Think EU-MED

Sunday, May 22, 2011

“More for More” - Redefining the strategy



The revolutionary upheavals in North Africa have triggered a debate on the future of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). In light of the recent events across the Mediterranean region, the Commission is currently reviewing the Southern dimension of the ENP. After several delays, it is expected that the Commission will publish a comprehensive review on 24th of May. Any new approach needs to restore credibility in the EU’s neighbourhood policy to ensure the success of the democratic transitions and to close the huge prosperity gap between the Southern and Northern shores of the Mediterranean.

The ENP was developed in 2004 to offer its Mediterranean neighbours a privileged relationship, building upon a mutual commitment to common values. While the EU negotiated under the ENP framework detailed Action plans and monitored the neighbors’ progress in delivering on reforms, the EU has de facto not exercised serious pressure on the authoritarian regimes to move beyond superficial reforms. While the ENP placed rhetorical emphasis on democratization it has constantly sidelined the aim to support grassroots democratic movements. In the discussion on the ENP’s future shape, the Eurosceptic Think-Tank Open Europe published a report looking at the effectiveness of EU assistance to North Africa and the Middle East. The report states that despite of the EU's funding effort towards its Southern neighbours of about €13 billion (1995-2013), the EU’s aim to promote democracy in the region largely failed to meet the high expectations. The Commission has consistently increased its funding commitments “despite noting limited or no progress in terms of democratic reforms and human rights”. The report mentions, for instance, the EU’s questionable aim to consider an Association Agreement with the Gaddafi Regime, the direct aid funding of autocratic regimes, poor monitoring of projects or dubious funding measures such as the 40 Million Euro grant to the Palestinian Authority. Next to those allegations, there are also other examples where the Commission granted financial support to pro-government groups prioritizing political stability over democracy. (e.g. the Moroccan Initiative Nationale du Dévéloppement Humain)

The Open Europe Report has prompted a reaction by the Commission. The EU Commission states that indeed “mistakes were made in the past” but that the “Report gives an erroneous and simplistic vision of the ENP”. The statement stresses that the EU has a “robust system in place ensuring that funds are correctly used”, and that the potential Association Agreement with Libya would have been mainly supportive for the civil society etc. In regard to close ties with autocratic regimes, the Commission states that the “serious shortcomings of a government do not justify isolating a population”. This sentence expresses a dilemma the EU’s neighbourhood policy is facing: Is it justified to turn a blind eye to the promotion of democratic values in order to help the people? Or is it rather an excuse to protect its own interests in the fields of security, energy, or economy? In February, the Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle acknowledged in his speech that the EU’s stability-oriented approach - supporting the perpetuation in power of authoritarian and corrupt regimes - was based on “short-termism that makes the long term ever more difficult to build”.

A New Partnership?

The communication of 8 March proposes a modification in the EU’s strategy reflecting the emerging challenges in the Southern neighbourhood. The “Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity” should react to the changing political landscape in the region building on three elements: democratic transformation and institution-building, a stronger partnership with the people, and sustainable and inclusive growth and economic development. The EU offers “more for more” by linking democratic reforms and aid: More economic benefits & increased financial aid for more democratic reforms. The Partnership should be “an incentive-based approach based on more differentiation“.

In the debate about the revision of EU’s policy towards Southern Mediterranean, the key question concerns which incentives Europe is willing to provide to strengthen the partnership. Conditional offers and assistance, the more active support of good governance, a bottom-up democratization process all relies ultimately on the EU’s ability to exercise influence and on the willingness of the partner countries to cooperate. Thus, the EU’s possibilities in dealing with the Southern neighbors are de facto limited if Europe continues granting little offers to the Mediterranean countries. When the EU asks more from its partners it must also offer in return greater openness in areas such as movement of people, access to the European markets and financial assistance. However, in times of austerity many EU states are not enthusiastic to increase the financial support for the Southern dimension of the ENP but rather demand that funds should be directed in a smarter way. German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle recommends that any financial assistance to the EU’s neighbours should be strictly conditional on their reform progress. On the other hand, the foreign ministers of France, Spain, Greece, Slovenia, Cyprus and Malta request in a letter to Catherine Ashton more funding for the Mediterranean region and that the disparities in the ENP spending - €1.80 per capita to Egypt, €7 to Tunisia compared to up to €25 to Moldova - cannot be sustained in light of the current events.
In regard to greater market access, some EU countries favor opening the EU market for agricultural products. However, the Southern EU countries will not easily agree on easing all tariff quotas on agricultural products from the Southern Mediterranean. The issue of mobility and easier visa regime is even more complicated. Few governments will be ready to open up their labor markets to North Africans. While the facilitation of visas for students and business people and mobility partnerships are a step in the right direction, any significant step, as for example, a necessary “'pact for labour and skills' between the EU and Arab countries that choose a path to democratic transformation” is not expected to happen.

The proposal of the Commission calls for a greater differentiation and bilateralism. However, the ENP is already a very flexible instrument with tailored Action Plans varying in scope and ambition. More differentiation means less coherence between the Southern Mediterranean countries. The EU should maintain a multilateral dimension with the region. Although it is clear that the UfM needs an overhaul concerning its goals, resources, and mandate. Ho the overall strategic goals for the region, such as enhancing regional integration and the Euro-Mediterranean free trade area need a greater intra-regional coherence which can better be achieved via interregional cooperation.

In the mid-term, it is unrealistic that Europe will fundamentally change its policy towards the region. The democratic transition in North Africa will probably rather increase the perceived soft-security threats from the region such as illegal migration, human trafficking, organized crime, and terrorism. Thus, the EU’s main interest in securing stable relations in the ambit of energy, immigration and security will most likely persist. If the new Partnership should be a “qualitative step forward” in the Euro-Mediterranean relations, the EU needs to improve the mutual trust among the two regions and among the partner states themselves. A close partnership based on common standards and interests needs a strong political will for deeper cooperation.