18th Mar 2019

Landmark neighbourhood strategy to be approved

The European Commission will on Wednesday (11 May) approve a landmark strategy paper, which will determine how the EU deals with its new neighbours to the east and south.

At their weekly meeting in Brussels tomorrow, Commissioners are expected to approve a strategy paper on the wider Europe region.

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The strategy paper, running to dozens of pages, will be accompanied by country plans, drawn up by the Commission, detailing ways of developing the first wave of what is being called the European Neighbourhood Initiative.

Israel, Jordan, Moldova, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Ukraine are the first to agree to join the policy.

The strategy element of the paper mirrors a five-page plan presented by the Irish EU presidency earlier this year, dealing with the EU's neighbours in one policy, but with the depth of ties determined on a country-by-country basis.

The EU has offered deeper economic ties in return for political dialogue and democratic reform.

Change and influence

The success of the policy will be crucially important for the European Union, ascertaining its ability to encourage, change and influence events in countries which have no immediate prospect of EU membership.

Although the final texts will be agreed by the EU and the countries concerned, some countries involved have criticised the lack of ambition in the plans.

Some, such as Moldova and Ukraine, have been keen to limit the period covered by the plans, as they continue to press for recognition as prospective EU members.

According to one diplomat involved in framing the strategy, joint action plans with Egypt, Lebanon and Algeria are likely to follow, most likely in the autumn.

As agreed by Foreign Ministers in January, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia will be offered the prospect of joining the initiative after being left out in the initial stages.

Diplomats say the southern Caucasian republics are likely to receive assurances that they can begin talks aimed at agreeing on an action plan in the near future.

For now, Belarus remains in the cold, with diplomatic ties between Minsk and Brussels at a minimum.

Approval by the Commission will be the first step towards putting the plans into action.

Member states are expected to give the policy the go-ahead in June and move towards finalising the Joint Action Plans.

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