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The Winter of our Discontent? Europe and the Arab Spring

Sven Biscop

The European Union's strategy for its southern neighbourhood has failed; therefore a thorough reassessment is in order. The first half of this assertion is self-evident. Somewhat ironic as well, for this is the part of the world for which the EU had the most elaborate set of strategies and institutions, including both bilateral relations and action plans under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and multilateral cooperation through the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The professed aim of the ENP remains "to promote prosperity, stability and security at its borders", based on "common values: democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development". Before the Arab Spring that aim had been achieved to a minor degree only. The durability of even those limited results was very much in doubt, because they had come at the high price of not respecting those values. All three "baskets" of EU policy - security, prosperity and freedom - underperformed. It can only be said that the Arab Spring happened in spite of, and not thanks to, the EU. But it did happen. The Arab Spring is of course a long-term process@ the outcome will differ from one country to another and will not necessarily everywhere be positive. It also is a major event though, which has opened up an enormous potential. Unshackling a region locked into a "stability" that was detrimental to the security, prosperity and freedom of the great majority of its inhabitants, as an event it must certainly be welcomed. This could indeed be the winter of the EU's discontent therefore - discontent both with our own failed policies and with the intransigence of the old regimes - to be followed by a blossoming spring.

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