On November 18, the European Commission published its review of the EU’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The paper marks a significant departure from the original idea of the ENP. Rather than conducting a traditional foreign policy on the basis of interests, the EU initially wanted to transform its neighbors into functioning market economies and democracies committed to the rule of law. To the extent that they came closer to the EU model, they would be allowed to share in European integration.

This policy was as idealistic in its conception as it was timid and insufficient in its implementation. The EU had greatly overestimated its own influence and underestimated the structural problems and risks in its neighborhood.

Eleven years after launching the ENP, the EU finds itself surrounded by crises. The transformative power of which the EU was once so proud has changed sides: it now belongs to the neighborhood rather than the EU. As the refugee crisis and recent terrorist attacks in Paris have made very clear, the instability the EU is currently importing from the neighborhood is changing Europe and threatening important achievements of European integration.

To have acknowledged this reality is the greatest merit of the new paper. Stabilizing the neighborhood is identified as the single overriding priority for the next five years. The longer-term structural objectives are not abandoned, but it is acknowledged that they can be achieved only in a more stable environment.

The new ENP envisages addressing sources of instability through a variety of instruments, including—and this is another innovation—cooperation on security matters. Security-sector reform and fighting terrorism and organized crime will be high on the agenda. Migration and mobility will also receive much greater attention than so far.

Finally becoming serious about differentiation constitutes the review’s other important achievement. The notion of one set of standards and policies applicable to all sixteen partners in the neighborhood has been put to rest.

11 years after launching the #ENP, the EU finds itself surrounded by crises.
 
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The EU will continue to use the ENP’s traditional enlargement-derived methods with the handful of neighbors that have advanced Association Agreements or are moving in this direction—essentially Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Tunisia, and Morocco. With most others, the EU will develop tailor-made relationships reflecting the wishes of each neighbor as well as the interests of the EU. Greater readiness to take the needs of the partners into account should ensure more ownership and engagement.

The commission and the EU’s foreign policy high representative also promise to make the financial instruments more flexible and responsive. A substantial reserve and streamlined procedures could help direct resources more rapidly to where the greatest needs arise. Joint programming and trust funds should ensure that the resources of the union and of the member states are deployed in a more joined-up fashion.

Other aspects of the paper are less impressive. The authors cautiously distance themselves from the flawed more-for-more approach, which mechanistically links assistance to progress on democratic reforms. But despite several politically correct paragraphs on human rights and democracy, the paper fails to present a convincing alternative approach to promoting the EU’s values in the neighborhood.

The authors recognize the need to systematically involve the neighbors of the EU’s immediate neighbors, but the concept of thematic frameworks, supposed to bring stakeholders from the EU, the neighborhood, and beyond together for topical discussions, leaves much to be fleshed out.

The paper will be disappointing to the most advanced countries (those with deep Association Agreements), as it offers no new perspectives apart from the vague promise that implementation of these agreements will eventually allow participation in the EU’s internal market and the creation of a common economic area.

Despite these shortcomings, the review document constitutes a more realistic and practical approach to the EU’s relations with neighboring regions. But will it lead to a more effective policy? Unfortunately, there are at least three reasons to doubt this.

First, the paper doesn’t indicate any intention to increase the funding allotted to the ENP. The €15 billion ($16 billion) provided for the period 2014–2020 is roughly the same as that spent over the previous seven-year period. As the situation in the neighborhood has deteriorated severely (just think of Ukraine, Syria, and Libya), this level of funding appears completely inadequate. But given the other demands on the EU’s budget, the chances of providing resources in line with needs are not good at all.

Second, differentiation if meant seriously requires considerable more manpower than is deployed at present. To develop tailor-made sets of priorities, the commission and the European External Action Service will have to engage much more deeply with each individual partner. Implementing these specific relationships will be labor intensive. However, rather than providing the necessary human resources, the already-programmed cuts in staffing will continue.

EU member states have so far mainly paid lip service to the #ENP.
 
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Third, member states have so far mainly paid lip service to the EU’s common neighborhood policy and conducted their national—primarily commercially driven—policies in parallel. This turned the ENP into a techno-bureaucratic project and diminished its effectiveness. It is unfortunately not evident that in the future member states will use their influence and resources to support this policy energetically.

The current centrifugal tendencies in the EU also impact on foreign policy. It is to be hoped that today’s unprecedented challenges will finally drive member states together rather than apart. But this is yet to be seen.