Commentary by Jasmin HARPER
Launched in 2004 and restructured in 2011, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was created parallel to the EU’s Central and Eastern European ‘Big Bang’ enlargement in order to strengthen stability, security and prosperity in the EU’s new neighbourhood. Designed to build a ‘ring of friends’ around the EU, the policy currently serves as the EU’s overarching framework towards its southern and eastern neighbours (Eastern Europe, the Southern Caucasus, the Middle East and North Africa). As an alternative to enlargement, the ENP offered a means for new neighbours to deepen political, economic and security relations with the EU. Initially praised as a comprehensive structural foreign policy founded on the principles of ‘partnership, common interests, joint-ownership and differentiation’, in the last few years the ENP has come under fire as a failure of European foreign policy. Critics argue that the ENP is inadequate to face the challenges it was meant to address. However, to what extent is this assessment of the ENP based on problematic or overly optimistic expectations?
The most obvious problematic expectation was the belief that the EU’s approach towards its new neighbourhood could largely rely on the same operational and instrumental arrangements that were employed in the context of enlargement. The EU’s methodological approach to the ENP, certainly prior to the 2011 revamp, was almost identical to the accession approach established and successfully applied in the Central and Eastern European countries. However, the EU’s cherished methodology based on positive and negative conditionality and financial and technical assistance has so far proven to be ineffective in its southern and eastern neighbourhoods. For example, the ENP claimed to offer gradual integration in the EU’s internal market and participation in EU programmes and policies as incentives, but the actual tangible advantages offered by the EU have been too little and too ambiguous. It seems as though the EU has offered its neighbours the proverbial ‘stick’ without the incentive of the ‘golden carrot’, therefore conditionality cannot function in the same way as it does in the accession process. Partner countries are not sufficiently motivated to undertake costly democratic reforms encouraged by the EU. This is clearly a problem that will be difficult to resolve because as much as some neighbour countries may be pushing for EU membership, it does not seem likely that this will be on the table for any new countries any time soon.
Additionally, the ENP’s disregard for alternative poles of attraction can be described as an extremely naïve problematic expectation of the EU’s normative power. As a result, the EU faces challenges due to the fact that its partners have inevitable attractions to other powerful external actors, notably Russia and Islamic movements. Unlike the Balkans, where the EU operates within a domaine exclusif, both the western NIS and the southern neighbourhood attract the interests of powerful actors who are not constrained by the need to fulfil the EU’s principles and policies of the ENP. Part of the assessment of the ENP’s shortcomings is based on the fact that the EU had too high expectations of projecting its normative power to neighbour countries in the short-term in the face of competing influences. The EU demands from its neighbours a commitment to shared values, yet it is unrealistic for ENP critics to expect an immediate transition throughout the whole neighbourhood, particularly when the ENP countries have alternative offers, often with better incentives. Overall, in order to successfully promote structural transformations, the EU needs to be more realistic about how much change can be expected in the short to medium-term in the face of competing influences and without the incentives of accession.