The regionalisation of the EU neighbourhood

There is quite some interesting developments going on in the realm of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). To start with the basics: The ENP aims at developing a secure and prosperous neighbourhood, in a way a “ring of friends” around the EU.  So, the EU offers a wide range of cooperation possibilities coupled with economic incentives and EU  funding. However, the ENP is “everything but membership” and does explicitly   rule out any prospect of EU membership for the participating countries. The relations between the EU, or more precisely the European Commission, and the ENP countries are based on bilateral agreements. This bilateral approach is obviously a rather traditional foreign policy that is often criticised to have “double standards”, since every country is treated differently depending on its willingness and capabilities to engage with the EU. The latest state of the play can be found in numerous “Action Plans, Country Reports and Progress reports”.

But now the EU is moving towards a more regional approach in ENP questions. First there was the publicly unnoticed Black Sea Synergy, followed by the much discussed Mediterranean Union; and now a new Eastern Partnership seems to be in the making…

So let’s have a look at the different approaches:

The “Black Sea Synergy” was developed in early 2007 in order to increase cooperation among and between the countries in this particular region. Through the Black Sea Synergy, the EU is also proposing more common projects in areas like transport, energy,  the environment, maritime management, fisheries, migration, and civil society development, the information society and cultural cooperation. At the same time, the  “Black Sea Synergy” also addresses “soft” security issues, such as drug smuggling, human trafficking, migration, as well as “hard” security  issues, ranging from frozen conflicts in the region to European energy security. But the specific aims of this foreign policy initiative are quite broad:

  • To stimulate democratic and economic reforms;
  • To support stability and promote development;
  • To focus on practical projects in areas of common concern;
  • To respond to opportunities and challenges through coordinated action in a regional  framework; and
  • To develop a climate more conducive to the solution of conflicts in the region.

However, this initiative is not a fully-fledged policy strategy, since EU policy towards the region is already set out in various bilateral agreements, such as the pre-accession strategy with Turkey, the  ENP and the Strategic Partnership with Russia. It is nevertheless a sign that the EU has started  thinking strategically about the region.  However, the Black Sea Synergy can also be understood as an attempt to make EU foreign policy more coherent, more effective and more flexible. Moreover, one of the main aims of the Black Sea Synergy is the promotion of regional cooperation among the countries in the region and between the EU and the Black Sea region.

A lot has been written about the Mediterranean Union, originally proposed by French President Sarkozy but significantely changed (some would say “watered down”) over the past months following a French-German disagreement. Now it is called the “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean”  and it aims at enhancing the partnerships between the EU and its Mediterraneean neighours. The new initiative will be “project-oriented”,  which means it will focus on energy security, environment, civil protection and transport as Ms Ferrero Waldner, the Commissioner for External Relations pointed out:

Potential projects will be the opening of new sea traffic routes, a clean-up of Mediterranean waters, improvements to maritime security and exploitation of solar power in North Africa to help meet the energy needs of the region.

Contrary to the “Black Sea Synergy”, the proposed upgrade of relations with the Mediterranian neighbors also includes a political dimension with biennial summits of Heads of Government, the establishment of a co-Presidency to manage these summits as well as a annual Foreign Affairs ministerial meetings and sectoral ministerial meetings and a range of “Euromed Committee” meetings. Moreover, a joint secretariat will be established to promote and follow up projects, while the Commission also proposes the creation of a permanent committee of Euro-Mediterranean representatives. At the same time, a very striking similarity to the “Black Sea Synergy” can be found in the official EU press release:

While the European Neighbourhood Policy already addresses the needs in the region by a differentiated approach in the bilateral relations with Mediterranean partners, the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean will complement this by building on the strong points as the expression of regional political commitment.

The latest addition to the regional approaches is the “Eastern Partnership” , which can be described as a mixture of both initiatives described above. The EUObserver writes about the aims and the structure of this new instrument:

The “Eastern Partnership” envisages a multinational forum between the EU-27 and neighbouring states Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, Polish press agency PAP reports. The forum would aim to negotiate visa-free travel deals, free trade zones for services and agricultural products and strategic partnership agreements with the five countries. It would also launch smaller, bilateral projects on student exchange, environmental protection and energy supply, but would avoid the controversial topic of EU membership perspectives. It would also launch smaller, bilateral projects on student exchange, environmental protection and energy supply, but would avoid the controversial topic of EU membership perspectives.

The structure of the Eastern Partnership forsees a special coordinator within the European Commission but no special secretariat. Interestingly, the ENP budget will be used for projects within that initative whereas the budget for the Mediterranean Union will be “dependent on the mobilisation of additional funding outside the traditional existing budget allocations. Financial resources are expected to come from the private sector, international financial institutions and bilateral cooperation and contributions from EU member States and Mediterranean Partners.”

This short overview makes it clear that all these new regional approaches of the EU have similar aims and objectives and are all connected to the ENP.  One underlying aspect is also the hesitation of EU policy makers to offer membership perspectives to countries such as Turkey and Ukraine. However, a more interesting aspect is the emerging regionalisation of the EU neighborhood which is promoted (some would say “invented”) by the EU. At the same time a new kind of conditinality will be introduced. The “old” ENP approach works with a simple conditonality: country A fulfils benchmark X and receives EU reward Y. The “new” regional approach will add a new conditionality: county A must cooperate with country B  (+C,+D..) in order to receive EU reward Y. Theoretically, this could support the argument that the EU is trying to replicate its own model of cooperation through its foreign policy. However, the question is of course whether the ENP countries welcome these new approaches and whether those newly added “ENP layers” contribute to a more effective EU foreign policy?

1 Comment

  1. Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Endeavour!!!

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