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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

The EU and its Southern Neighbours: Normative Leadership or Realpolitik?

Friday , 14 July 2023
On July 11, 2023, Friends of Europe and the Samir Kassir Foundation hosted a Chatham House Rule discussion around "The EU and its southern neighbours: normative leadership or realpolitik?" at Townhall Europe, Brussels.

The debate emphasized that EU values-based diplomacy was still needed.

EU diplomacy must continue to stand up for the safety of citizens and freedom of expression violated by authoritarian partner governments, according to participants at the event. This roundtable warned of the disconnect between expertise on the ground in fragile countries and decisions taken at the EU level.

“The EU remains one of the last values-based principled bastions upholding rule of law through international diplomacy. As long as Europe can have engagement with other regions and work to protect freedom of expression, it must stay engaged,” one participant argued.

The EU needs to reconcile and acknowledge that some countries within the bloc of 27 member states are themselves at odds with EU values. However, this should not deter its leadership position on human rights and human security.

It was acknowledged that the EU does not have the same bargaining power on international cooperation and foreign assistance as 20 years ago. It is crucial that the EU improves collaboration with other funders, NGOs and international agencies to understand whether human rights and security are improving on the ground. Exercising conditionality in this regard was debated, with some participants saying that the EU should not be so cautious in placing measurable indicators or guarantees to monitor progress and others expressing the view that especially “aid should not be so conditioned – otherwise, it is intervention”, as one participant put it.

These are important signals and messages to politicians, NGOs and third parties alike. Often, the EU loses sight of the importance of the signal it sends. Recent EU policy statements and funding appear tone deaf and risk appearing “extraordinarily disconnected” from political convulsions on the ground. These optics matter in terms of how EU wants to be perceived and the power of its impact on positive social impact.

The exercise was held under the Chatham House Rule to promote a free and open discussion. Participants spoke in their personal capacities.

The meeting was held with the support of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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