Assessing the ENP

With crisis in the neighbourhood directly impacting on the EU like never before, is the new European Neighbourhood Policy able to keep up?

Director, European Power programme

On Wednesday, Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn released a joint Communication on the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) Review. Listening was a Europe whose attention was understandably elsewhere in the wake of the Paris attacks, with an ongoing refugee crisis to deal with, which is itself fast becoming a footnote to the more dominant fear of terrorism in some member states.

But the ENP is a tool intricately linked with both these more immediate concerns of migration and security, and if the new set of policies that emerges after the review are worth their salt, ought to have serious implications for both. In May 2015, we published ‘Europe’s Neighbourhood: Crisis as the new normal’ setting out some lines of thought on where the ENP review should go.

On this basis how did yesterday’s communication shape up?

To take our final recommendation first: that ‘No decisions on the ENP review should be taken ahead of the conclusions of the wider Global Strategy Review in spring/summer 2016’, the fact that the communication came out before Mogherini’s Global Strategy paper has even been discussed with member states (due early next year), was not a good starting point. But the fact that the ENP Communication was jointly announced by Mogherini and Hahn does indicate that there has at least been an institutional attempt to join the process up, and in some ways this document is a progress report, kicking off further inter-institutional discussion and engagement with partners, rather than a concluding statement.

On the substance, there are some promising signs. In the context of our recommendation that the ENP be conceived of less as a policy and more as a toolkit of instruments to be applied to a neighbourhood more flexibly defined, it was welcome to see the commitment in yesterday’s communication that:

“The new ENP will seek to deploy the available instruments and resources in a more coherent and flexible manner. Additionally, it will be important to seek a deeper involvement of EU Member States in re-energising work with our neighbours.”

The  Communication’s commitment to begin a consultation with partners in the neighbourhood in 2016 on what they want from the relationship is also welcome,  indicating a recognition that ‘fine tuning’ conditionality is not going to lead us very far, as our policy brief set out. But there is still a need for the EU to ensure that the priorities that this process produces are those that work for EU interests, and not only the ones that partners set out, otherwise the result will not be strategic. To rectify this, the mapping of EU member states’ interests that we suggested in our policy brief still remains essential.

But what at this point seems to be missing in the ENP Communication is precisely a sense of strategic prioritisation which would respond to the moment that Europe finds itself in. Given that Europe is surrounded by instability – that has begun to penetrate our borders, as the surging numbers of refugees and last week’s Paris attacks in Paris reminded us – we need to focus our attention on the issues with the widest ramifications, and on which the EU can hope to impact.

In this vein, there seemed to be little recognition in the Communication that east and south are so substantially different (from each other as well as each encompassing a wide variety of different types of states), that it is no longer logical for them to sit under the same policy, the same Commissioner. No recognition of the need to step up and focus support on linchpin states in the neighbourhood – Ukraine, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia. The Communication talks instead of streamlining procedures or flexibility of instruments, but there is a worrying feel of a little more, but still more of the same.

Our call in ‘Crisis as the new normal’ for a reengagement with Turkey as the pivotal regional power that it is, is belatedly, but laudably, beginning to happen. It has been a key topic for significant chunks of the recent series of refugee crisis summits and the commitment of an additional €3 billion of support in return for co-operation on managing migration flows into south eastern Europe is the start of a plan. But it is notable that this development is not a major subject in the ENP review Communication even though it will be absolutely central to wider co-operation with the southern neighbourhood and indeed the Middle East beyond.

The limited treatment of Turkey seems to embody the general sense one gets from the ENP communication that the real business is happening elsewhere and is likely to continue to do so. This would be a sad outcome for a process reviewing such a significant slice of EU external expenditure and effort at a time when the global environment places EU diplomatic resource and financial support at such a premium. 

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of its individual authors.


Director, European Power programme