Contribution for Italia Europei - Why European neighborhood policies are so difficult?

The structural core-deficiency: ENP is only second best

European neighborhood policies (ENP) are difficult. The reason for this is, in a nutshell, that they do not offer a membership perspective. They are a silver carrot of cooperation with the EU, where many of the countries concerned wished to have the golden carrot of a membership perspective. The ENP is since its invention wavering around this problematic.

The question of the European borders is, indeed, one of the oldest of European integration. For long, it has been true that any enlargement, or widening, of the EU triggered also jumps in deepening: the UK and Ireland came in the 70s, when the EU was preparing the monetary system and direct elections of the EP; Spain and Portugal came in the 80s, when the EU was preparing for the European Single Act; ‘Northern Enlargement’ fall more or less together with the making of the Maastricht- and Amsterdam-Treaty; and finally, the most recent Eastern enlargement of 2004 triggered the constitutional progress of the EU with the Lisbon Treaty at its end was the ‘deepening-reaction’ to twelve more countries within the EU: one most fundamental reason to engage into the European Convention in 2002 was to prepare the EU for enlargement. Keeping the balance between deepening and widening was over the past 30 years a permanent question and challenge for the EU. Now, it seems that the balance has come to an end. Whereas ever more countries voice an interest in becoming a member, the EU has an ever intensive public discourse about the ‘final borders’ of the EU. The ENP is in the middle of this difficult discussion. It promises countries to come closer to the EU, without ever reaching it fully. Although the official language is clear, meaning that being in the ENP-frame does not mean getting a membership perspective for the EU, for many countries it is precisely the hope that ENP is just the first step towards more. The perception gap is one of the biggest hurdles of the ENP for the countries who are in. But it is also the reason for the rather weak success of ENP from the EU’s side: the EU depends on good relations with the neighboring countries and a peaceful, stable and prosper environment, however, the loose agreement of ENP policies does not provide the EU with enough leverage to really substantially change the political or economic situation of the surrounding countries. So the EU does not necessarily get out of ENP what would be in the Union’s interest.

Today, this discussion comes in a changing international environment in which geo-strategy matters more. Notions like energy security, foreign energy policy, spaces of influence and stability-export are dominating the discussion about neighboring countries. Domestic and foreign policies get more intertwined.

The discrepancy between geostrategic advantages and ‘domestic’ inconveniences

The EU is, thus, facing again the old-new question of borders and enlargement in a new context and ENP is the crux of this discussion: the underlying discrepancy is that it is easy, i.e. with respect to Ukraine or Georgia, to point to geo-strategic reasons to bring these countries closer to the EU, whereas domestic public opinion is worrisome of new waves of immigration and industries lobby against free movement of people or visa for neighboring countries. The cleavage between ‘external’ or geo-strategic advantages on the one hand and ‘domestic’ inconveniences or uneasiness is also striking with respect to Turkey, who is already negotiating with the EU about membership. Whereas it is easy to find good geo-strategic arguments for Turkey’s membership in the EU – energy security, increased impact on the Middle East – the ‘domestic’ uneasiness stems from factors such as religion, labor market access or fear of migration.

All too often, ENP is considered to be a sort of preparatory step towards full membership, at least with respect to many countries at the Eastern borders of the EU: Ukraine or Georgia are voicing more or less openly that they wish to have ultimately a membership perspective. The truth is also that this is most of the time what the neighboring country within the EU wants: Poland strongly lobbies for Ukraine getting a membership perspective, Rumania for Moldova etc. Evidently, simple trade theory suggests that no country has an interest to be at the periphery of a larger economic entity, and that bordering countries therefore always wish to include the surrounding countries into the same economic area. This tends to make out of the rather unclearly shaped ENP an amorphous mass of countries with which the EU needs and wants to cooperate, without tailoring the approaches individually to the countries and with a legal framework that resembles rather a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model – from Morocco to Moldova – which does not necessarily suit the concerned countries. In addition, the need to have permeable borders with respect to trade and economic flows contrasts sharply with the political need of the EU to constitute itself around a sizable political entity.

