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

Challenges of the European Neighbourhood Policy (1)

The current European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) of the European Union is 4 years old, a very short lifetime for such a complex and multi-faceted strategy. Therefore, the ENP can still be considered as an emergent policy area in the early stages of development. In the first of a three-part series, I would like to highlight what I perceive as the main incommensurabilities, or internal contradictions, of the ENP.

Integration vs. inclusion

The Neighbourhood Policy developed out of the Enlargement process of the EU, which was arguably one of the EU’s most successful initiatives. This is true in particular for the incredibly smooth accession of eight eastern European countries plus Malta and Cyprus in 2004. It provides an example of how a variety of economies and governance systems can successfully be reconciled onto a common level of standards, and simultaneously at that.

This was used as a blueprint not only for later and current pre-accession programmes, but for the ENP as well. The Action Plans, agreed upon between the EU and most of the ENP countries, resemble very much the Accession Partnerships with membership candidates. The majority of the objectives are identical: Economic and other cooperation up to a certain level of actual integration, and as much approximation to the acquis communautaire, the entire body of EU law, as possible.

But what clearly distinguishes the ENP countries from other states in the EU’s close vicinity is that while the EU would never completely rule out their future membership, they do not have the option of accession anywhere in the near future. Which leads to the first incommensurability, one between political intentions and practical initiatives: If, at least in theory, a country can successfully graduate to match all criteria for EU membership, for how long can the EU keep denying it candidate status and ultimately accession?

It is exactly for this reason that Ukraine, for instance, which is often quoted as a model country for successful implementation of the ENP, is not at all happy being considered just a neighbour without any real prospect of membership. Therefore, Ukraine tries to act as if the ENP does not exist and actively pursues concrete political progress on sectoral issues instead, such as trade, security, and governance, regardless of the framework. Thus, the country aspires to de facto candidate status. In the same spirit, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova have expressed their desire to join the EU. Morocco and Israel are seeking closer relations as well.

Willing vs. unwilling partners

On the opposite end of the spectrum are countries which are targets of the ENP but do not have much – if any – interest in engaging with it. They feel that the implication that ENP partner countries mostly need development aid and should adopt European values in terms of society, justice, and human rights is somewhat patronising. The self-confident and self-sufficient states of Libya and Algeria are examples of this disposition.

Additionally, there is the particularly sensitive issue of Russia. The Russian Federation never could merely be considered a neighbour of the EU, but rather a peer country with equal, if not more, geopolitical clout. Its energy relationship with the EU sets it even further apart from other countries in the region, and conditionality – a.k.a. the stick-and-carrot approach – which is part of many ENP initiatives (see below) would not work with Russia anyway. Therefore, the Federation did not become a part of the ENP, even though it technically meets the eligibility criteria.

Instead, Russia and the EU concluded a special strategic Partnership and Co-operation Agreement that is currently under negotiation for renewal. Yet, the European Commission set up ENPI, the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, its main financial programme for the Neighbourhood Policy, in a way that groups the Russian Federation with all ENP countries.

All this constitutes the second dilemma, a case of policy overstretched to the extreme: The European Neighbourhood Policy in combination with the ENPI aim to keep the targeted countries closer to the EU than can be achieved through general foreign policy, but not as close as they would membership candidates. However, and for very different reasons, a number of the countries are not ready to subscribe to either option.

In the second part: The east/south divide and ownership of the ENP.