After the end of the Cold War, promoting democracy became one of the main features of the foreign policy of the European Union (EU). The Maastricht Treaty of 1992 stated that one of the objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) is to promote democracy, the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Furthermore, the Copenhagen criteria, which defines the conditions for EU membership, clearly indicates that one of the main requirements is the existence of institutions that ensure respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
The role of human rights in EU foreign policy may be observed in the development policy of this ‘post-modern entity’, which is aimed at promoting the observance of human rights and democracy. Moreover, all agreements that the EU has concluded with third countries after the end of the Cold War include a clause on human rights. In cases where such an agreement does not exist, the EU is engaged in dialogue with such countries on human rights. For example, all agreements with countries included in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) contain a human rights clause, while the EU is pursuing dialogue on human rights with such countries as China, Iran, Turkmenistan, among others.
It goes without saying that the EU is backed by both significant moral weight and the power to pursue foreign policy aimed at reinforcing human rights. All EU member states are democracies, albeit to varying degrees, that maintain the same Treaty-based principles in their domestic and foreign policies. At the same time, the EU also has a lot of foreign policy tools it uses to promote human rights. For instance, the EU is the biggest donor in the world in terms of financial assistance directed at relieving human suffering, as well as promoting human rights and the process of democratisation.
It is also noteworthy that the human rights domain is one of the few areas where it is possible to speak about the common foreign policy of the EU. In other areas of foreign policy, the EU constantly suffers from the inability to achieve a unified stance among its individual members.
Thus, empirical data shows that the EU allocates a lot of money and efforts in this regard, as well as applying a broad range of instruments to democratise countries on all continents, with particular attention to its immediate neighbours. However, the reasons behind the EU’s human rights policy provide fertile ground for contention among scholars. In this regard, the aim of this paper is to define why the EU actually pursues human rights and promotes democracy as part of its foreign policy.
In order to answer this question, the paper begins by tracing the evolution of the EU as an advocate of democracy. The next sections put forward the main arguments as to why the EU pursues the advancement of democracy. In the second section, this paper argues that the promotion of democracy is rooted in the ‘civilian power’ nature of the EU itself. The third section sheds light on the reasons of human rights policy through the prism of realist assumptions before offering the conclusion.
The process of forming the EU’s image as an advocate of democracy has followed the same path of development of the existing international human rights regime.
The emergence of the international human rights regime can be traced back to the end of World War II. In 1948, the United Nations drafted and approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which has been defined as a “decisive step in codifying the emerging view that the way in which states treat their own citizens is not only a legitimate international concern but subject to international standards”.1
Nevertheless, until the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, the protection and promotion of human rights within the European Community (EC) had not officially been included as a part of the treaties and “neither fundamental rights nor the concept of EC citizenship had been recognised”.2 The reason that human rights went virtually unheeded for 50 years may be explained by the marginal role that human rights occupied during the Cold War period. Firstly, such considerations were often undermined by ideological and strategic interests. The second reason is that the concept of human rights clashed with an even more fundamental concept in international relations – sovereignty.3
Thus, it was namely the end of the Cold War that paved the way for the EC to turn its attention towards raising the profile of human rights, both with respect to its internal and external affairs. Several factors stemming from the end of the Cold War accelerated the process of the formation of the EU’s identity as an advocate of democracy. These factors are as follows:
As a result of the above-mentioned factors, the Treaty on European Union, signed in Maastricht on February 7, 1992, embraced two references to democracy, which have not been amended by the subsequent Amsterdam and Nice Treaties. The first one is in the framework of the provisions on a Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP): according to Article J.1, one of the objectives of the CFSP “shall be to develop and consolidate democracy and the rule of law, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”.4 The second one is within the framework of the provisions on developing cooperation: according to Article 130 (u), “community policy in this area shall contribute to the general objective of developing and consolidating democracy and the rule of law, and to that of respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms”.5 The treaty, however, did not establish instruments to translate these principles into actual policies and this legislative void has been filled by the Commission’s communications and Council resolutions, which have subsequently pushed for the inclusion of these principles in three distinct policy areas: the enlargement process, external relations and trade relations. The Treaty of Amsterdam went a step further as it gave the EU a stronger role to promote human rights by stating that the Union is founded on the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law.6
Encouraged by the positive results of the enlargement process in the 1990s, but still facing strong criticism for its lack of a strategic approach to the issue, in 2001, the Commission eventually issued a communication on EU Role in Promoting Human Rights and Democratisation in Third Countries. This document proposed a strategic approach to these principles in the EU’s external relations, keeping in mind the coherence of EU institutions’ actions, their consistency and coordination with member states.7
