The post below is a summary of a high level round-table organised by the Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies, College of Europe, Bruges on 10 October 2014.
Professor Erwan Lannon, professor in the Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies, opened the round-table with an overview of the main innovations of the new phase of the European Neighbourhood Policy and its regional context. He underlined that in the second phase of the ENP, elements such as conditionality, increased differentiation, mutual accountability and the promotion of political cooperation have been strengthened. Professor Lannon mentioned as well that the new priorities are currently being set out for the new European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) under the leadership of the new European Commission. He stressed that the growing instability in the EU’s neighbourhood showed that the revision of 2011 was not sufficient and required further changes. He also welcomed the regained focus on universal rather than EU values in the new financial instrument, and concluded that the recent events in the EU’s neighbourhood, in which international borders have been unilaterally modified, prove that the stakes for the EU are considerable.
The first speaker to take the floor was Professor Fouad Ammor, Professor of International Relations and researcher at the University of Rabat. He started his presentation by drawing a general picture of the Maghreb, first at a regional level, and then at a country-specific level. He underlined that despite the multiple elements that unite the region – a common history, language, culture, and economic ties – the Maghreb region remains to this day one of the least integrated regions in the world, and this mainly due to political conflicts that date back to the Cold War. Professor Ammor then turned to consider the first phase of the ENP and its impact in the region. While the ENP could to some extent be considered the successor of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), launched with the Barcelona Declaration in 1995,he argued that the ENP in fact constituted a “rupture” with past policy, the objectives of which were much less clear than those of the EMP.
Professor Ammor went on to evaluate the ENP’s economic, political and geopolitical impact. He pointed out that, notwithstanding the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument’s contribution to the region in absolute terms, the breakdown of the figures per inhabitant and per country reveals a great disparity between the South and the East, with the latter being clearly favoured over the former. Moreover, the conclusion of Free Trade Areas between the Mediterranean Partner Countries and the EU has widened their trade deficits with the EU. From a political point of view, Professor Ammor welcomed the 2011 European Commission Communications on democratisation in the region, but regretted the insufficient follow-up, as well as the EU’s timid position on the regional conflicts and tendency to align with US positions. Finally, from a geopolitical perspective, he stressed once more that the EU should look beyond its immediate neighbourhood and consider the wider regional landscape.
Professor Ammor concluded his presentation by outlining what the Partner Countries expect of the EU: A stronger Europe speaking with a single voice, advancing coherent positions and pursuing clear strategies. He also underlined the need for a more inclusive Europe, and the rejection of the xenophobic movements fermenting in several member states. Finally, he also pledged for a more autonomous Europe vis-à-vis the United States, for a greater engagement of Europe in the regional conflicts and for a Europe that foresees problems and is able to anticipate solutions.
The second speaker was Salam Kawakibi, Deputy Director of the Arab Reform Initiative, who painted a picture of the challenges of the new context in the Middle East. Mr. Kawakibi began his intervention by criticising the oversimplified version that western media convey about the situation in the Middle East and went on to debunk some common myths.
First, he noted that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), far from being a new phenomenon, has existed since 2004 and has been financially independent since 2007. We should, he argued, pay attention to other forces in the region than ISIS to account for the tearing down of the borders established by the Sykes-Picot Agreement in the early 20th century. The second oversimplification he tackled was on the Syrian Revolution. He stressed that when the revolution started in 2011 it was a peaceful movement. Only after four years of conflict, the usage of heavy weaponry, including chemical arms, and continuous prevarication by the international community did the armed opposition in Syria turn radical. The third issue he addressed were the connections between the Syrian government and the jihadists. Mr. Kawakibi drew attention to the fact that from 2003 to 2008, the Syrian secret services trained a number of jihadists to combat the US in Iraq, some of whom were also put into action against Israeli forces in the refugee camps in Lebanon in 2006. However, in 2008, when Syria began to shed its international pariah status with Bashar al-Assad’s visit to Paris, the government put an end to the programme. According to Mr. Kawakibi, this partially explains the decision of the terrorists to join the Syrian opposition which transformed the peaceful protest into a radical insurgency. As a fourth point, Mr. Kawakibi evoked the millions of internally displaced people in Syria and refugees living in camps outside the country, a humanitarian disaster which in his assessment lays the foundations for fermenting further extremism in the near future.
Then Mr. Kawakibi moved on to consider the role of regional actors. He first addressed the position of Turkey, underlining the importance of the Kurdish and Alevi minorities, and the fact that over two million Syrians are now taking refuge on Turkish territory. He also criticised the indecision of the EU, and in particular the behaviour of some of its Member States, such as Greece or Bulgaria, for not respecting their legal obligations towards immigrants and asylum-seekers. On the other hand, Mr. Kawakibi pointed out that the “true friends” of Syria were Russia and Iran. As regards Russia, he argued that Russia benefits from the EU’s disunity and that Moscow is now taking revenge for its decade-long marginalisation in the resolution of international differences.
In conclusion, Mr. Kawakibi expressed his scepticism about the possibility of a positive response from the EU, but expressed his faith in Europe’s civil society, appealing also directly to the students of the College of Europe. He concluded by drawing a parallel between the situation during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and the current situation in Syria. He shared his concern that as was the case then, when the international community rehabilitated Franco as an ally to combat communism, a similar situation could happen in the present by reintegrating al-Assad into the international concert to combat radical extremists.
The third and final speaker was Professor Roman Petrov, Jean Monnet Chair in EU Law at the National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” in Kiev, who spoke about the relations between the EU and its Eastern neighbours. He first acknowledged the positive contributions that the ENP, and its Eastern dimension, the Eastern Partnership (EaP), have brought to the region. Professor Petrov highlighted Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia as the best examples of approximation to the EU acquis through the conclusion of a new generation of association agreements, and the impact that these new agreements will have in the legal systems of the respective countries. Another positive element underlined by Professor Petrov are the visa facilitation agreements.
Professor Petrov then moved on to outline some of the ENP and the Eastern Partnership’s main failures. According to him, the main flaw of the EaP was the fact that the EU did not consider what he defined as the “Russian factor” when designing the policy, which in the long run has become the main obstacle to the EU’s engagement in the region. The second main failure has been the EU’s inability to foster the so-called “good neighbourly relations”, set as an over-arching goal of the EaP, due mainly to the incapacity of the EU to provide the necessary security guarantees to the EaP countries. For Professor Petrov, this has turned the EU’s Eastern neighbourhood from a “ring of friends” into a “ring of fire”. In his concluding remarks, professor Petrov suggested how and where the ENP and EaP could be improved. Firstly, he stressed the importance of strengthening the principle of ‘good neighbourly relations’, and urged the Union to step up as a regional security provider. Secondly, he insisted on Russia’s necessary role in the region and the need to avoid isolating Moscow to be able to reach a resolution of the conflicts in the neighbourhood. Finally, he stressed the need for full implementation of the new association agreements, especially the DCFTAs, which he considered to be their core element.
The event was the last of a series of conferences and lectures on the ‘ENP in a Comparative Perspective’ organised by the Department of EU International Relations and Diplomacy Studies in 2013-14 with the financial support of the European Commission. The initiative aims at a comparison of different co-operation schemes that the European Union has in place with partner countries in order to put the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) into context and to draw lessons from the experience of other third countries.