The European Union is looking to upgrade its relations with neighbouring countries, particularly in the areas of economic co-operation, energy and migration, without opening full membership perspectives. In order to discuss the policy, the Commission invited its eastern and southern partners to a Brussels conference.
The ENP conference, which took place on 3 September 2007 in Brussels, was the first to bring together representatives from the EU and all partner countries to the east and south, with many countries represented at ministerial level. External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said that its main purpose was to serve as a “listening exercise” for the EU.
She made clear that the EU wants to beef up its neighbourhood policy, especially in the areas of economic co-operation, energy, migration and technical assistance.
She listed the following areas in which the EU is seeking closer ties:
- The Union offers comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and deep economic integration with its neighbours, if the partners agree to undertake substantial reforms.
- Energy is an important aspect of the ENP, which helps to meet the EU’s need for energy security. The Black Sea co-operation, which includes existing EU members and candidate countries, is an example of this. Bilateral agreements are in place with Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Morocco and the EU hopes to seal similar deals with Egypt and Algeria.
- The EU also offers free travel and favourable visa procedures for neighbours. At the same time, the Commission is seeking to simultaneously combat illegal migration and create more opportunities for legal migration from partner countries. The Commission wants to introduce ‘mobility partnerships’, to allow citizens from neighbouring countries to move to the EU and receive work permits.
- Finally, the ENP offers financial assistance to those partners which make progress on their governance objectives. It further allows using EU funds to leverage a larger sum of money from other international financial institutions, such as the EIB.
Meanwhile, a new Eurobarometer poll reveals that EU citizens actually care less about their neighbours. More than half of those questioned (54%) say that they are not interested in what is happening in countries neighbouring the EU, compared with 48% in 2006. Knowledge of the ENP also remains low, with a significant majority (80%) saying they are unaware of the policy.