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Rethinking the European Neighborhood Policy
/ 16 May.'15 / 18:05
Laure Delcour

Renewed ENP Should Pay Higher Attention to Security, State-Building, Include Civil Society

This article is based on a policy brief “In Need of a New Paradigm? Rethinking the European Neighborhood Policy/Eastern Partnership” which appeared in Eastern Partnership Review, funded by the Estonian Center of Eastern Partnership.

The neighbourhood has emerged as a major test for the EU’s foreign policy as a whole. With the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), the EU has responded by projecting to the neighbourhood its own model of governance and economic integration – widely seen as building blocks of prosperity and peace across the continent. By providing guidance for domestic reforms, EU’s rules and policy templates were expected to bring about prosperity, stability and security in the neighbourhood.

But more prosperous and democratic neighborhood has not emerged. Over the past few years the EU’s neighbourhood has turned into a much more unstable and insecure area, with conflicts threatening regional  security and postponing the colossal task of political and economic reforms.

The wide-ranging consultation process launched on March 4 by the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini and the ENP Commissioner Johannes Hahn is expected to lead to “a fundamental review” of the ENP.

The EU needs a shift of paradigm. It should de-centre the ENP from its own experience and better tailor its policies to partner countries’ needs and circumstances.

Ten years on: lessons to be drawn

EU’s neighbourhood is now hardly more prosperous or stable than ten years ago.As a consequence of Russia’s support to breakaway regions and secessionist groups, the area is increasingly fragmented.  Five out of the six Eastern partners are now confronted with unresolved conflicts.

The “common neighbourhood” betweenthe EU and Russia is split between two economic integration projects, the Deep andComprehensive Free-Trade Areas (DCFTAs), offered by the EU under the Eastern Partnership (EaP) and Russia-driven Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

It is a fact, that in many countries the EU’s long-term reform agenda is at odds with the most urgent security needs.

At the same time, links between the EU and its neighbourhood have never been so dense. Looking at the Eastern Partnership, the EU is now a major trade partner for all six countries (and the first trade partner for four of them). But clearly, interdependence does not translate into EU influence in its neighbourhood – despite the strong degree of attractiveness it retains there.

The EU has ignored the local and regional realities in which these transformations were supposed to unfold. Also, these transformations happen in the context which differs significantly from the first waves of the EU enlargement. The EU needs to rethink its approach.

Firstly, no sustainable reforms are possible without strong local ownership. Therefore, the EU should adjust to the local circumstances. Second, the EU’s long-term transformative offer should be tailored to a context characterised by the growing importanceof geopolitics and security threats.

How could it work?

Give impetus to people-to-people contacts
People-to-people contacts are key to improving the knowledge and understanding of the EU and its policies in Eastern Partnership countries, where the EU is still relatively unknown among the general public. The technical nature of the ENP and the EU’s focus on dialogue with governments have only added to the poor degree of awareness.

  • Move to a visa-free regime with Georgia and Ukraine and to a visa dialogue with other countries as soon as the conditions are met, while also providing an assessment of the first year of implementation of the visa-free regime with Moldova.
  • Expand opportunities of scholarships, visits and exchange programmes for students, researchers, teachers and professors;
  • Consider introducing/developing exchange programmes and visits for SMEs under its assistance programmes;

Develop evaluation culture
The EU has now invited all interested stakeholders to contribute to annual progress reports - its main tool to monitor domestic reforms in ENP countries. In essence, progress reports are channels through which the EU conveys key messages to Eastern partners. However, they have been criticised for lacking clear and consistent benchmarks, selectively analyzing country developments and relying extensively on data provided by international watchdogs.

In these countries, there is little (if any) experience of including civil society in the policy dialogue. To alleviate this deficit, the EU should:

  • Fund targeted capacity-building programmes for CSOs in order to enable them to effectively perform monitoring functions,
  • Appoint Civil Society Steering Committees and support their involvement in the programming and monitoring of European Neighborhood Instrument assistance (especially, but not exclusively, budget support operations),
  • Promote the institutionalisation of a trilateral dialogue with EaP governments and local CSOs on EU-Eastern partners’ relations.
  • Beyond Stocktaking: Develop an ENP evaluation culture: The EU should regularly commission evaluations of key instruments and programmes, such as the flagship initiatives within the EaP’s .The results of these evaluations should systematically be incorporated in the ENP policy process and stock-taking exercises.

Develop higher political and security profile
While relying primarily on its long-term transformative power in its neighbourhood, the EU should also be able to respond more quickly and strongly to short-term political and security developments. The ENP needs a higher political profile, with strong leadership by the High Representative. In light of recent developments in Eastern Partnership countries, the EU should also pay increased attention to state-building in the region. Security sector reform (premised upon tight connections between security and democratic norms) is critical in this respect. This is also an area where EU Member States could gain more weight.

Meet the neighbours

The EU needs to maintain the multilateral track of the Eastern Partnership, while also injecting more differentiation in the bilateral track, based on partner countries’ aspirations towards the EU and ability to deliver onreforms.

In the near future, the three countries, which have signed Association Agreements (AAs), will face very different issues in their relationshipto the EU as compared to Armenia, Azerbaijanand Belarus. 

For Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine: 

  • The EU should prioritise development of the professional, accountable and efficient public service in Eastern Partnership countries in the forthcoming European Neighborhood Instrument programming period (as is the case in Moldova and Georgia for2014-2017);
  • The EU should also accompany sectoral reforms (as is the case for agriculture in Moldova and Georgia) by providing targeted technical assistance, grants and sector budget support;
  • EU should design a strategy to engage more systematically with businesses in the three countries with a DCFTA, while stepping up support to private sector development (a key orientation of Neighbourhood Investment Facility for 2014-2020);
  • The EU should pay specific attention to those areas/sectors where reforms are lagging behind - the fight against corruption may be such an area, yet reforms in this respect are critical for an effective implementation of the agreements.

Finding a Path for Engaging with Armenia
By launching a scoping exercise to identify the areas which could be included in a new agreement with Armenia, the EU has shown unprecedented flexibility. It must continue to engage with Armenia as much as possible.

  • Step up its pressure to enhance the role of Armenian civil society in the monitoring of EU-Armenia relations;
  • Strengthen support to Armeniancivil society. In the Single Support Framework 2014-2017, support to civil society is defined as “complementary”with only 5% of total funds allocatedto this priority. The EU should consider increasing this amount.

In Belarus and Azerbaijan
The EU should maintain some degree of engagement on areas of joint interest while also not giving up on values. It could focus on people-to-people contacts (visa talks, research and education cooperation) and, with Azerbaijan, energy and technical cooperation.

It should be more vocal in condemning the sharp deterioration of the situation in the country. The EU should also envisage using conditionality – after all, the EU itself is an important partner in Baku’smulti-pole foreign policy.

Laure Delcour is a scientific coordinator at EU-FP7 project CASCADE and a research fellow at the French Institute for International and Strategic Relations.

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The views and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania or the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation.

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