Is Eu’s soft power efficient? The case of Morocco

Op-Ed published in the European Parliament Magazine by:

Gilles Pargneaux, MEP, Founding President of the EuroMedA Foundation

Ilyan Kyuchyuk, MEP,

Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Withouth Frontiers


When it comes to foreign politics, the EU is often questioning itself. Is it an actor on the global stage or not? Does its voice make a change? What are the impacts of its foreign action? Those questions arise from EU’s hybrid nature, made up of a strong soft power and a weak hard power. Therefore, looking for the efficiency of EU external actions must mostly focus on what its soft power delivers. Here, the case of Morocco is relevant to look into.

Morocco and Human Rights: a decade of change

First, we need to assess the evolution of Human Rights in Morocco. Since 1999, the democratic path of this country has been outstanding in the Arab World.

The reform of the Moudawana Code in 2004 is the best-known example. As Commander of the Faithful, Mohammed VI used his religious authority to revise old Koranic interpretations confining women to inferior status. Moroccan women no longer need a guardian to marry, can petition for divorce, keep marital home if they have children and claim child support.

Nevertheless, we could cite later reforms that shed light on the evolution of Moroccan society as a whole: the reform of the penal code, which prevents any civilian from being judged by military courts; the decentralization provided by the law on advanced regionalization, which gives local authorities significant power; and last example, the new Constitution of 2011 that allows the political party at the top of the legislative elections to form the government.

Obviously, not everything is perfect in Morocco. Social and territorial inequalities are profound. Homosexuality is still penalized, marital rape is a latent problem that is still not criminalized (444,000 women are victims each year in Morocco), and illiteracy still reaches high rates (41.9% of the female population and 22.1% of the male population).

All these figures are realities. They underline this dichotomy between very avant-garde texts (the Moudawana) and the reality of their application and the economic and social situations.


Focusing on a trajectory

However, the questions the UE must ask itself are: Is the trajectory of human rights in Morocco positive and has the EU helped improve it? The answer is obviously, yes, it has.

In 2008, the EU granted Morocco with an advanced status which was a recognition of his democratic efforts. A country like Tunisia did not get the same status insofar as its democratic situation was more worrying while the economic ties at this time were at a higher level. Here the EU used the potential enhancement of the EU-Morocco political ties to support the democratic path of this country.

Since then, the dialogue on human rights at the Association Council, support for civil society, support for public institutions via the European Neighbourhood Policy, have helped to develop a large number of Moroccan projects in favour of the consolidation of a culture of human rights in Morocco.

For example, the financial support to the National Strategy for Gender Equality and Equity (€ 45 million); the financial support for the operation of the National Council for Human Rights, which is an institution recognized by the EU as a strong and credible Human Rights players in Morocco (2,865 million euros); or the budget support (25 million euros)to the National Initiative for Human Development which strives to help development in rural Morocco, thus helping to reduce the gap between the territories of Morocco.

The European Union has therefore an undeniable impact on its neighbours, as long as it gives itself the relevant means. As the negotiations approach of the next multiannual financial framework, it is of the utmost importance to keep this in mind.


To conclude, the EU’s soft power must be assessed through the trajectory it helps to create, and strengthen. In the case of Morocco’s human rights situation, there is no question:  this trajectory is positive. Even though we can still have concerns on certain situation in Morocco, we have created rooms of discussion and financial leverage to help concrete ameliorations in the legislation and on the ground. Here is where the EU is best at, where we should keep developing our actions, keep strengthening our political ties with third countries like the kingdom of Morocco.

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