The discussion about ENP gets even more opaque as public opinion tends to not differentiate between the various instruments and status the EU engages with neighboring countries, i.e. with Turkey or the Balkans, with Ukraine, Georgia or Morocco. In public opinion, often there is no legal distinction, but just one fear which is that the EU is becoming too big and that the EU-borders should be definitely fixed. ENP lures promises that the EU cannot hold. Above all, there is an amalgam about which countries the EU is currently negotiating with, or which countries are in pre-accession agreements or which ones are ‘only’ in ENP. However, in legal terms, this matters a lot: the EU is currently negotiating with Croatia and Turkey about full membership. The countries of the Western Balkans have the promise to accede to pre-accession agreements or they are already in such agreements like Montenegro or Bosnia; Ukraine and Georgia are in the frame of neighborhood policy only, such as most Mediterranean countries. For any serious discussion about European geo-strategy, a clear distinction would however be necessary. Further, a realistic assessment about the time-frame would be helpful. Sometimes, the current discussion gives the impression of an enormous time-pressure. Countries being in pre-accession agreements – or in the ENP-frame – sometimes want dates for the start of negotiations, whereas this leaves citizens in the EU with the impression that new enlargement waves are for tomorrow. To develop ENP into the instrument that the EU needs, the disentanglement of the legal status of the various countries enjoy with the EU as much as a realistic assessment of the time frame would be constructive. One could point to the fact that it is one of the EU’s biggest assets that it is not static and can adapt to tomorrow’s necessities, and that ENP is a perfect policy tool for that that has potential to fine-tune and to improve a countries relationship to the EU. In that respect, it is the strength of ENP to be a little vague and to leave further options open.

Enlargement fatigue impacts negatively on ENP

Hence, not only in Germany, but also in many other EU countries, there is measurable ‘enlargement fatigue’. The UK which liberalized migration and labor markets very quickly has to cope with a huge influx von Polish working migrants, bringing polish pupils to British schools etc. Italy has buses of Rumanian workers arriving in Rom. Ukrainians are in domestic positions in Portugal and so forth. Labor migration is one of the things strongly felt in ‘Western’ European countries and this has definitely changed the mood and created certain hostility against further enlargement. The criteria of the ‘absorption capacity’ of the EU is one of the most mentioned when it comes to the discussion of EU membership.

Figures tell another language, though. Enlargement has been beneficial for all countries, the newcomers and much as for the ‘old’ countries. For countries like Germany, Italy or Austria, East-West trade increased by double-digits. Enlargement allowed market extension and there is a clear statistical or collective gain for the economies. The political problems lies in the fact that a collective win does not mean that there are no ‘looser’ in the equation. Even though the statistical balance for Germany is positive, this does not mean that a construction worker in Northern Brandenburg lost its job because of cheap competition. The discussion does not capture this properly. The fault-line is not that i.e. Poland has ‘won’ through enlargement and Germany has ‘lost’; the fact is that all those being flexible, educated, young and qualified in Poland and in Germany have most likely and above-average benefitted, whereas all those who are not, may feel wiped-off the market.

ENP now projects the same fears experienced through the last enlargement even further. The missing point in the discussion about ENP is that public awareness of the interconnection between domestic problems and foreign policy is still missing. The policy reflex is more about borders and protection than about opening. In short, the discussion is about the ‘costs of enlargement’, where it should be about the ‘costs of non-enlargement’. Enlargement is considered a problem, not a solution. It is overlooked that bringing countries into the EU offers the chance to adopt their economic regulation to EU market standards in order to precisely avoid social and economic dumping; that it allows to manage rather than to suffer from migration. It is also overlooked that the EU needs permeability of its borders to the neighboring countries and that the leverage of the EU on these countries is bigger when they are tied into the regulatory frames of the EU rather than when they are not.

The new game: Sarkozy and the Mediterranean Union

In a way, Nicolas Sarkozy had done the EU a huge favor when starting the discussion about the Mediterranean Union. The plan has forced the EU to think about the success so far of the Barcelona process, which has been launched more than 10 years ago and has not shown much result. The awareness of the need to do more with respect to the South is now there. One asset of the Mediterranean Union – leaving aside the recent disputes about the structure and the concept, especially between France and Germany – is that it builds on both, the Barcelona Process and ENP, trying to reframe the whole European policies towards the Mediterranean area. It looks for greater responsibility for Europe in the region; it wants to enhance the cooperation of the countries among themselves; it wants to look for private-public partnerships and private Arabic investment to match European funds.

It goes without saying that Europe, especially France, is not doing that for altruistic motives. Europe, especially the Mediterranean countries, is touched by migration from the Maghreb. The poverty of North Africa starts therefore to be a real problem. Further, in terms of broader geo-strategy, some of the countries have precious energy resources. Africa starts to matter and appears increasingly on the agenda of the big players in international relations, i.e. the US and China. China has an active Africa policy and the US recently created an Africa Corps. So there is reason for Europe to be interested in Africa, above all North Africa, especially as it has a long tradition. The Mediterranean Union is an attempt to bring more structure into what the EU could and should do with the neighboring countries in the South and which would go beyond ENP – without, of course, offering a membership perspective. The title ‘Mediterranean Union’ has precisely be selected to create a sort of second political entity existing outside of the EU and hence to cut short any potential ambitions to join the EU, offering also a potential second home for Turkey, at least in the French initial idea, if the Turkish EU-membership perspective fails.

