The revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was published by the European External Action Service (EEAS) jointly with the European Commission – Directorate General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) on the 18th of November. Hurray, finally the ENP students will be able to write their Master theses! But how well known is this policy actually if you happen to not be a privileged EU Affairs student? And how effective has the revision exercise proved to be?
The ENP was introduced concurrently with the finalisation of the 2004 enlargement negotiations as a framework for regulating the relationship of the European Union with the neighbours-to-be in the eastern part of Europe (and later in the southern Middle East and Northern Africa region). This so-called “Wider Europe” approach is now slightly more than a decade old and has been already object of a review twice: 2011 and 2015, years of major geopolitical crises and changes, have brought the EU institutions to rethink their strategy within the neighbourhood. This second time the revision has consisted in a public consultation of relevant institutional and civil society stakeholders on the status quo of the policy itself.
So, quid novis from the most recent revision? A first thing to be pointed out is the attempt of the EU to portray itself as a more proactive political actor: positive verbs are used from the beginning of the Joint Communication and in Mrs Mogherini’s and Mr Hahn’s speeches, the EU representatives that presented the review. “Strengthen”, “build together”, “try to solve” as the propositional trinity attempting to overcome the current impasse that the policy is facing. One may say that acknowledging the existence of a problem is sometimes already half of its solution. The interesting part will now be to see how this “new phase of engagement” evoked in the review will be applied in practical terms.
A second less “attractive” aspect I noticed is the recurrence of the good old stabilisation normative rhetoric according to which the EU is to continue promoting its values in order to create democracy, rule of law and so on and so forth. I personally think that the EU should set itself free from this kind of primordial “white man’s burden” complex of having the obligation to export a model of democracy and rule of law etc. This approach makes it at times almost an impossible job to have a dialogue with other countries without labelling them with an e.g. ‘neighbour’ tag and creates an indissoluble asymmetry between the two parts. The focus should be put more on making neighbouring countries trust the EU as a partner, and not only vice-versa. Dear Santa, my wish for 2016 is that you take with you these sorts of “neighbourliness” lenses that put neighbouring countries in a pre-defined (and most of the times inferior) position from which they cannot emancipate whatever their actions. It becomes obvious then that, lacking adequate incentives from the EU side, they will do what requires less effort and less risk of losing popularity at the domestic level when trying to implement their agreements with the EU (Association Agreements / Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area Agreements). It thus appears more suitable to establish an equal discussion instead of the current one-sense Europeanisation.
As a matter of fact, the political will of both sides to engage has proven to be the most influential factor during the entire negotiation process. “Should the ENP be maintained?” – was the first question of the ENP public consultation receiving a strong majority of positive answers. To continue with the classic soft and uncommitted approach would mean not having taken into any consideration the results of the consultation and thus invalidating the whole revision process.
The next step will take place in 2016 and involve a dialogue with the sixteen countries, part of the neighbourhood policy on the adequacy of the new approach suggested by the revision and how the latter could be put into practice. Do not forget, Santa, that the EU should reach a common stance among its twenty-eight members and stand by the proactive message of the revision. Ambiguity should be abandoned and – oh, Santa, you had better exist – the membership promise should not be hindered tout court before thoroughly assessing the extent to which a neighbouring country is committed to becoming a EU member.
To conclude, a weak point of the European Neighbourhood Policy has (so far) been the lack of a clear long-term vision of this policy. What is the final aim of such a collaboration? Is the EU proposing a hybrid and soft policy to its neighbours all the while waiting for a clearer picture of its geopolitical challenges? These are legitimate questions to ask the current ENP state of affairs. For this reason, a follow-up of the latest revision and a less ambiguous and more proactive agenda is necessary for the 2016 and onwards period. Dear Santa, 2015 has been the first year of the new European Commission, and a dense one in terms of unhappy events; 2016 is the chance to prove that the EU is an important actor on the regional scene and can abide by a common, truly European approach when engaged in a dialogue with its partners.