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21 Aug 2008, Posted by Eric Karstens in European Policy, 0 Comments

Challenges of the European Neighbourhood Policy (2)


In the second instalment of this three-part series, I continue my analysis of the challenges of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), one of the more recent and still emerging policy initiatives of the European Union.

East vs. south

Some people jokingly refer to the European Neighbourhood Policy as a “Twix Bar”. It has two separate parts in one common package: The Mediterranean border countries in the south and Middle East, and the Eastern European and Central Asian states in the east of the Union’s territory. While the south has been a target of EU policy initiatives for a long time and has recently been brought into renewed focus by the formation of the Mediterranean Union, a specifically Eastern neighbourhood policy was virtually non-existent before the 2004 and 2007 accession rounds that created new external borders for the European Union.

This meant that quite suddenly, there emerged an entirely new region to be covered by the Neighbourhood Policy. And instead of creating a separate, targeted instrument for the east, the Union decided that there should be no difference per se between neighbour countries and hence put it under the same umbrella with the southern countries. And, for example, the Ukraine and Morocco are indeed seen as very similar in their efforts to develop intensive relations with the Union in the interest of future accession.

However, there remain quite fundamental differences between the southern and eastern regions. Most eastern neighbour states were forced to basically re-invent themselves after the fall of the communist regimes in the late 1980s and early 1990s. While they took very different paths, governance-wise, they all had the experience of a zero hour. Additionally, many of them actually share a common cultural tradition with Western Europe, from which they had been isolated for half a century.

In contrast, the southern region never underwent the same kind of disruptive changes – notwithstanding the special situation of Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The Arab countries were culturally never very close to Europe, and despite colonialism and occupation, they essentially had more or less linear developments of their own. Religious practices, forms of government and traditions remain very different from the Occident. And, as a general rule, the respective countries have neither reason nor incentive to seek fundamental change.

This is the third incommensurability, a sharp contrast of backgrounds, traditions and needs. While the ENP, of course, goes for a differentiated, country-by-country approach, it however combines very disparate regions within one framework. The east/south divide is only the most conspicuous one; within both areas, it might further be wise to look separately at North Africa, the Levant, Eastern Europe, and the Caucasus. Indeed, particularly the ENP’s financing programme ENPI (European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument) has many individual measures which are either politically or geographically driven, but overlap in many places.

Political vs. financial ownership

This principle of mixing ostensibly irreconcilable elements also extends to the ownership of the Neighbourhood Policy. On the one hand, it is sometimes quite hard to discern which entity within the European Union is the driving force and the controller of ENP initatives. The European Commission is, as usual, not always in accord with the Council, and the individual member states have their respective own agendas, too. France and Spain, for instance, are strongly concerned with the Mediterranean region, whereas Germany rather looks east.

Moreover, the European Commission itself has assigned a pair of Directorates-General to deal with Neighbourhood issues: External Relations and EuropeAid (also known as AidCo). Both are responsible for the entire world outside the EU and its accession candidates, not only for the ENP region. But with respect to the ENP, the two differ from each other in their focus: DG RELEX controls exclusively the political aspects and cooperates with EuropeAid on financial issues, while EuropeAid’s competence extends solely to the financial and development programmes in a narrower sense.

These two angles on Neighbourhood policy are, again, distinguishable by their respective ownerships. The political side, i.e. Action Plans, Partnership and Cooperation Agreements, and Association Agreements, is negotiated with and agreed upon by the partner countries. Implementation requires input from both sides. The financial side, on the other hand, i.e. the ENPI with the associated Action Programmes and other interventions, is strictly under EU control and directly implemented by the European Commission or their contractors. If local authorities cooperate, fine, but it is sufficient that they do not interfere with or expressly object against an individual project.

So there is the fourth issue, which is about the level of team play with the neighbouring countries: Mutually agreed-upon initiatives collide with EU-sponsored projects beyond the control of the target state. Such initiatives may be based on the Action Plans, but can as well result from Council or Commission decisions outside existing agreements.

In the final part of this series: Power and implementation issues of the ENP.