Last but not least, in 2009, the EU adopted the Charter of Fundamental Rights, which sets out a whole range of civil, political and social rights enjoyed by the citizens and residents of the EU. One of the reasons for adopting this document was the EU’s policy on promoting democracy. It is difficult to be a ‘normative power’ when your own basic institutions are also lacking in the sphere of human rights. E. Eriksen argues that “the Charter promises to make the EU’s external policy on human rights consistent with internal practice. It provides the legal basis for such undertakings and sets the same standards for internal affairs as for external affairs”.8
All the above-mentioned developments and current practice led to the EU being viewed as one of the leading advocates of democracy. Today the EU applies a broad range of tools and instruments to promote democracy. These include offering advice, engaging in political dialogue, providing financial aid or loans, realising economic cooperation, observing elections, participating in peace-keeping operations, as well as the threat and application of financial sanctions in the case of non-compliance, to name only few. For example, all EU agreements that have been concluded with third countries since the mid-1990s include a clause on human rights.9 The EU is engaged in dialogue on human rights issues with those countries with which it has not concluded an agreement or where existing agreements do not otherwise contain a human rights clause.10 During the period 1994–2006, the European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) allocated an average of some 120 million euros annually towards financing projects aimed at improving the situation with respect to the observance of human rights and democracy in third countries around the world.11
In sum, this section has shown how the EU has gradually defined itself as an adherent of democracy in the period after the Cold War, because this process has followed the path of developing an international human rights regime. At the same time, this paper is far from downplaying the fact that all EU member states, to varying extents, are democracies and that this fact has also played a role in the process of the formation of the EU’s image as a promoter of democracy.
This section sheds light on the argument that the EU’s promotion of democracy is rooted in its very nature as a ‘civilian power’.
In enumerating the internal factors that have prompted the European Union to resort to pushing the democratisation of countries and regions, L. Morlino emphasises the EU’s identity as a ‘civilian power’. In his view, the EU’s military weakness spurred it to become a ‘civilian superpower’ that seeks to promote stability in neighbouring countries and regions by means of economic and trade development, democracy, good governance and the rule of law.12
The concept of ‘civilian power’ is a Cold War relic.13 It has been attributed to Françoise Duchêne, who believed that the EU’s strength lies in its ability to act as a ‘civilian power’ and in its ability to promote and encourage stability through the use of economic and political instruments. Because the European Community is essentially a group of countries that is rich in terms of economic power and relatively lacking in terms of armed forces, it maintains an interest in trying to “domesticate” relations between states. Duchêne essentially urged the Community, in dealing with international issues, to apply its sense of common responsibility and structures of contractual politics, which have, in the past “been associated almost exclusively with “home” and not foreign, that is alien affairs”.14
It should be noted that, within the discourse surrounding the concept ‘civilian power’, there are two ‘camps’. One group draws a clear line between ‘civilian’ and ‘military’ by excluding anything of a military nature from the definition of civilian. For example, Karen Smith underlines four elements defining ‘civilian power’: non-military means, civilian ends, the use of persuasion, and civilian control over foreign policy-making.15 Another group takes a more realist-inclined approach, arguing that the possession of military power does not necessarily contradict the concept of ‘civilian power’ and that the objective of achieving civilian ends justifies even the use of military means. In fact, the definition of ‘civilian power’ by the second group is much more common in international relations and this paper employs the definition put forward by the second group. In Hanns Maull’s view, being a civilian power implies:
Looking through the history of the EU’s foreign policy, we can observe that the EU’s actions in the international arena correspond to the above-mentioned points. Firstly, a distinct aspect of EU external relations in general is its commitment to multilateralism. For example, the EU cooperates with UN bodies and regional organisations, such as the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the African Union, and it has developed strategic partnerships with them.17 As well, the EU always seeks to act in strict accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.18 It actively coordinates its donor activities with like-minded third countries on different issues (e.g. with Canada on conflict prevention and joint funding of a justice reform project in Haiti; with Australia and New Zealand regarding cooperation in the Pacific and joint funding with Australia of a rule of law project in Indonesia; and with the US on promoting human rights in Belarus).19
The European Security Strategy contains a clause that sums up arguments in favour of the multilateral nature of the EU: “As things stand now, neither the Union nor any Member State is alone capable of addressing the threats we are faced with. Multilateral cooperation and bilateral partnerships with key actors are a priority and a necessity. The transatlantic relationship is irreplaceable. However, the EU must also work for closer relations with partners such as Russia, Japan, China, Canada and India.”20
The second argument supporting the idea that the EU’s actions in the international arena correspond to the above-mentioned points is apparent upon reviewing the EU’s foreign activities, which clearly demonstrate that this international actor primarily applies non-military means. For example, according to the European Commission, the EU has been developing relations with the rest of the world primarily through a common policy on trade, development assistance and formal trade and cooperation agreements with individual countries or regional groups.21 This may be explained by the fact that NATO’s umbrella has protected Europe and exempted it from the necessity of concentrating on the development of its military forces. Thus, the EU has turned its attention to the development of non-military, e.g. ‘civilian means’, of achieving its foreign policy objectives.
