03 Sep 2008, Posted by Eric Karstens in European Policy, 0 Comments

Challenges of the European Neighbourhood Policy (3)

The final piece of this three-part analysis of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), a special programme for countries outside but geographically or otherwise close to the European Union, looks at power issues and the challenges of practically implementing it.
The first two articles are here and here.

Conditionality vs. social learning and timing issues
Frequently, confusion arises because the complex and protracted decision processes inside the European Union (including several consultation processes and requisite endorsement by the member states) are difficult to grasp by foreign countries.

It is hard to convey, for instance, why a twinning project, where professionals from EU Member States are delegated to accompany and assist a peer abroad for an extended period of time, takes around three years to implement – in particular when it is supposed to address a concrete need as soon as possible. Experience has shown that in many cases such twinnings prove to be more effective than short-term, scattered consulting and training measures. Not only are professional peers better accepted on location than know-it-all teacher types, but their longterm presence also makes sure that the imparted knowledge and skills are sustainable.

While comprehensible, time delays are all the more unfortunate since they are crucial for the tactic of social learning. This concept, also known as socialisation, implies that the ENP partner country’s citizens in their roles as official administrators, business people, political stakeholders, etc., are enabled to act at their own discretion and based on what they have learned and understood from best practice. The associated notion is that a clear and voluntary comprehension of what is appropriate is of much more sustainable benefit than enforced good conduct.

Conditionality, on the other hand, rather uses the stick-and-carrot approach. With this approach, the EU defines objectives and gives incentives for them to be successfully achieved. The reward must be so good that actors become genuinely motivated to follow rules and guidelines they would otherwise ignore. Conditionality is a tried-and-tested method and can also be used to kick-start social learning, but at the same time it is the opposite of voluntary and sustainable learning effects, since it is not as much based on conviction than on coercion.

This applies for individual persons as well as for governments. It is the fifth incommensurability: The simultaneous use of adverse techniques for change, and the slowing-down of social learning through practical timing and implementation issues. However, conditionality has turned out to be a rather weak instrument of the ENP, what with no immediate membership opportunity and a merely financial reward system – in particular when, e.g., China offers infrastructure and business investments without political conditions.

Values vs. power interests
While it is in the interest of, e.g., Ukraine and other ENP countries mentioned earlier to close up to the European Union in all areas, including values, human rights and the rule of law, some governments, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, are not at all enthusiastic about this idea. Relinquishing autocratic state leadership in favour of European-style democratic reforms is not necessarily part of their political agenda, and if they are at all looking for models to follow, they might rather go for the “authoritarian capitalism” of China or Russia than for Western Europe. Syria and Belarus could be cited as examples, together with Libya and Azerbaijan.

Despite the European Union’s declaration that values are one of the key objectives of the ENP, is does not have much leverage over non-compliant countries. With near-future accession being practically ruled out from the very start, the EU can only put so much pressure on them and has limited incentives to offer.

At the same time, security and energy considerations make good relationships with such countries politically indispensable, even if their human rights situation is not up to or even runs contrary to EU defaults. This Janus-faced approach, however necessary it may be, further impedes Europe’s credibility in value-oriented initiatives. It constitutes the sixth dilemma, a frequent inability of the Union to live up to and insist upon its own standards. The countries concerned, such as Libya, understand, of course, very well that they are in a good bargaining position to sustain their status quo.

General political views vs. specific interests
Finally, there are also instances of contradictions in terms within the European Union’s interests, which are the seventh issue. An example for this is energy. The European Commission is all for free trade, open markets, and effective competition. But in order to make sure that Europe is supplied with natural gas and oil functions, a fully liberalised play of market forces might not always be the most secure or economical solution. This can lead to the ENP demanding profound economic reforms while at the same time urging countries to keep close tabs on certain business areas.
As a consequence, even inside the European Union some might come to the conclusion that it is not always in the best interest of Europe itself to impose its model on third countries.

Policy framework vs. practical implementation
While the southeast-integrated European Neighbourhood Policy is just now getting in full gear and has already achieved a lot, it also keeps hitting a number of walls. Many of these can be seen as a result of trying to fit too many divergent political interests and a too diverse range of target countries into one common framework.

On the one hand, this impression is merely psychological, since the European Union negotiates differentiated bilateral policies with each country individually. The ENP provides only the general guiding rules for this multi-track approach.

On the other hand, practical implementation of the ENP is, indeed, actually often encumbered by this umbrella-like general coverage. In particular the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) tends to launch programmes that are indiscriminately targeted at the entire region. Thus, it is frequently left to the officials or to contractors performing the resulting tasks in the field to sort out how to adapt to varying environments. Such frictional losses could possibly be reduced via more strategic differentiation of the specific instruments and projects of the ENP.

This analysis was motivated by a recent seminar at the European Institute for Public Administration (EIPA) in Maastricht, titled “The new relationship with our neighbours: A practical guide to the European Neighbourhood Policy”, 11-13 June 2008. Anne Autio provided further remarks and insights.