Europe in the World

Europe’s neighbours: taking stock of the EU’s engagement

There is a long history of the EU’s relations with its neighbours, which can be traced in the EPC’s consistent series of publications and events. Especially in view of recent and upcoming events in the European neighbourhood, we decided to compile a comprehensive list of our contributions to the debate on the evolution of the EU’s relations with its neighbours during the last 7 years. Beneath this narrative of the most relevant developments in the neighbourhood, you can find our compilations for specific countries and regions. 

In order to promote security, stability, and prosperity in its neighbourhood, the EU has developed several instruments and tools which it applies in varying degrees to different regions and countries.

The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) represents one of these instruments. Developed in 2004 and comprising 16 countries in total, the ENP consists of two main regional frameworks, the Eastern Partnership and the Union for the Mediterranean. At EPC, we have therefore closely followed the developments in these regions by analysing their effect on the EU’s relations with ENP countries.

Although the Eastern Partnership was significantly weakened by Ukraine’s decision not to sign the Association Agreement with the EU at Vilnius last year, the recent developments in Ukraine – the Euromaidan protests, the following internal deadlock, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the crisis in the Donbas region – have strengthened the country’s ties with the EU.  However, Russia’s actions in Ukraine have seriously damaged Moscow’s relations with the EU: even though the EU depends on Russia in certain regards, such as energy for example, it enforced sanctions against the country earlier this year. The current situation in Ukraine and the EU’s weak response demonstrate a crucial need for a review and strengthening of the ENP’s tools.

While Moldova has been praised as an EU success story, it still needs to work hard to stay on track. The Transnistrian issue is not resolved yet, corruption still represents a key problem, and Moldovans do not all agree on European integration. The outcome of the parliamentary elections on 30 November, with the pro-European parties winning by a tiny percentage, demonstrates this division within Moldovan society. As Russian aggression in Ukraine has eroded stability and security in the region, the efforts of the next Moldovan government will be decisive for Moldova’s future path.

The South Caucasus represents the most volatile and militarised region in Europe. The EU has therefore only managed to play a marginal role in resolving the ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, as its approach remains inconsistent and incomplete. The latter is true for the EU’s handling of security challenges in the whole region. Nonetheless, the three South Caucasus countries have made progress in embracing modernisation, democratisation, and globalisation, even if that is to varying degrees, with Georgia standing out as a front-runner in the region. The current state of play of EU-Russia relations will also have an impact on these countries’ willingness for European integration in the future though.

The Union for the Mediterranean did not have an easy start, with critical reactions from several member states and only meagre results during the first years. In 2011, the Arab Spring then changed the Mediterranean completely and sparked hope for more European-style reforms. The EU, however, failed to seize the opportunity, not reacting rapidly or effectively enough to the Libyan crisis or the Syrian civil war. The Arab Spring therefore did not only lead to greater differentiation between the countries of the Middle East and North Africa in terms of their reform process, but also in terms of their relations with the EU. Meanwhile, the struggle for a Palestinian state continues, despite its upgraded UN status, and the most recent Gaza crisis did not bode well for the peace process in the region, not least due to the EU’s difficult relations with Israel.

Contrary to the ENP, the EU’s enlargement process offers the actual prospect of accession to the Union, thereby rendering it probably the most important and the most successful of the EU’s instruments of dealing with its immediate neighbours. Currently, there are 6 official candidate countries and two potential candidates.

The EPC has regularly focused on the challenges of integrating the Western Balkans into the EU, including the Balkan countries’ transformation into potential EU member states, their Europeanisation, and their struggle to become stable democracies. However, it is also important to look at the changing dynamics of enlargement which depend greatly on the individual countries, as well as at their inner workings and perceptions towards the EU. With the new Commission in place now and the marriage of Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, the next five years will determine the EU’s success in the Balkans.

Turkey also featured prominently in the EPC’s debate. The country’s foreign policy has changed significantly during the last 15 years, with its EU membership process hitting difficult times, related to the ongoing problem in Cyprus and democratic backsliding. While Erdogan’s AKP was not able to reverse this negative trend in the negotiation process, other problems like the Syrian civil war or the continuing Kurdish issue have further plagued Turkey and its relationship with the EU. In June 2013, the Gezi Park protests demonstrated that many Turks demand change, whereas the March 2014 local elections showed the still existing strong support for the AKP. In addition, Erdogan became the new President of Turkey in August, further consolidating its grip on power. These recent developments have revitalised the need for the EU to reengage with Turkey. 

On a side note, Iceland has suspended its accession negotiations with the EU, despite its membership aspirations a few years ago. It therefore remains a member of the European Economic Area.

The EU’s neighbourhood and with it, the EU’s relations with its neighbours are in a state of constant change. It is therefore of the utmost importance for the EU to adjust its policy instruments and tools to this changing environment in order to be an effective interlocutor. The EPC will keep taking stock of the developments in the neighbourhood and the EU’s engagement with its neighbours, and thereby provoke timely and topical debate and contribute to the review process of the ENP.

To see what has been done so far by the Europe in the World team, here are the various country files below:

- Balkans

- Eastern Partnership

- EFTA states

- MENA region

- Moldova

- Russia

- South Caucasus

- Turkey

- Ukraine

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Europe’s neighbours: taking stock of the EU’s engagement