The European Neighborhood Policy in the Mediterranean

11/14/2017 12:05 am ET

By Drew Buys, Alumni at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

This is the third in a three-part series on the European Neighborhood Policy as a framework for European Union foreign policy for nearby countries not on the membership.

The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in the Mediterranean covers all non-European Union (EU) ENP states that are not a part of the European Union. These states include Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. Turkey is not included because it is on the membership track.

The ten countries in the EU’s southern neighborhood, with the exception of Israel, are less developed and less stable than those to the East; as a result, EU policy in the past has focused on controlling migration from these states to the EU and attempts to reinforce regional stability. Today the EU and its neighbors have expanded on these goals to include a greater focus on economic growth through trade deals and harmonization or twinning of regulations. In order to provide a framework for measuring and accomplishing these goals, the EU and partner states negotiate Action Plans that include both the bilateral goals between the two governments and the regional goals to which the neighboring country is party. Action Plans are short- to medium-term documents with objectives that rarely look further than five years ahead.

History and Background

The first major organized EU attempt to work with its Mediterranean neighbors began with the Barcelona Process, named for the city in which it was agreed, in 1995. This forerunner to the ENP had many of the its same goals: increasing stability and economic development in the region and improving ties between the EU and its neighbors; unfortunately, the Barcelona Process also shared many of the same failings the ENP struggles with today—namely, a lack of support and focus from the EU. Less than a decade after it was announced, it had already been superseded by the ENP in 2003 and then the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) in 2008.Both the ENP and UfM were envisioned as successors to the Barcelona Process and both still exist today. The UfM, is a non-EU multinational organization that includes the EU, all EU member states, all ENP partners of the EU that are in the southern neighborhood, along with Turkey and Mauritania. It was initially launched by France’s President Sarkozy as a group that would include only states that border the Mediterranean, but after pushback from the EU and Germany, membership was expanded. It’s best to think of the UfM as working in parallel with the ENP in the Mediterranean region, with slightly different membership and objectives.

Apart from the EU’s bureaucratic processes, the history of the EU’s relationship with its southern neighbors is complicated by a number of other factors: (1) colonialism, (2) conflict, and, relatedly, (3) competing member country interests. Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Syria were all colonies of France; Libya was an Italian colony; Britain ruled Jordan, Egypt and Palestine/Israel. These former colonial powers, in many cases, still have much stronger ties to their former vassals than do other EU members, and their respective companies are oftentimes entrenched in their former colonies. This has frequently meant that France, Italy and the United Kingdom take more initiative in EU policy in these states and guide negotiations more than states like Poland or Sweden do.

The EU’s southern neighborhood has been beset by conflict for much of the last decade and a half since the ENP came into being. Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Israel and Libya have had full blown wars while Egypt and Algeria have fought extremists during the same time period. The frequent presence of conflict has rendered political and economic development difficult for EU partner states. It has also made those longer-term goals more difficult for the EU and its member states to focus on. As a result, much more aid from the EU and the European Neighborhood Instrument, which is the ENP funding mechanism, goes to security cooperation in the southern neighborhood than in the Eastern Partnership.

These two factors, along with individual states’ natural desire to prioritize their own interests, have led to greater variation in EU member states’ interests in the southern neighborhood than in the East. In EU relations with the Eastern Partnership, everything goes back to Russia. In the Mediterranean, member states are pulled in a greater number of directions and it has led to a less uniform policy from the EU and ENP.

Arab Spring

The Arab Spring caught the EU and its members almost entirely by surprise. Despite the years of investments in their regional relationships, EU states failed to anticipate the size or effectiveness of the protests that toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and shook other states in the region. This unpreparedness led to what many in partner states characterized as a slow, and then scrambling, response to the protests. The EU and some of its members did not have enough contacts with protest leaders or transition governments to keep them adequately up-to-date on events in partner states.

This debacle led to an EU-wide re-examination of policy towards the southern neighborhood and a re-evaluation of the ENP and what it should be going forward. In the period between the Arab Spring and the ongoing refugee crisis, the ENP in the Mediterranean region was reconfigured to focus more on economic development and capacity-building for regional governments, political parties and civil society. This was an attempt by the EU both to help its neighbors consolidate the gains made during the Arab Spring and to make up for some of its failings in the years before it erupted.

Libya, Syria and the Refugee Crisis

The ongoing conflicts in Libya and Syria and the refugee crises that have sprung out of the Arab Spring have ground ENP projects in these states to a complete halt. In response to the brutality of Syria’s Assad government during its civil war, the EU has suspended Syria’s participation in the ENP. Meanwhile, Libya continues to work without an Action Plan with the EU as it struggles with its own internal conflict and lawlessness.

Although the ENP has been all but frozen bilaterally with these states, their conflicts still have major impacts on EU and ENP policy with other countries in the region. Action Plans with Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Tunisia all have projects that deal with the human costs of the conflict. In particular, they provide millions of euros in aid to house, feed, and clothe refugees in the region. As is the case in an EU agreement with Turkey, there are incentives for partner states to limit the number of refugees and migrants who depart for Europe.

Going Forward

As the EU continues to tailor its policy in the region, here are several developments to watch out for that are related to the ENP in the Mediterranean:

Borders and Migration: The EU continues to try to strike a delicate balance between a short-term focus on securing its borders, limiting migration and providing humanitarian aid, and a long-term focus on helping to improve the economic, political and social circumstances in partner states through economic aid and advice. The ENP is much better suited to the latter than the former. It has however, been used as a tool try to limit near term migration and fund security apparatuses in the southern neighborhood. The EU would do well not to take away money from ENP capacity building projects to stem the tide of refugees and migrants now, only to find itself facing the same problem again in the future.

Tunisia: Tunisia is often held up as the success story of the Arab Spring. Its government is democratic now. The Islamist party, the Ennahda Movement, moderated its views as it joined the government in the model the EU once hoped the Turkish President Recep Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party was following. The EU would like for Tunisia to be a model for other governments in the region. This makes Tunisia’s next Action Plan an especially interesting one to watch. Will greater democratic progress lead to the greater integration and economic opportunity that Tunisians hope for? And almost as importantly, will they perceive the deal they get as far?

Brexit and Macron: With the looming exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union and the election of Emmanuel Macron to become President of France, much has been made of the possible return of the Franco-German engine to drive the EU. France, however, has much deeper ties to the southern neighborhood ENP states than does Germany. The departure of the United Kingdom, one of the other previous colonial powers and a more activist member state in the region, from ENP negotiations will give France more leverage within the EU and may present an opportunity for President Macron to push his foreign policy goals into the ENP.

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