The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was launched in response to the 2004 EU Enlargement, which moved the Union’s external borders to the east and south, and thereby also changed the EU’s very notion of neighbouring countries and external borders. While most of the previous direct neighbours of the EU had had a short-term perspective for EU membership and eventually acceded, the new neighbours were much more diverse and had different aspirations for the future.
The ENP enjoys a special position in the context of the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). It aims to deepen existing political and economic relations, and to help countries in crisis in their efforts to foster stability and to respond to current economic, social, and security challenges. That said, values such as democracy, the rule of law, and human rights form the basis for the EU’s engagement.
The European Neighbourhood Policy is managed jointly by the European External Action Service (EEAS) and the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (NEAR). The EU Delegations (i.e., the EU’s equivalent of embassies) to the Neighbourhood Countries play a key role in the ENP as well.
Which countries are part of the ENP?
The countries concerned are divided into two groups that differ in terms of both geography and culture: The neighbours in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region, namely
Within this roster of countries, Belarus is only involved in a very limited way. Russia is not part of the ENP, but engages in cross-border cooperation activities which are, in turn, an element of the ENP. At the same time, Libya and Syria are currently not in a situation to implement much, if any, constructive policy cooperation with the European Union.
How does the ENP work?
The ENP is funded primarily through the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), which pledges €15.4 billion for the period 2014-2020. The ENI has replaced the previous European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) that operated from 2007-2013.
Accordingly, the ENP is the policy that sets the strategic objectives of cooperation, while the ENI provides the tools and funds for implementation.
The ENI is divided into four types of actions:
- Bilateral programmes, i.e., direct cooperation between the EU and individual neighbourhood countries;
- Regional programmes, i.e., actions that address the entire eastern or southern neighbourhood, respectively;
- Programmes covering the entire EU Neighbourhood at once, such as the Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF), which supports the creation of water, power, and transport infrastructure, as well as Erasmus+, the renowned exchange programme for students, volunteers, and academic teachers; and
- Cross-border cooperation between individual EU Member States and neighbouring countries.
Aside from the ENI, the neighbourhood countries benefit on a case-by-case basis from the
- Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI), which supports actions to reduce poverty;
- European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), which supports the rule of law, democratic governance, freedom and fundamental rights; and
- Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP), which is used to respond to crisis situations.
Typically, the EU seeks to agree with the ENP countries on Action Plans (in the south) and Association Agendas (in the east), in order to lay down a common agenda for 3-5 year periods. Currently, such plans are in place with all states involved, with the exception of Syria, Libya, Algeria, and Belarus.
With many countries (Algeria, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Moldova, Morocco, and Tunisia), the EU has already concluded Association Agreements, such agreements are under ratification (Ukraine; the agreement is already being applied provisionally), or in negotiation (Armenia, Azerbaijan). Libya and Syria are currently on hold because of the local conflict situations.
Association Agreements are the closest that a country can come to the European Union before, or instead of, becoming a candidate for EU membership. They provide for the partner country’s harmonisation process with the EU Acquis and include privileged trade relations – meaning that the country can more easily access certain sectors of the European Single Market. With Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, the EU has even agreed on more profound and more integrative Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTA). DCFTAs are also in the works with Tunisia and Morocco.
Morocco had even applied to join in the European Communities back in 1987, but was rejected on the grounds that it was geographically not a European country. A few years later, the Copenhagen Criteria also introduced a set of political and economic preconditions which a country must meet in order to be considered for membership – essentially stable democratic governance, a market economy, and compliance with human rights.
Like for the EU’s foreign and development policies, responsibility for the ENP is shared between four actors: the Foreign Affairs Council, the European External Action Service (EEAS), the European Commission’s Directorate Generals International Cooperation and Development (DEVCO, also known as EuropeAid) and Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (NEAR), as well as the European Parliament. Council and Commission are bridged by the special role of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who is simultaneously a member of both institutions Vice-President of the European Commission and President of the Foreign Affairs Council (among other roles).
The Council makes the decisions on foreign and neighbourhood policies, and is ultimately responsible. The EEAS takes the role of the EU’s foreign ministry and diplomatic service, while the Commission’s Directorate-Generals NEAR and DEVCO manage the practical implementation and financing of the Neighbourhood Policy. The Parliament contributes to the policy-making process with resolutions and during the legislative procedure.
For instance, this project, OPEN Media Hub, is under the purview of DG NEAR. It is part of the OPEN Neighbourhood Programme, which, in turn, is the communication and outreach strand of the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), the ENP’s funding source. The ENI was established by the European Council and Parliament through the regular legislative procedure based on the appropriate articles of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The implementation of this project is also coordinated with the EU Delegations in the partner countries, which are part of the EEAS, and must be consistent with the EEAS’ work related to the region.
The 2015 ENP review: Neighbourhood relations today
Since the ENP’s launch, the region has seen a number of major developments that changed the landscape substantially, among them the Maidan protests and Russian military action in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the uprisings of the Arab Spring and their aftermath, the violent conflict in Syria and Libya, and the rise of the so-called “Islamic State”, not to mention many domestic power shifts. In particular the southern countries are also affected in various ways by the current refugee crisis.
These developments called for a stocktaking and realignment of the European Neighbourhood Policy. In 2015, the EU conducted a consultation on the topic, which helped formulate the Review of the ENP. The document describes how the EU will respond to the changed environment and new challenges.
The old ENP had been modelled after the EU’s Enlargement Policy, which is designed successively to bring up the Candidate Country to the EU’s standards and practices across all policy sectors. This is a complex and long-term endeavour that requires strong commitment from the candidate, and the threshold to become an EU Member State is very high. However, while some EU neighbours do have a membership perspective, others do not – either because they are not interested in the first place for political reasons, or because their economy and governance is so fundamentally different from the European Union that the required degree of harmonisation is, at best, a vision for the distant future. Hence, it became clear that a more differentiated approach was called for.
The new ENP is therefore centred around the following key notions:
- Fostering economic and political stability as needed, especially in countries afflicted by crises (which, in one way or another, holds true for most of them);
- Differentiated degrees of cooperation and rapprochement, resulting in a stronger EU engagement with the partners keenest on such relations;
- More pragmatic policy-making on the basis of common interests related to concrete and pressing issues; and
- Promotion of universal values rather than the more specific values enshrined in the treaties of the EU and its Charter of Fundamental Rights.
As a consequence, five thematic policy priority areas are now emerging:
- Economic growth, employment, and economic modernisation;
- Energy supply security and sustainability, including climate change mitigation;
- Transport and infrastructures at the regional level;
- Management of migration and mobility, including the refugee crisis; and
- Security and the countering of radicalisation and terrorism.
These themes will apply to all participating countries in a differentiated manner, but at the same time always receive overarching, regional attention.
Up-to-date information on all areas of the ENP, recent and upcoming events, and publications can be found on the website EU Neighbourhood Information Centre.
The information and views set out in this text are those of the OPEN Media Hub authors and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.