Recently, the EU saw itself confronted with several conflicts in the neighbourhood – from the war in Georgia over the gas conflict in Ukraine to the Gaza war. In all conflicts the EU was not capable to coordinate a coherent policy approach and just monitored the status quo. The current neighbourhood policy of the European Union has several shortcomings due to the Union’s misguided perspective on how it should interact with its neighbours.
To be a strong international political entity and a key actor in the neighbourhood the EU needs to reassess its neighbourhood policy. The enlargement of 2004 expanded the Union’s area of geopolitical influence and put the EU into direct contact with new areas of strategic interest which would face the Union with new challenges that can not be answered with integration policy. Without an appropriate institutional set up to work out its relations with the neighbourhood its political reputation will be further undermined.
Neighbours becoming Members
The former EU’s neighbourhood integration strategy aimed to prepare candidate states for membership in the Union. In 1993 the European Council laid down specific rules and obligations for countries wanting to join the Community. The so-called Copenhagen criteria requires that an applicant nation adopt the acquis communitaire, have a functioning market economy and have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. During the EU’s eastward enlargement, the EU used conditionality to secure compliance from the candidates on a broad range of political, economic, and legal matters. The conditionality tool had powerful effects in the negotiation and reform processes and deeply impacted the public policies of applicant states. As the former external relations Commissioner Chris Patten stated, “…over the past decade, the Union’s most successful foreign policy instrument has undeniably been the promise of EU membership”. (European Commission, News European Neighbourhood Policy, 2003)
Prior to the last accession of new member states in 2004 and 2007, enlargement was one of the EU’s most powerful foreign policy tools. The “golden carrot” of membership was the most effective instrument for influencing neighbouring countries’ policies and for promoting peace, prosperity, and stability. As the EU’s borders advanced and neighbours became members during the eastward expansion, previously distant countries then became direct neighbours. These neighbouring countries are unlikely to be admitted to the Community in the short-term what forced the Union to change its concept of neighbourhood. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is the response to the shifting political climate between the EU and its surrounding nations.
The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP)
The European Neighbourhood Policy was introduced by the European Commission in 2003 (Wider Europe) and further developed in the “Strategy Paper on the European Neighbourhood Policy” published in May 2004. Initially established with the purpose of providing its new eastern European neighbours a credible alternative to membership, the EU decided later to offer the same type of structured relationship to its southern neighbours (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria and Tunisia). The objective of this new policy is to extend the reform stimulus of enlargement to the new neighbours and to prevent the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbours. The ENP is directed toward the countries bordering the EU but it lacks the prospect of membership that was inherent in the former accession policy.
The ENP has ambitious goals for bringing security and stability to those countries and regions. The new foreign policy tool should handle the neighbours’ problems such as organised crime, trafficking, and illegal migration, which may have indirect and direct implications for the EU. The ENP framework is a combination of bilateral dialogue and cooperation. The bilateral relations are based on Association Agreements and jointly agreed Action Plans in which the EU and the partner states define a set of priorities covering a number of key areas for specific action. The result is that the EU may follow up on certain issues, particularly on those pertaining to good governance, human rights, and political reform in partner countries.
The ENP and the Mediterranean Partner States
Since the former policy towards the Mediterranean neighbourhood, the EMP (Euro-Mediterranean Partnership), had neither bilateral agreements nor effective use of conditionality, the ENP was seen as an advanced tool. In individual action plans described by the ENP, the principles of conditionality and joint ownership should be applied. In return for implementing policy reforms, the EU offers an increased participation in programmes, aid flows, and a stake in the EU’s internal market with the possibility of having a free trade area. However, the access to the European Internal Market is restricted in certain areas like the Common Agricultural Policy and the Free Movement of People which are of particular interest for the southern partner states.
The Mediterranean case shows that the ENP strategy of encouraging further reforms has been largely unsuccessful. The ENP has largely failed to meet the high expectations. In the view of the Mediterranean partners, the policy framework is mostly designed to pursue EU’s interests. Without the prospect of membership, the incentives for southern governments to adopt EU standards and to undertake political, economic and institutional reforms are insufficient. Especially if there is a risk of losing political power and popularity by implementing economic reforms or legislative reform is high. In addition, the EU has not used conditionality to push for political and economic reform, thus far, as it might create instability. As the EU preferred objective in the regions are stability and security, autocratic leaders were backed and a move to a free market democracy prevented. Thus, Europe is far away from a coherent policy because it does not know what it wants from the countries; stability and security or free markets democracy.
Without offering partner countries sufficient incentives for closer cooperation in various fields the consistency and effectiveness of EU conditionality on policy change is low. Economic incentives and increased partnership are not enough to encourage the level of political and economic change required by the EU.
The prospect of membership in the Union has promoted countries to undergo fundamental changes voluntarily in order to prepare for the accession. While conditionality during the enlargement process was a powerful instrument for dealing with candidate nations, the strategy of offering incentives in return for the will to undertake reform has not been successful with the new neighbours.
The EU’s neighbourhood policy was initially seen as a complement to enlargement. However, the ENP is not an adequate alternative to the enlargement instrument, as the primary objectives are not clearly defined and hardly realistic in some cases. Incentives of closer ties, a (nearly) free-trade zone and temporary agreements can not replace the “carrot” of membership for ENP partner countries. To date, the Union has no other carrots, but it has no sticks either.