EU Neighbourhood Policy: All in vain?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Federica Mogherini at a news conference on the European Neighbourhood Policy in Brussels. March 2015. [Reuters]

The EU’s Neighbourhood Policy is back to zero, a second time in less than four years.  Four truths have to be taken into account if the European Commission and its External Action Service are to deliver a new policy framework by June later this year, argue Gabriele Schöler and Stefani Weiss.

Gabriele Schöler is Senior Project Manager of Bertelsmann Stiftung based in Gütersloh (Germany) and Stefani Weiss is the director of the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Brussels Office.

In theory, having a policy strategy that guides your relations with your immediate neighbours is certainly a good thing to have. On top, who could complain, if your strategy tried to make your neighbourhood be more like you? After all, states that are well-governed, share your values of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights are more stable, peace-loving and make better friends.

But all theory is grey. As well intended the EU´s Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) might have been thus far it has not been able to deliver. Instead of being surrounded by a “ring of friends” all we are witnessing is an “arc of crisis and instability” stretching from the European Union’s eastern borders down to the Mediterranean basin.

In consequence, the EU is back to zero. The Arabellion has already forced the EU to overhaul its ENP in 2011. The last-minute withdrawal of Armenia to sign a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) with the EU and even more so the fierce conflict with Russia in and over Ukraine that emanated precisely because Ukraine ultimately signed a DCFTA has led to a second rethink in less than four years.

The European Commission and the European External Action Service are tasked together to deliver a new policy framework by June this year. Consultations are under way. But whatever they will be able to come up with from all what we know there can be no mistake about the following truths:

Firstly, the EU´s neighbourhood is less and less homogeneous – if it ever was otherwise. Thus the 16 countries which are part of the ENP cannot be dealt with a one-size-fits-all approach, no matter how nice and comfortable that might be, but have to be treated individually.

Secondly, the EU has to pay much more attention to the deep dividing lines between political elites that are too often corrupt and have taken the state and the societies in these countries, which increasingly long for a rule-based governance, hostage who. In dealing with these governments the EU has to walk a tightrope. As convincing the “more for more” approach, i.e. more access for more transformation, might sound, it has its delicate limits. This is not only valid when the principle is not applied coherently. Take for example the carrot of visa-free arrangements. Either it is frustrated because governments are courted without their delivering on reforms. On the other hand, how would the EU be able to work with civil society in these countries and strengthen people-to-people relations without granting visa-free movement?

Thirdly, the EU has to pay sober regard to the geopolitical constellation within which it operates its neighbourhood policy and become much clearer abut its own interests. Of course, all the EU´s neighbours are sovereign states and thus free to choose with whom they engage. Nevertheless, if that means – even unintentionally – to manoeuver the neighbours into a position where they have to decide with whom they side this policy might do more harm than good. This applies even more when the EU in itself is divided and thus not prepared or able to put its full weight behind the policy.

Fourthly, in a time where most of our neighbours are either victim of “frozen conflicts” or outright civil wars including the involvement of foreign countries, the future ENP cannot be a stand-alone policy mostly shaped and administered by the EU Commission. It can only be successful as part of the EU´s overall foreign and security policy. It seems that overhauling the ENP makes it necessary in the first place to revise and vitalise the EU´s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

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