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23rd May 2022

EU to revise relations with turbulent neighbourhood

  • The focus is set to be more on protecting Europe from the consequences of its neighbourhood instability. (Photo: streetwrk.com)

A decade after launching it, the EU is trying to bring new life to its Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which has been rendered largely irrelevant by developments in Ukraine and around the Mediterranean.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and neighbourhood commissioner Johannes Hahn launched Wednesday (4 March) an ideas paper on the EU strategy towards its neighbours in the east and south.

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  • "There is no way in which our partnership with Eastern countries can be perceived as confrontational", said Mogherini. (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

The EU member states, the 16 ENP partner countries and civil society in the East and South of Europe will be involved in the assessment of the actions undertaken so far.

A first consultation with the southern neighbourhood will take place in Barcelona in April. The Eastern Parternship will be reviewed at a summit in Riga in May.

A full proposal for a renewed strategy to spend will be presented next autumn. Over €15 billion have already been budgeted for the period 2014-2020.

Region in flames

"Our region is in flames", said Mogherini at a common press conference with Hahn, referring to the wars in Ukraine and Syria and the ongoing turmoil in Libya.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, political instability in Egypt and Lebanon and the deadlock in the Israel-Palestine peace process are also indications that the EU failed to stabilised its neighbourhood.

Even in Moldova, considered the best pupil so far of the Eastern class, the EU seems to be losing its touch. Two weeks ago, a controversial businessman formed a minority government with the help of the anti-European Communist party.

"The ENP has not always been able to offer adequate responses to these recent developments, nor to the changing aspirations of our partners", says the paper launching the policy revision process. "Therefore, the EU’s own interests have not been fully served either".

Mogherini and Hahn emphasized the need for dialogue with the ENP partner countries.

"We have many very good reasons to maintain very good relations with our neighbours. The new ENP must reflect the views and experience of our partners. It must not be patronising and condescending", said Hahn.

The commissioner added however that the EU must "stress its own interest when it discusses with its partners".

Protecting Europe

Whereas the Neighborhood Policy has until now mainly been about projecting EU soft power to help develop democratic standards and free trade, the focus now is set to be more on protecting Europe from the consequences of its neighbourhood instability.

In future, the EU should put "a new emphasis on energy security and organised crime", as well as terrorism and the management of migration flows, said Hahn.

The EU is also considering co-operating with "the neighbours of the neighbours".

In a clear reference to energy issues, the consultation paper mentions "Russia and partners in Central Asia".

The paper also suggests that the ENP could conduct "post-conflict actions as well as related state-and institution-building activities".

In a neighbourhood which is "less stable than ten years ago", the EU will shift from generic policies to differentiated approaches with its Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods as well as between countries in these two regions.

"In a number of areas, the reform agenda has stalled, in part due to competing interests, in part because not all partners seem equally interested in a special partnership with the EU under the model of pluralism and integration", says the paper.

The EU "needs to move from an approach very much based on the evaluation of progress to a more political approach", said Mogherini.

This assessment might particularly apply to the situation in Ukraine, where the negotiations for an association agreement were apparently conducted with little strategic anticipation.

The EU’s foreign relations chief refused to say however that the bloc had been "naive or confrontational" in its dealing with Ukraine.

"Self-criticism will be part of the assessment", she said. But "we also have to underline the strong points".

Russia

The elephant in the room in this assessment process will be Russia, which is not an ENP partner but is engaged in a strategic confrontation with the EU over the Eastern part of the programme.

"There is no way in which our partnership with Eastern countries can be perceived as confrontational", said Mogherini.

"This cannot be used as a pretext to violate international laws. The door of European cooperation is always open also for Russia. The principle is you have to show respect to international laws and principles to be perceived as a key player international and region player", she added.

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