The splitting potential of the Mediterranean Union

The focus on the South, not surprisingly, did not please the Eastern European countries, especially Poland. The recent Polish proposal to create, in reaction to the French plans, an ‘Eastern Union’ with a special focus on Ukraine shows this. There is reluctance of some EU countries to accept a ‘special treatment’ for the South such as mirrored in the Mediterranean Union, which is now going to be institutionalized with a secretariat, whereas the management of ENP remains at the Commission with no further institutional dynamics. The EU, if Poland pushes further ahead its plans on an ‘Eastern Union’, is increasingly driving into an ‘East-South’-division.

This division is old and it has a Franco-German dimension. Already at the EU-Summit in Essen in 1994, at moment when Eastern enlargement was shaping ever more precisely at the horizon, there was a Franco-German dispute on how much money should be spend on the East and how much for the South. By then, it was a German demand to distinguish between those countries that have a ‘vocation to join the EU’ and those who have none. In a nutshell, France has always been reluctant to Eastern enlargement and has tried to delay policies of enlargement, with the suspicion that enlargement nourishes only the German ‘Hinterhof’, revamping Germany’s political and economic interests in the EU. France felt – rightly or wrongly – marginalized in the enlarged EU and the Mediterranean Union is a reaction to this. Probably due to these feelings of being ‘left-behind’, France tried initially to shape the Mediterranean Union in a way that it would exclude Germany, i.e. from the EU-Mediterranean Summit that is now planned for 13 July. This triggered the recent Franco-German in the weeks ago. The problem has been solved: all EU countries will now be invited to the Summit. Hence, this hardly hides the fact that France and Germany are not convinced that they need to equally care for both, the East and the South, instead of competing about influence zones. German suspicions, however, that the concept of the Mediterranean Union first deserves French economic interests, are high, such as where the French one ten years ago with respect to the East. Time has come for France to realize that it also has largely benefited from Eastern enlargement; and for Germany to truly care for the South. The new holistic European geo-strategy needs to come from Paris and Berlin together.

The broader EU geo-strategy

In the next decade, Europe will be measured on its success in foreign policy. Therefore, Europe needs to overcome the fault-line between ‘external’ and ‘domestic’ and start to see geo-strategy as part of domestic policies. Next, Europe needs to overcome the distinction into East and South to the respect that both matter equally; but not to the point that policies towards the East and the South should necessarily be streamlined: at the opposite, Eastern and Southern countries need more tailored polices within the ENP-frame. However, the geo-strategic approach should be holistic, and for that, the EU, first, must admit that it has geo-strategic interests. The EU needs a shift from value-based foreign policy to interest-based foreign policy, but needs to admit that this may not be for free. Revamping our economic, political, military or cultural engagement in neighboring countries – East or South – will cost. The EU will need to engage into a broader discussion about protectionism or opening. Normally, protectionism has short term benefits and long term costs, whereas a policy of opening trades off short term costs – adaptation of labor markets, problems of migration - against long term benefits.

Next, the next century will be the one of new geo-strategy and interest zones of global players, despite the mantra of consensual multilateralism. Europe has to decide whether it wants to have a common geo-strategy, considering that there are Euro-national interests at stake. If so, the EU should, indeed, be happy and proud about any country that it can tie more to EU regulations, rules and standards and, in principle, about any country that wants to join the EU: this would simply make the Euro- and Schengen-zones, the European common market and therefore the European influence bigger, assumed that institutional progress within the EU is enhanced in parallel. ENP is a perfect instrument to expand European values and interests for a start. It is already true that i.e. Russia and the EU are competing actors in terms of neighborhood policies in the ‘frozen-conflict’ zone, and it is not so sure that the EU – in the perception of the concerned countries – has the ‘better’ model to offer.

When arguing about potential enlargement costs, i.e. with respect to the countries of the Western Balkans, ahead of ENP, one may also point to the fact that war is more expensive than peace in the long run; or, that 22 million new customers in the single market area and euro-users are beneficial to the EU; and with respect to the ‘frozen-conflict’ zone, the ENP is the perfect instrument to build ties with neighboring countries, until things get more precise. The only condition is that the EU is bold in this process and puts flesh on the bones.

Ulrike Guérot