The Jean Monnet Information and Research Activity on EU Foreign Policy and DEMocracy Promotion in the Mediterranean area (EUDEM) – coordinated by prof. Stefania Panebianco - was funded by the LLP of the European Commission and carried out by the University of Catania. The project appeared to timely grasp the winds of democratic change blowing in the Mediterranean area. Even if the research topic was identified in January 2010, it became even more relevant in 2011, when popular uprisings took place in many Arab countries.
The interest of the academic community in the issue of democracy and the Arab countries is not new. Yet, the so-called Arab Spring represents a watershed in this field of study. Many questions were raised and research was tailored particularly by the following puzzles: How (and ever) to democratize the Arab world? Why is there such a popular request? Can the international community promote democratization in these countries?
In particular, the EUDEM researchers investigated the following topics: the role of local and international, state and non-state actors; concepts related to human rights and democracy; different phases of the democratization process; specific historic background of MENA countries.
CLARITY OF PURPOSE
The EUDEM project developed and used innovative communication tools to set up and integrate a trans-national multidisciplinary network of researchers, students, practitioners and civil society representatives involved in democracy promotion in the Mediterranean area.
The aims of the EUDEM project were twofold: to conduct research on democracy promotion in the Mediterranean by bringing together scholars, students and civil society actors coming from different academic contexts, and to spread and exchange information via several instruments, particularly via electronic resources (Skype meetings, conference web-stream, online newsletters, etc.). Students were specifically socialised to the importance of using electronic resources both for research purposes (e.g. survey and research on Media and blogs) and as means for wide and quick network communication.
The “running style” of the entire EUDEM project was based on the active involvement of both senior and junior researchers, students and civil society actors, believing that the active participation of youth and several types of non-governmental actors alongside with area experts can represent a significant experience of pluralism contributing to innovative democratic practices arising from local and diversified arenas.
The 12-month project actively involved around a hundred of local and international academic staff, BA, MA, PhD students and Post Doc Fellows from foreign and Italian Universities. Around 20 local civil society associations were interviewed; other 50 International NGOs were contacted via an online survey. The on-line distribution of the newsletters reached more than 200 professors, students and practitioners worldwide.
All information was disseminated by means of a dedicated website (http://www3.unict.it/eudem/eudem/) containing research materials, specific links, thematic bibliographies, the conference web-stream, e-newsletters, information on the international network. Internet connections and web archives were also important tools to support the empirical research carried out by the young researchers.
The EUDEM research group presented the preliminary results during the international Conference on “Winds of Democratic Change in the Mediterranean? Actors, Processes and Possible Outcomes,” which took place on 19– 21 May 2011 at the University of Catania. The conference was web-streamed. So, about 150 people attended personally or via web.
Thanks to the web and media coverage (e.g. bulletins, mailing lists, radio interviews, journal articles) of the entire EUDEM project, and particularly of the May Conference, the project became well known both among academic and non-academic public well beyond the local dimension.
Finally, a book titled “Winds of Democratic Change in the Mediterranean: Actors, Processes and possible Outcomes”, edited by Stefania Panebianco and Rosa Rossi, is in print with Rubbettino, Soveria Mannelli. [ISBN: 978-88-498-3183-2]
EUDEM methodology ensured an innovative public engagement. At any stage there was a synergetic relationship between the research staff and young researchers, students and civil society representatives. The use of Internet in all phases of the project allowed for the implementation of an innovative methodology that might represent an example of ‘best practice’. Reducing costs and distances, civil society representatives, senior and young scholars, PhD, MA and BA students were engaged during the lifespan of the EUDEM project, not just as targets, but primarily as leading actors.
Concerning students’ involvement, at the start-up of the EUDEM project the local staff formed young research students’ networks. Bi-monthly web-meetings were devoted to supervise students in any research phase. Students conducted face-to-face interviews with local civil society representatives. International NGOs dealing with topics related to democracy promotion in the Mediterranean area were reached through an e-survey. Students also reviewed media and blogs on the Arab Spring.
At the May conference students, young scholars and civil society representatives worked closely together. Senior and young researchers illustrated the results of their original research. PhD sessions and students’ research sessions were planned. PhD students also worked as rapporteurs of the entire conference. Civil Society actors ended the conference actively participating in a Round Table.
The on-line newsletters devoted specific attention to political changes taking place in the MENA region, to the specific role of Media as vehicle of the democratic protest and requests and to bottom-up strategies conducted by civil society organizations. Students’ reports were published in the on-line EUDEM newsletters.
The empirical research results achieved and disseminated thanks to the EUDEM project, the expertise acquired by the students, the confidence—building process involving all participants, the information exchange with practitioners, the elaboration of a public web-platform could produce further outcomes beyond the project’s lifetime.
The acquired know-how has been mutually enriching and the network will be active also in the future. Further research will be conducted for a book project on the EU relations with Mediterranean countries; some EUDEM scholars are participating in other conference panels (e.g. at the Mediterranean Meeting in Montecatini, 21-24 March 2012); some students will continue research on this topic through PhD research at IMT, Lucca – moreover, when the EUDEM project ended some students conducted field-research in Morocco (University of Casablanca) and Egypt (Cairo University).
The website, online Newsletters, the Facebook network are all sustainable outcomes.