chapter  1
11 Pages

Introduction

The European Union (EU) understands democratization as a complex, multifaceted phenomenon involving a variety of actors. Democratizations are in fact not uniform processes: there is always a danger that countries may easily slide back or stall, even after having covered significant ground in their journey to democracy. Moreover, consolidating democracy takes more than building institutions: it requires the day-to-day construction of a democratic society.1 For the EU, the development of democracy is, first and foremost, a locally driven process. It is the citizens who oppose authoritarian regimes and build democratic societies. External factors can assist this process, but will never replace the primacy of internal forces. Therefore, the EU’s policies of democracy promotion have for a long time been adopting a bottom-up approach, based mainly on civil society aid. In authoritarian contexts, civil society has been seen as a powerful vehicle for democratic principles and a ‘neutral’ actor in the political arena, in spite of its frequent linkages with liberation movements and opposition parties. In the process of democratic consolidation, the EU has focused on civil society as an important partner in the building of the new democratic system. Civil society is viewed as an important player in the consolidation of democracy since it encourages citizens’ participation and provides a civic-centred perspective on public policies. Therefore, its positive effect on democratic consolidation is proportional to its capacity to involve the citizens through open, transparent, and accessible channels. In this view, the EU has been describing the role of civil society as complementary to that of governments. The EU discovered the democratizing power of civil society after mass mobilizations against the socialist regimes of Central and Eastern Europe in the late 1980s and, after the turn of the millennium, with the ‘coloured’ revolutions sweeping across Ukraine and Georgia. It was in South Africa, though, that the EU first experimented with democracy cooperation programmes involving civil society. South Africa’s system of racial segregation, widely known as apartheid, was a vicious mix of authoritarianism, racism-based policies, and gross human rights violations. In the 1980s, while South Africa grew more and more isolated at the international level, civil society organizations formed the backbone of the struggle against apartheid, due to the banning of liberation movements and other

political organizations. It was in this context that the EU developed its first policies to promote political change in the country. Besides a series of sanctions and other restrictive measures, the EU adopted the most comprehensive and wellresourced civil society programme of its history, whose aim was to support the growth of a mass democratic movement pushing for the dismantlement of apartheid. By all accounts, South Africa constituted the first test-bed for the EU’s aspirations as an international democracy promoter. After deploying a massive electoral observation mission during the historic 1994 elections, the EU renewed its commitment to assisting the new government in building its fragile democracy. Through the largest democracy aid programme in Africa, the EU began to fund governmental policies, while continuing to support civil society. In order to encourage citizens’ participation and empowerment at the grassroots, the EU also developed a funding scheme for small grassroots community organizations. Therefore, the EU operated on two complementary levels. The macro-level covered institution building, election monitoring, national budget support, and assistance to nationwide civil society campaigns. The micro-level included small-scale activities involving grassroots organizations and small communitybased associations. If the ultimate goal of the macro-level policies was to consolidate the national institutional setup of the South African democratic regime, the micro-level programmes aimed at supporting democratic consolidation from below. By strengthening the capacity and the resources of community organizations, the EU assisted in bringing democracy down to the people. Indeed, the deepening of democracy is part and parcel of the complex process of democratic consolidation. Ultimately, it means empowering disadvantaged citizens to effectively participate in the new democratic society. In short, it is all about giving voice to the voiceless. This book focuses on development aid provided by the EU to the fledgling South African democracy during its first ten years of life (1994-2004). It is the only detailed account of what came to be the most relevant pro-democracy initiative carried out by the Union outside its neighbourhood. It is also the first empirical analysis of the intended and unintended effects of EU democracy aid. In line with the traditional importance of civil society in the EU’s democracy promotion philosophy and, in particular, in the South African democratization, this book’s primary focus is on those aid policies targeting civil society and supporting local democratic empowerment.