Thirdly, one of the aspects of the EU’s multilateral approach to international relations is its strong commitment to strengthening international supranational institutions. The European Security Strategy states, “Our security and prosperity increasingly depend on an effective multilateral system. The Union aims to develop a stronger international society, well-functioning international institutions – such as the United Nations, whose Charter constitutes the fundamental framework for international relations – and a rule-based international order”.22 This clause, as well as patterns of EU behaviour – for instance, its struggle to establish an International Criminal Court – attests to the fact that the EU’s actions correspond to the third point identified by Maull’s definition of ‘civilian power’.
Thus, as can be seen from the arguments put forward above, the basic features of the ‘civilian power’ concept are inherent to the EU. In the 1980s, Hedley Bull suggested that the EC’s development to attain civilian power status was merely a reflection of the systemic constraints upon the autonomy of Western Europe, as bipolarity and the centrality of Europe to the balance of the superpowers meant limited room for manoeuvring.23 Indeed, due to the structure of the international system, the EU has had little choice but to grasp at this ‘civilian power’ identity and focus on developing ‘civilian means’ for pursuing its foreign policy.
According to Karen Smith, “civilian is non-military, and includes economic, diplomatic and cultural policy instruments”.24 Nicolaidis goes deeper into the meaning of the means available to a civilian power and identifies four guiding principles for taking external action, which can also translate into civilian tools: integration, prevention, mediation and persuasion.25 K. Smith also refers to Joseph Nye’s concept of ‘soft power’ in order to elucidate how civilian power employs the foreign policy instruments at its disposal. In Nye’s words, “A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries – admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness – want to follow it.”26 It essentially boils down to the power of attraction, and Nye explicitly differentiates this from coercion or inducement, which he refers to as command power.27
So, the promotion of democracy is one of the ‘civilian means’ available for a ‘civilian power’ such as the EU. In this regard, the question arises as to why the EU is so concentrated on pushing the democracy agenda while the pool of ‘civilian means’ also includes other, no less effective tools. The next section addresses this particular issue.
To answer the above-mentioned question, both rational and constructivist theories may be applied. At the most fundamental level, rationalism and constructivism are based on different social ontologies (individualism and materialism in rationalism and a social and notional ontology in constructivism) and assume different logics of action – a rationalist logic of consequentiality that is opposed to the constructivist logic of appropriateness.28
Constructivists argue that shared values and norms are the sources of the EU’s foreign policy objectives, including democratisation. For example, Federica Bicchi suggests that the EU’s foreign policy can “be seen as unreflexive behaviour mirroring the deeply engrained belief that Europe’s history is a lesson for everybody”.29 Regional economic integration and liberal democracy are thus representative of strong beliefs and universally valid ideas about a good political order, which is promoted regardless of calculations as to benefit and feasibility.30
In his study of the normative dimension of the EU’s enlargement process, Frank Schimmelfennig has aptly pointed out that such a process cannot be wholly explained by rationalism. He holds that it is necessary to refer to the EU as being based on a European and liberal collective identity, for which “the belief in and adherence to liberal human rights are the fundamental beliefs and practices”.31 He further argues that “in such an environment ‘rhetorical action’, based on the justification of interests on the grounds of the community’s standards of legitimacy, has changed the preferences of those member states that were initially against enlargement, mostly Southern EU member states, which became “rhetorically entrapped”.32
In the same vein, Ulrich Sedelmeier has listed a number of cases, such as military intervention in Kosovo, EU policy for the abolition of the death penalty, and EU criticism of Russian policy in Chechnya, where the limits of the explanatory power of inter-governmental bargaining are clearly evident. Sedelmeier maintains that these cases demand an explanation that takes into consideration the norms characterising the EU’s identity and the behavioural obligations entailed therein. In the presence of such norms and obligations, communicative actions, such as the logic of arguing and rhetorical action, may be seen as having determined the foreign policy outcome.33
Nevertheless, it seems that identity and shared values might not be the driving forces of the EU’s foreign policy, especially when it comes to promoting democracy. The author of this paper sees the logic of consequences as being rooted in EU’s external affairs in this regard, according to which the EU is a ‘utility maximiser’ and, as such, through the policy of promoting democracy, it actually intends to achieve political, security, and economic goals.
