This book has presented a detailed analysis of EU democracy aid to postapartheid South Africa from 1994 to 2004. In terms of financial commitment and actors involved, this aid programme was the most significant pro-democracy initiative ever carried out by the EU outside the European continent. Therefore, the magnitude and political relevance of the South African case place this analysis at the centre of the scholarly debate on the EU’s global role as a promoter of democracy. From a theoretical point of view, the book has focused on three concepts: civil society, democracy assistance (or, rather, micro-assistance to democracy), and sustainability. These notions have therefore constituted the conceptual backbone to the entire analysis in order to place the book within the policy debate on democracy promotion (Chapter 2). Regardless of their theoretical framework, all scholars agree that civil society is an important driver for democracy. Although some of them have warned against naïve understandings of civil society’s relation with democracy, most international donors have been overly enthusiastic about civil society’s capacity to bring about regime change and promote popular participation. Nonetheless, aid programmes have not targeted civil society as a whole. Most of their focus has been on highly technical non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which are often based in the capital cities and enjoy limited contact with the grassroots. Obviously, this preference for elite organizations has cast some doubts on the actual effectiveness of civil society aid. How can NGOs promote popular participation in new democracies if they are not closely connected with the citizens, especially in those marginalized areas where democratic advancement struggles to take root? Thus, in an effort to ‘go local’, a number of international donors have begun to implement programmes with the intention of assisting grassroots organizations, often rural based. Since the mid-1990s, the European Union has been part of this ‘going local’ trend. The EU understands democratization as a lengthy process involving multiple actors and requiring long-term commitment. In its official discourse, the EU has therefore rejected quick fixes and one-size-fits-all approaches, mainly based on its own historical experience of different democratic regimes coalescing into
one supranational entity through a long process of negotiations, compromises, and temporary setbacks (see Chapter 3). Moreover, by insisting on democratization as an internally driven process, the EU has inevitably placed particular emphasis on civil society as a driving force for democracy. For the EU, democracy aid and civil society assistance have also been important instruments to promote democracy through civilian means, principles, and norms. Over time, the range of EU policies and programmes in this sector has grown in size and scope. Since the second half of the 1990s, with the introduction of the then European Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights, the EU has also developed a specific support scheme for grassroots civil society organizations (CSOs) through so-called micro-projects. Unlike professionalized NGOs, which are usually elite-driven and urban based, grassroots CSOs operate in the most marginalized areas of new democracies, where anti-democratic practices and authoritarian forms of informal power often outlive the advent of democratic rule. Micro-assistance to democracy includes all policies, programmes, and projects aimed at supporting democratization from below. Resembling the experience of microfinance in the field of economic development, the notion of micro-assistance to democracy holds that financial aid is most likely to have a direct and durable impact on the participation of disadvantaged communities when it is directly available at the grassroots level. Therefore, if the goal of international aid is to foster the deepening of democracy (rather than, for instance, institution building), then micro-assistance programmes are the most appropriate instruments. Obviously, the relationship between civil society and international donors poses the question of sustainability. Although most analysts limit themselves to examining sustainability in terms of financial resources, this book has adopted a broader definition, which also includes the capacity of CSOs to promote community participation, their interaction with other likeminded organizations, and their relationship with government institutions. If civil society is to successfully perform the role of ‘transmission belt’ between the political arena and the citizens, then money is not enough: CSOs must be accountable to the citizens through open democratic processes, exchange information and form alliances with other civil society groups, and, finally, interact with government in order to influence public policies. The initial section of Chapter 3 also devoted particular attention to the literature discussing what type of international actor the EU has become, with a view to showing that the promotion of democracy and human rights must be considered an important test-bed in assessing the consistency and effectiveness of the EU’s international role. Although providing a reference point for all studies on European foreign policy, most academic literature relies on a limited knowledge of policy impacts. What are the actual strengths and weaknesses of the EU’s external policies on the ground? What dynamics are they triggering? Is civil society aid effectively promoting democratic deepening? Is the EU making democracy more sustainable?