Enacting democracy promotion: Tunisian civil society and the European Union
Ragnar Weilandt completed his PhD on EU democracy promotion in Tunisia at the Université libre de Bruxelles and the University of Warwick as part of the GEM programme. His doctoral research examined the practices appearing at the nexus of EU and civil society engagement in the context of democracy promotion. More generally, his research focusses on EU external action, Euro-Mediterranean relations as well as the politics and international relations of West Asia and North Africa. He is currently a Postdoc at KU Leuven’s Centre for European Studies and an Adjunct Professor at the Brussels School of Governance of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
This thesis is motivated and informed by three observations of the literature on EU democracy promotion. First of all, such studies tend to be conceptually and methodologically Eurocentric in that they do not sufficiently consider the experiences, perceptions and attitudes of those who are at the receiving end of EU policy. Second, the EU and civil society as actors promoting democracy in transitioning countries are often framed as rather monolithic political entities and interaction between the two is often analysed under that premise. Third, and partly as a result of this, less attention is devoted to what individuals and groups engaged in democracy promotion actually do in practice as well as how their practices interact with each other. This motivates the overarching research question of this thesis: How do EU democracy promotion practices shape civil society in transitioning countries?
Using Tunisian civil society and its practices as a case study, the thesis has two main objectives: First of all, it seeks to identify, map and examine the practices appearing at the nexus of EU and civil society engagement in the context of democracy promotion. On that basis, it then seeks to understand how these practices relate and react to each other. In order to avoid Eurocentrism, it does so by strongly drawing upon the accounts of Tunisian civil society activists interacting with the EU.
Whilst scholars of democracy promotion tend to focus on either the formulation of policies or their impact, this thesis demonstrates the centrality of the practices employed in their context. It shows that to understand democracy promotion and its outcomes, we need to revisit the repertoires of practices of those enacting it within countries in transition. This includes both internal actors such as civil society as well as external actors such as the European Union, both of which can be conceived of as democracy promoters.
The thesis shows that the practices, through which the EU and Tunisian civil society promote democracy in Tunisia, are informed by the different backgrounds, interests, views and dispositions of those enacting them. However, they also constitute themselves in reaction to the respective others’ practices. The thesis’ main finding is that EU practices contribute to producing and reproducing certain practices within Tunisian civil society and thus also certain types of civil society actors. In doing so, the EU has both a transformative effect on the nature of civil society in Tunisia and contributes to further widening existing divisions within it.
Ragnar Weilandt completed his PhD on EU democracy promotion in Tunisia at the Université libre de Bruxelles and the University of Warwick as part of the GEM programme. He is currently a Postdoc at KU Leuven’s Centre for European Studies and an Adjunct Professor at the Brussels School of Governance of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research interests include EU external action, Euro-Mediterranean relations as well as the politics and international relations of West Asia and North Africa. At the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, he teaches the courses ‘Comparative Regional Studies’, ‘Contemporary Conflicts in the Euro-Mediterranean Region’ as well as ‘History and Politics of the Modern Middle East’. At KU Leuven he teaches the courses ‘Regionalism, Inter-regionalism and the European Union’ and ‘North Africa, the Middle East and Euro-Mediterranean Relations’.
Weilandt, R. (2019). Divisions within post-2011 Tunisia’s secular civil society. Democratization, 26(6), pp. 959-974. https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2019.1576034
Weilandt, R. (2019). Will Brexit Change the EU's Foreign Policy? Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, 61(2), pp. 143-166. https://doi.org/10.1080/00396338.2019.1589093
Weilandt, R. (2018). Socio-economic challenges to Tunisia’s democratic transition. European View, 17(2), pp. 210–217. https://doi.org/10.1177/1781685818805681