Setting the European neighbourhood policy (ENP) on the right path will be one of the greatest challenges for the Juncker commission, if not the entire EU external relations policy in the years to come. With ongoing developments in the 'neighbourhood' region, we will need to create a more responsive, differentiated and politically driven approach.
In launching the ENP in 2004, the EU expected to develop a special relationship and a zone of stability and prosperity - a 'circle of friends' with which we could enjoy close, peaceful and cooperative relations. Yet, over a decade on, the EU's neighbourhood to the east and south could be described as less democratic, prosperous and secure than it was in 2004.
"The EU approached the eastern partnership, including the conclusion of association agreements as technocratic exercises, while overlooking the political consequences"
Although this outcome does not reflect our original goals, it does not mean that the ENP should be considered a failure. Rather, the current situation demonstrates the limits of the ENP in its existing form to influence developments in the neighbourhood in line with our goals. In other words, the ENP had been expected by many to deliver much more than it could. Therefore, making expectations more realistic and the policy more responsive to the realities on the ground should be the starting point for rethinking its future shape.
In 2004, ENP was developed as a universal policy framework with the same tools for all neighbours. The biggest change brought about by its implementation was the different substance and various dynamics of the policy in the east and south.
For ENP to be more efficient in supporting reforms, democratic development and prosperity in neighbouring countries, it must be able to make a differentiation between neighbours, even within the two regional neighbourhoods.
In reality, there are two main EU neighbourhoods in the east and south. However, in terms of substance, for example, the implementation of reforms and capacity to participate in the four freedoms (goods, services, capital and people) there are many more EU neighbourhoods.
From the perspective of the current Russia-Ukraine crisis there should be a growing understanding that the EU cannot underestimate the political dimension of the ENP. The EU approached the eastern partnership, including the conclusion of association agreements as technocratic exercises, while overlooking the political consequences. That is also why the EU's response to the Ukraine crisis and developments to the east has so far been more reactive than proactive.
Although different forms of security are becoming increasingly important, it is not the number of tanks and military aircraft that measures the strength of the EU in external affairs. It is the possibility for modernisation, for a stable political environment and for access to the European market that makes the EU the strongest foreign policy actor in the neighbourhood.
We need to keep in mind that a deep and long-term partnership is only possible when one shares the same values and principles. Therefore, regardless of all these difficulties, a renewed ENP should sharpen its policy toolkit and not give up on its original goals of creating a stable, prosperous and democratic neighbourhood.