Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

The 'Do-No-Harm' Debate in External Democracy Promotion

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

The 'Do-No-Harm' Debate in External Democracy Promotion

Article excerpt

This article analyzes at the neglected debate around the potential negative side effects of the European Union's (EU's) democracy promotion in the ethnically diverse Western Balkan states. Despite significant efforts by the EU to promote democracy, the results frequently lag far behind the goals declared by both the EU and the target states. This investigation examines how ethnicity-widely assumed to be crucially linked to democratic consolidation-has been taken into account in the EU's democracy promotion. EU program documents are analyzed and then contrasted with two case studies from the ethnically diverse Western Balkan states. The findings suggest that, surprisingly, the EU has deliberately risked lagging behind the standard of 'do-no-harm', which has been the declared minimal of EU development cooperation for several decades.


Western Balkans; European Union; external democracy promotion; ethnic conflict; power sharing.

1. The European Union's External Democracy Promotion and Ethnic Diversity in Southeastern Europe

Since the late 1960s, numerous actors from the international community1 have taken up the endeavour of external democracy promotion (EDP)2 in many states around the world. Despite the significant increase of non-autocratic states in the last 60 years, the relative share of "hybrid" regimes, "partly free" regimes, and "democracies with adjectives" has increased (Marshall and Jaggers, 2011; Levitsky and Way, 2010; Freedom House, 2010).3

Legions of international actors (states, inter-, or trans-national organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European Union (EU), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), different non-governmental organizations (NGOs), international non-governmental organizations (INGOs), government-organized non-governmental organizations (GONGOs), political and private foundations, etc.) have undertaken to contribute to continued democratization. They use many different measures and aim to achieve diverse goals though various strategies. Sometimes, external democracy promotion has pejoratively been called the "boom-industry" of international cooperation, currently disposing of a worldwide annual budget of about euro10 billion (Schraeder, 2000 in Grävingholt, Leininger and Schlumberger, 2009: 28-33). Especially in its "neighbourhood", including the Western Balkans4, the EU has actively promoted and supported the development of democracy, with the goal of democratic consolidation. However, a consistent policy approach and moreover an external evaluation of the effects-which are increasingly coming under criticism for producing negative side effects-are often lacking.

This is quite surprising as external democracy promotion, and its evaluation of positive and sometimes negative effects, has been an important issue in the older field of development cooperation. In this context, the concept of 'do-no-harm' has been mainstreamed since the 1990s (Anderson, 1999). With regard to EU democracy promotion in developed states, to date awareness and knowledge about the (negative) side effects is a relatively unknown field. Events in recent years (the economic crisis, EU accession fatigue among old and aspiring EU members, stagnating democratization, as well as cases of corruption regarding funds accorded to target states and/or organizations for democracy promotion) have nurtured doubts as to whether the billions spent in EDP by the EU actually can stand up to the expected impact, and whether that impact will always be positive.

The effectiveness and efficiency of EDP have long been subjects of controversial discussion. Interestingly, for the former socialist and communist states only recent years have seen a debate around the 'do-no-harm' principle in the context of democracy promotion. One very important factor that poses a particular challenge to EDP, and is often linked with the quality and performance of democracy, is ethnic diversity. …

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