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  ENP: the European neighborhood policy or European compromise policy?

Violeta Podagelytë
2011 05 03

European Neighborhood Policy is one of the most controversial EU foreign policies. Created as a response to the then major EU enlargement wave, it not only defined the EU’s neighborhood sphere but also its geopolitical and cultural development confines.

The concept of neighborhood is quite unusual and new in the history of international relations which has been dividing the countries into friends and enemies for quite a long time. The concept of a neighbor might acquire a negative or positive meaning: if your neighbor poses a threat, you need to distance yourself from such a neighbor, but if it poses no threat and is friendly, you might want to get closer to it. The EU neighborhood policy reflects the duality of this neighborhood concept, and this is specified in the enlargement and constitutional acts.

Geographical framework of the neighborhood policy has been set as a compromise between the existing and future EU states: the future new states tried to highlight and defend the interests of the „Eastern neighbors” (except Russia), whereas the old EU Member States (mostly Southern) did not allow their political centre to move toward the East. The European neighborhood policy was based on this compromise. It was criticized for the “one-size fits all” approach which didn’t take into account a different political, economic, social and cultural context of neighboring countries. Later there were attempts to eliminate this shortcoming by dividing the concept of neighborhood into two dimensions: „the Union for the Mediterranean“ and „the Eastern partnership“.

The neighbourhood policy defined „the boundaries of the European political community” and the potential for its development. The membership of new states (10 plus Romania and Bulgaria) was both an integration and institutional challenge which startled the Western societies (here the cultural discourse played a huge role). Western politicians used to say that wider enlargement would result not in a Wider Europe, but in a Wilder Europe. The increasing internal EU integration and disappearance of internal and „cognitive“ borders forced to define the EU’s political community and strengthen the external borders.

Membership of Southern states in the EU did not raise significant controversy in recognizing that the Western Balkans is within the framework of the EU development map. During the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Thessaloniki it was declared that „the future of the Western Balkans is within the European Union“. While considering development plans Turkey has become a real headache for the EU, but its political tone is contradictory toward Eastern neighbors as well: although membership perspectives have not been rejected, they have not received a promise of membership. Political declarations, such as „the EU acknowledges Ukraine’s European aspirations and welcomes Ukraine’s pro-European choice“ reflects this contradiction.

The need to eliminate the possibility of further development from the set of alternatives suggested to Eastern European states is only one side of the coin. Another objective is to avoid a new „iron curtain“. These dual objectives are reflected in the famous formula of the EC President Romano Prodi: we should create a „circle of friends sharing everything but institutions“. In this concept borders of the states are permeable to economic, political, cultural and other connections without the EU membership.

But the formula of „the circle of friends“ is hiding certain utilitarian aspects. The most important are stability and security in the EU neighborhood. Strategic EU documents highlight the objectives of economic and political reforms, but it is obvious that the EU neighborhood policy is nothing but part of the EU’s general security plan. This security also includes the prevention of „soft threats“: energy supply, border control, struggle against terrorism and crimes, illegal immigration, spread of diseases etc. According to the EU’s External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner „if Europe did not export stability, it would import instability“. Many experts defined this policy as a geostrategy „for the establishment of a buffer zone“ which could absorb the threats spreading from the EU.

It could be stated that the EU, while moving toward the Eastern neighborhood region, moves also toward the sphere of Russia‘s interests. It is often highlighted that the EU and Russia „share the Eastern neighborhood“ and that their foreign policy is not based on a zero-sum principle, but the tension between these two powers is inevitable. Although the EU neighborhood policy is not directed toward increasing the above tension, according to one diplomat of the EC, „Russia has its own legal interests in (this) region, but the EU can also have the same interests“.

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