A pragmatic review of the European Neighbourhood Policy that leaves some key dilemmas untackled

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      After a year-long review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the results were presented by the High Representative, Federica Mogherini, and the Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood, Johannes Hahn, to the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) on November 18th. The EU had decided to review its main framework for bilateral relations with the countries of North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and the Caucasus after events of recent years - the Arab Spring, the Ukraine crisis, evolutions in the Russian foreign policy, the Syrian crisis, the rise of Da’esh and the flows of migrants and refugees across the Mediterranean. The policy, which drew its roots from the Enlargement process, was based on the assumption that governance and economic reforms could be leveraged through “carrots” such as market access, mobility and closer cooperation. It was quite Euro-centric and perhaps naive about the power of attraction of Europe. Now the European project is being challenged from the inside. At a recent Chatham House conference on the European Neighbourhood in November 2015 some experts wondered if the EU and Europe are still attractive models for neighbouring societies since the economic crisis and the management of the Greek crisis make them less and less appealing to their own citizens. The consultation process (to which ECDPM contributed) has just concluded and is the first major review in recent years. A 2011 review had introduced approaches like the “more for more” which was supposed to create a virtuous circle by providing increased support, market access and mobility to neighbouring countries that undertake reforms. [gview file="http://ecdpm.org/wp-content/uploads/ECDPM-contribution-to-the-ENP-review-consultation.pdf" width="100%" save="1"] Dissatisfaction with the policy had been commonly heard in Brussels and elsewhere for some time. These messages also came out clearly in the year-long research programme on the cultural relations of the European Union with the neighbouring countries, in which ECDPM participated. The results of the review are neither surprising nor groundbreaking - evolutionary rather than revolutionary as a Commissioner official recently said in Brussels. And, as Mogherini noted, there is another process of strategic reflection for the EU Global Security Strategy, which will be finalised in June 2016.

      The keywords of the reviewed Neighbourhood Policy

      Stability or stabilisation are the keywords of the reviewed Neighbourhood Policy. As analysts have written, good governance and human rights are mentioned but the EU fails to put forward innovative responses that answer the demands of societies who want support for democratisation. The EU’s priorities are quite clearly stated and are inherently connected with the issues in our newspaper headlines each morning: fighting terrorism; addressing both regular and irregular migration flows; job creation for young people; promoting growth and energy cooperation. These challenges require joined-up approaches. While in the past the ENP used to be regarded as the Commission’s technical tool and the Council dealt with diplomatic and security initiatives, now all instruments, including crisis management ones, are “under one roof”. A stronger role for the Member States is sought but needs to be further specified beyond “setting priorities, joint programming, and implementation”. Indeed the Member States’ bilateral relations with some neighbouring countries have often been described as contradictory with the EU’s stated objectives. Another keyword is differentiation. Doing away with the failing concept of “more for more”, the EU should pursue partnerships tailored to each neighbouring country’s aspirations and priorities. Apart from moving away from a single, rather bureaucratic progress reporting cycle, it is still unclear how the EU will differentiate its approach. The consultations with partners in 2016 are expected to shed further light on this matter. As highlighted by some MEPs in the AFET committee, European countries are also facing the same challenges domestically. Europe is no longer the island of safety in a stormy sea. “The Neighbourhood has come to us” was a regular phrase at the Chatham House conference. The EU is also much more aware of what lies beyond the immediate Neighbourhood. Regional cooperation formats remain, but ways of working with the “neighbours of the neighbours” - in the Gulf, in sub-Saharan Africa and in the the Sahel region - will be attempted when appropriate.

      Untackled dilemmas

      The revised ENP is more realistic and pragmatic in the assessment of what the EU can achieve and how it should work with neighbouring countries’ governments. What is less clear is how the EU can combine security policies, quite necessary for stabilisation in the short term where crises are still acute or threaten neighbours, with engagement policies in development, governance and societal cooperation that can build the foundations of long-term stability and prosperity. Recognition that stability can be achieved only by more equal societies offering opportunities to and meeting the aspirations of their citizens is shared. For instance the wave of global protests that affected the world in recent years is due to, among other factors, unachieved democratic transitions - if not regressions - and economic difficulties. What to do with human rights and governance in strategic neighbouring countries, in balance with other political, economic and energy interests? This was a key question asked at recent conference on human rights and migration in the European Neighbourhood Policy, organised by PISM and the Embassy of The Netherlands in Warsaw, as part of its trilateral dialogue with Poland and Belarus. Pragmatic suggestions can be put forward. The EU has tools for the protection and promotion of human rights, and has developed approaches to work with civil society as political and governance actors. All these can and should be supported and exploited, while recognising that they are not “quick fixes” in themselves. But, as evaluations have shown, without a strategic vision for future relations with the neighbouring countries, these responses are quite limited and their achievements can be quickly undermined by structural challenges and recurrent crises. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.
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