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Democracy promotion and the construction of liberal publics: the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights and neoliberal governmentality

Open Panel

Abstract

Democracy promotion has become an important ‘symbolic’ facet of European Union’s (EU) foreign and development policy and the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) is often considered, despite its moderate budget, the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the EU’s democracy promotion. The EIDHR’s (reformed) mandate, crucially, encompasses the funding of democratising civil society organisations and thus the facilitation of the emergence of democratic publics ‘from below’. But what are we to make of EU’s ‘soft edged’ ''democracy promotion through civil society support'' and what kinds of relationship with the state does this democracy aid encourage or facilitate? It is argued here that if we apply Foucauldian governmentality tools to the analysis of the workings of the EIDHR we can see that, despite the pluralistic rhetoric that guides it, the Instrument’s objectives and management structures can favour, if in a rather unsystematic or unconscious manner, ''neoliberal'' democratic visions and democratic actors. This has consequences for the perceptions of the role of the state in ''democratising'' societies, for views of the tasks of ''democracy-enhancing'' civil society actors, and for conceptions of the role of ''active democratic individuals'' in EIDHR funding structures. The workings of hidden political (and economic) assumptions within EIDHR funding structures, while seemingly innocuous, have, it is argued here, important consequences for how we understand the model of democracy that the EU promotes and the power relations of the EU’s ‘locally owned’ democracy promotion.