“How we learned to love the EU”: three scenarios for the ongoing revision of the European Neighborhood Policy

By Dario Sabbioni, EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies, 2014-15 Falcone and Borsellino promotion, College of Europe

The jargon related to the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) is likely to be expanded this year. The second review (the first “official” one) of this policy is going to be put forward later in 2015 by Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations and Federica Mogherini, EU High Representative. Both seem to be already well acquainted with their new job, after only a few months in office.

When the ENP was launched in 2004, Commission President Prodi talked of a situation “in which we could ultimately share everything but institutions” with the neighboring countries.

Is it still the case, given the recent events in both the Eastern and Southern neighborhoods? Three scenarios can be outlined on the future of this policy, taking into consideration also the numerous assessments already conducted in the past.

The goals of the 2011 ENP review have turned out to be overambitious. Willing to elaborate a new ENP-jargon, policy-makers in Brussels are likely to come up again this time with more new strategic documents than results. Slow and arduous, just like reforms in the partner countries, the revision of the ENP in 2011 brought little more than a maquillage of the original policy’s shortcomings. The press overlooked the revision for a wide array of reasons: the Arab Spring, Tunisian Revolution, Syrian revolt, etc. Typical examples of the EU’s “bad timing” syndrome.

What will the revised ENP look like? The first scenario could be named “ex uno plures”, meaning that from one single framework in 2004 and 2011 (albeit with the double-hatted Eastern Partnership in the East and Euro-Mediterranean Partnership in the South) the ENP could in the future expand into many different forms. Can the “bilateralization” of the ENP and in general of EU foreign policy respond to the regionalizing strategies of Russia in the neighbourhood? Or will a new flexible framework just create more confusion without generating any more tangible achievements?

The second scenario could be named “give ENP a chance”. “The ENP must be a true partnership, not an exercise in Eurocentric preaching”: with these words Commissioner for Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement negotiations Johannes Hahn outlined his thoughts in a blog post last week. This means that on the side of the European Commission there is this time a real and strong orientation towards making the ENP embody shared and common values that reflect both sides’ aspirations. On Monday 13 April during the EU meeting with Southern partners in Barcelona Federica Mogherini sounded a hopeful note: “there is no us and you. We share interests and values”.

A third perspective could be named as “less for more”. Borrowing from one of the most commonly used EU-speak expressions, this scenario sees a lower-scale approach, shifting attention to civil society and other partners in the neighbourhood away from high-flying declarations and with an overall focus on strengthening the existing cooperation. Stefan Lehne from Carnegie in a recent op-ed made the point that two-sided communication in neighboring countries is key to develop a better understanding for the future.

Reforms will come at a cost, of course. The five keywords outlined in the Consultation Paper “Towards a new European Neighbourhood Policy” (Differentiation, Focus, Flexibility, Ownership and Visibility) all point towards a “lighter” and more “subtle” approach. The major challenge for the next years is to make sure that taking away weight and substance from a policy initiative does not make the policy disappear altogether.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s