Under the logic of consequences, the thesis of ‘domestic analogy’ could be used to explain the EU’s policy of democracy promotion. According to this thesis, polities prefer to have an international environment that is ordered according to their own specific principles and procedures. The substantive goals, as well as the instruments, thus mirror the fundamental principles of the EU and of European integration. It is an environment that they know well and also know to use to their benefit. This reduces the costs related to adaptation and information and also puts them at an advantage over non-EU actors that are not as familiar with such an environment.34
The argument that the EU promotes democracy because of rational interests, rather than constructivist ideas is supported, first of all, by the instrumental value attached to advancing democracy. Such instrumentality seems to presuppose that, behind human rights promotion, the EU is also pursuing other hidden agendas.
Gordon Crawford asserts that the EU promotes a rather limited agenda in terms of advancing democracy, which is “oriented at challenging state power and sustaining economic liberalisation rather than extending popular participation and control” and is thus “consistent with the maintenance of neo-liberal hegemony”.35 Schimmelfennig argues that, despite the pervasive political and legal rhetoric of democracy and human rights promotion, actual EU policy seems to match rhetoric only when consistency is cheap; otherwise, it is driven by a host of other geopolitical, economically-related or security-based interests.36 The overriding interest in cooperation in the energy sphere and the ‘war on terror’ is also cited among the main reasons that promoting democracy was not made a priority in Central Asia, despite the dismal political record of this region.37
At the same time, the rationalist nature of the EU’s measures for promoting democracy can be seen in the double standards it applies to this area of foreign policy. For instance, double standards have repeatedly been considered in the context of the EU’s promotion of human rights. Different authors have noted the tendency for the EU to treat countries differently despite the fact that their human rights records are similar to one another.
One instance where this has been witnessed was in the fact that while in “the Balkans human rights and democracy were perceived as integral to a strategy aiming at stabilising the region from potential latent conflict, in the Mediterranean, the EU’s security discourse left human rights and democracy relegated to the field of assistance and scarcely present in political and diplomatic relations”.38 According to Karen Smith, “poor, marginal states (often in Africa) of little importance to the EU or one of its member states tend to be subjected to negative conditionality; these are the cases where it is easiest to show that you are doing something about human rights. In other cases like Nigeria or Russia, member states block suspension or termination because this would harm their commercial interests, because the country is strategically or politically too important, or because they have doubts about the effectiveness of negative measures”.39 In general, Richard Youngs also finds that the overall distribution of EU trade and aid provisions did not, to any significant extent, correlate with democratic criteria and punishment. He also points to the fact that rewards have been adopted on an ad hoc basis and that they are not pursued with any coherence or vigour.40 Hadewych Hazelzet came to the conclusion that the degree of respect for human rights or type of regime was not significant in terms of the EU’s initiation of development cooperation.41 She also finds that sanctions against former French or British colonies were less severe than the former colonies of other EU member states, thereby indicating the protective influence of these particular member states.42
Thus, both the instrumentality of and the double standards applied in democracy promotion lead to the conclusion that the EU as a ‘rational actor’ pursues this policy in order to gain benefits in other vital foreign policy areas. Democratisation is not an end in and of itself. It is simply a tool in the hands of a ‘rational actor’, i.e. the EU, which is limited to ‘civilian means’.
The evolution of the EU’s identity as a promoter of human rights reflects the very path that has been taken in developing an international human rights regime. Having fallen under the shadow of the principle of sovereignty and the strategic and ideological concerns that persisted during the Cold War period, human rights and democracy gained prominence only in the 1990s. Thus, the EU, encouraged by international developments, including the consolidation of democracy in Central and Eastern Europe, adopted human rights as one of the key aspects of its foreign policy. At the same time, it has developed a normative basis and a broad range of instruments for advancing democracy.
Being under NATO’s umbrella effectively exempted the EU from having to develop its military capability. Instead, systemic constraints pushed the EU to develop itself as a ‘civilian power’. This was the main internal factor that spurred the EU to grasp democracy and human rights promotion as a focus of its foreign policy. Thus, the promotion of democracy is a ‘civilian means’ for the ‘civilian power’ EU.
The EU’s policy on promoting democracy best fits with the rationalist logic of consequences, rather than the constructivist logic of appropriateness. Both the instrumentality of (i.e. the hidden agenda behind human rights’ promotion) and the existence of double standards (i.e. different attitudes towards third countries, depending on their strategic, economic and political importance) in its advancement of the human rights’ agenda leads to the conclusion that, by promoting democracy, the EU as a ‘rational actor’ seeks to benefit in strategic terms, as well as economically and politically.
Autor je stuentem Metropolitan University Prague.