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The European Neighbourhood Policy – time for a revamp?

By Dick Leonard.

It is now nearly two years since the first action plans were approved under the European Neighbourhood Policy, and perhaps not too early to assess the results so far. The German presidency, which takes over in January, is anxious to raise the ENP's profile, and the Commission will be producing a report, with recommendations, next month.

The first wave of seven action plans was agreed early in 2005, and covered Israel, the Palestinian territories, Ukraine, Moldova, Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan. A further wave, covering the three south Caucasian states of Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, has already been negotiated, and will be formally adopted at co-operation councils with the three states in mid-November.

Negotiations are still continuing with Egypt and Lebanon, but – for obvious reasons – no talks have taken place with Belarus or Syria, nor with Libya, a potentially eligible country, which has not, however, yet signed up to the Barcelona process, an obvious first step for Mediterranean countries.

Algeria, which has just ratified its Association Agreement with the EU, may be next in line to negotiate an action plan. Further afield, the Kazakhstan government, recently expressed interest in coming on board, though its human rights record is hardly up to scratch, though distinctly better than its Uzbek and Turkmen neighbours.

The basic formula behind the action plans is that the states involved will receive increasing amounts of aid from the EU, in exchange for promoting democracy and human rights and liberalising their economies. No promise of future EU membership is involved, though it is clear that the more progress which states, which would otherwise be eligible, make under the ENP the stronger candidates they would eventually become.

So far, the results achieved have been rather uneven. The star pupils are generally considered to be Morocco and Jordan, both of which have introduced important constitutional and legal reforms and have benefited from the presence of EU advisors in a large number of fields.

Ukraine is also reckoned to have made good use of the ENP, under which it received an enhanced package of aid after the Orange Revolution. It has now held two free and fair elections, greatly increased media freedom, and –in conjunction with Moldova – helped to block off the flow of smuggling across the Transdniestrian border, and has co-operated fully in attempts to resolve this long-festering dispute.

Much remains, however, for the Ukrainians to do – in cleaning up corruption, and preparing their economy for WTO membership. It also remains to be seen whether Viktor Yanukovich's government will show as much commitment as its predecessor in pursuing its European vocation.

As for the three Caucasian states, the Commission has only guarded hopes that they will achieve optimal results from their new association, as Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the External Relations Commissioner recently made clear in a surprisingly frank speech.

Major question marks have already developed over whether, in the absence of a pledge of future membership, the carrots and sticks involved in the ENP, and in other EU policies designed to help neighbouring states, are sufficient to induce them to take steps which they are reluctant to perform.

A case in point is Egypt which, within the past year, has signally failed to deliver on its promise of genuine multi-party elections, despite the substantial aid which it has received not only from the EU but also from the US. This is deeply disturbing, and accounts – in part – for the delay in agreeing an action plan.

All these issues are discussed in some detail by Charles Grant, Director of the Centre for European Reform, in his new pamphlet, Europe's Blurred Boundaries. It is brimming with ideas for varying and expanding the policy, which should influence the Commission in drawing up its own recommendations.

My personal view is that the EU has not yet got the formula quite right, and probably has not made a strong enough financial commitment to optimise the contribution which the ENP could make to enlarging "the area of peace, prosperity and democracy" which the EU wishes to construct around its borders. For example, countries such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, now under savage economic pressure from Russia, could well be offered compensatory payments for the losses they have suffered.

So, there is much for improvement, but enough has already been achieved to conclude that the ENP is a useful addition to the external policies of the Union, and should be further developed.

Dick Leonard is the author of The Economist Guide to the European Union.

October 2006