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Global Player Status? EU Actorness and Democracy Promotion

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EU Global Actorness in a World of Contested Leadership


The European Union (EU) institutions are definitely, together with the United States of America, the key global players in democracy assistance. This chapter explains, through a comparative approach and with the help of statistical evidence, how Member States cannot match the EU Commission in the area of democracy assistance. At the same time, it is clear that the EU possesses a greater degree of actorness in democracy assistance than in democracy promotion writ large. This chapter concludes with a discussion of the extent to which the EU manages to use its unique position as a hybrid actor in world politics to strengthen its legitimacy as a democracy promoter. It argues that in many ways—and contrary to predictions of the EU being a different, new type of more “civilian” or “normative” actor—the main problems of EU democracy promotion are, in fact, identical to those of states.

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  1. 1.

    For a discussion of US democracy promotion see e.g. Mitchell (2016).

  2. 2.

    I.e. “carrots” such as closer economic ties, institutional memberships etc., on the one hand, and sanctions of various kinds, on the other.

  3. 3.

    Balancing this, DAC data also underestimates financing for human rights and democracy, as many aid projects will directly or indirectly (not least through so-called mainstreaming) contribute to supporting this agenda even though it is not identified as their main objective (correspondence with European civil servant DG Near, July–August 2019).

  4. 4.

    Due to a lack of precise and comparable data per instrument, sums do not add up across tables.

  5. 5.

    See for instance Congressional Research Service (2019, pp. 9–16) for a description of the complex US system of democracy support.

  6. 6.

    It must be underlined that the EED is not, strictly speaking, an EU institution, although it is usually analyzed as such. It is a private foundation, the Board of Governors of which is dominated by representatives of the EU Member States, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the European External Action Service (EEAS). EED funding mainly comes from the European Commission and voluntary Member State contributions (EED, 2018).

  7. 7.

    The Country Strategies are increasingly being complemented by so-called Democracy Profiles, which offer a political economy (rather than more legally) based analysis of the prospects and hurdles for democratization or democratic consolidation in recipient countries. These are developed directly by the EU Delegation and Member State representatives in the countries concerned, then reviewed and approved by the relevant services in Brussels and by Member States in the framework of the COHOM working party. They are meant to further increase joint programming, but also to increase coherence and coordination overall, including on policy dialogue (correspondence with European civil servant DG Near, July–August 2019).

  8. 8.

    See also Article 3(5) TEU.

  9. 9.

    Thanks goes to an anonymous reviewer for pointing out the latter example.

  10. 10.

    See however the EU Agenda for Action on Democracy Support in EU External Relations of 2009 (European Council, 2009).

  11. 11.

    For a discussion on the minimal use of the human rights conditionalities under the EU Generalised System of Preferences, see Velluti (2016), for a discussion on conditioning aid and the use of sanctions, see Smith (2015).

  12. 12.

    In fact, EIDHR is not restricted to developing countries, but can also fund CSOs in the Global North, including the USA and Russia.

  13. 13.

    The picture remains quite stable over time: for the period 2005–2014, the top five donors remain the same (European Parliament, 2016, Fig. 2).

  14. 14.

    The code 151, labelled “government and civil society” encompasses also elements which go beyond democracy assistance (see section two of this chapter for a further discussion). However, not all Member States report at finer levels of granularity, hence the necessity to rely on this code.

  15. 15.

    Global presence and activity areas are based on the latest available data, which differ from donor to donor. The table is thus illustrative.


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The author wishes to sincerely thank the reviewers of this chapter as well as the participants of the IBB Seminar of 13 March 2019, University of Malta—and in particular the discussant, Stefano Moncada—for very useful comments on previous drafts. As always, the responsibility for any errors remains solely the author’s.

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Correspondence to Anna Khakee .

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Khakee, A. (2022). Global Player Status? EU Actorness and Democracy Promotion. In: Freire, M.R., Lopes, P.D., Nascimento, D., Simão, L. (eds) EU Global Actorness in a World of Contested Leadership. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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