reforms, and to help them avoid backsliding. Country ownership is the underlying key principle of the proposals: The EU response needs to be based on the needs and reform agenda as defined by the partner country.

There are a number of ways of how the EU can further improve its tools and its approach. In practice, a joint mission of different EU services should be swiftly deployed in the early stages of a transition, to assess the needs and tailor a response to the specific situation.

Support needs to combine long-term strategies with tangible short-term achievements. The EU can make sure to secure quick wins in such areas as facilitating credible elections, supporting programmes for job creation and growth but also by strengthening peace and security.

While incentives, constraints and conditionalities cannot be the main driver of reforms, their use can often support progress, for example by offering "more for more": Countries which go further and faster in their reforms could receive greater support.

Following the onset of the Arab Spring, for example, a new multi-country umbrella programme, "Support for Partnership, Reform and Inclusive Growth" (SPRING), was created to support, on a "more for more" basis, country-owned initiatives addressing the challenges in relation to democratic reforms and inclusive socio-economic development faced by the countries in the region in their transition processes.

Recent examples of the EU's work with countries in transition include the successful experience of Task Forces in Tunisia and Jordan, which brought together the efforts of the European External Action Service, the Commission, the World Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank and other European and financial institutions with a view to promoting stability, security and investment in infrastructure. A similar Task Force is currently being organised together with Egypt.

Mechanisms should be introduced to ensure that the voices of civil society and stakeholders are effectively heard in reform processes. For example, in the aftermath of uprisings resulting from widespread social dissatisfaction in the Arab Spring countries, a Civil Society Facility was created to help strengthen the capacity of civil society organisations both in the Eastern and Southern Neighbourhood to promote the needed reforms and increase public accountability in their countries. In order to further enhance knowledge-sharing and development capacities, the Commission should set up a broader platform or network on democratic transformation issues. Twinning between public institutions of donors and partner countries could be another tool of improving access to knowledge. Full benefit should also be drawn from the European Transition Compendium which compiles the transition experience of EU Member States.

Finally, the EU and its Member States should increasingly "act as one" and cooperate better to avoid duplication, omissions and contradiction and ensure an improved impact of EU action. Better cooperation should also include working with countries in the relevant region that are becoming donors themselves, and working with regional organisations and networks as well as international organisations.

For further information

Link to the full text of the Communication

Website of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton

Website of Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Štefan Füle

Website of the European Commissioner for Development, Andris Piebalgs:

Website of EuropeAid Development and Cooperation DG:

Contacts :

Catherine Ray (+32 2 296 99 21)

Wojtek Talko (+32 2 297 85 51)

Anca Paduraru (+32 2 296 64 30)

Peter Stano (+32 2 295 74 84)

Maja Kocijancic (+32 2 298 65 70)

Eamonn Prendergast (+32 2 299 88 51)

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