EU seeks closer ties with neighbours on energy and migration

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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.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that "greater vigour" was needed on some aspects of the neighbourhood policy "from the EU and its partners". He also vowed that the feedback given at the conference would "help shape the ENP for years to come".

Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado stressed that the ENP was "not just any old policy" but a "truly European project". He urged the need to take political developments into account, such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks. "Europe needs to review its policy in this light," Amado said.

German State Minister Günter Gloser underlined that strengthening the ENP had also been one of the main priorities of the German Presidency during the first half of 2007. He stressed the element of conditionality by stressing that how much the partners could profit from the upgraded ENP essentially depended on the pace and quality of reforms in their country.

However, not all partner countries are happy with the level of co-operation offered by the EU, especially those which want to be considered potential membership candidates instead.

Ukrainian Ambassador to the EU Roman Shpek said: "We cannot recognise the ENP as an adequate basis for Ukraine-EU relations. We can recognise only an instrument that will acknowledge that Ukraine is an integral part of Europe."

Moldovan Foreign Minister Andrei Stratan told the conference: "The proposals presented by the Commission on strengthening the ENP are already a big step forward, but it still does not meet our expectations."

Meanwhile, Poland and the UK spoke out in favour of the two countries joining the Union at a later stage.

Established in 2004, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) aims to forge closer ties with EU neighbours without offering them a membership perspective. The ENP includes 16 neighbouring countries to the south (Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, West Bank and Gaza Strip) and east (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) of the EU's borders.

In December 2006, the Commission proposed to upgrade the ENP to an 'ENP+'. The new European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) was introduced in 2007 as a comprehensive fund to promote co-operation, together with a new lending mandate of the European Investment Bank (EIB).

Through this policy, the EU seeks to promote greater economic development, stability and better governance in its neighbourhood. However, despite the fact that the ENP is often presented as an alternative to enlargement, it nevertheless misses out on the essential 'carrot' to bring about painful reforms: the membership perspective.

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