Europe, who is your neighbour ?
The unstable situation in Ukraine, the geopolitical tensions in Eastern Europe, violent attacks and atrocities committed by terrorist groups in the Middle East and in North Africa, the flow of refugees crossing the Mediterranean, many of them losing their lives, are some of the major challenges the European Union is currently facing at its Eastern and Southern borders.
The present approach to neighbours is not adequate anymore
Since 2004 the EU has maintained a special policy field governing the relations with its neighbours. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was created with the objective of establishing a common area of stability, peace and prosperity. Today, more than ten years after its creation, it seems that the Neighbourhood Policy has failed to deliver the desired results.
This disappointing fact was very soon also acknowledged by the European Commission when it included a review of the European Neighbourhood Policy among its priorities for the first year of its mandate. From early March until the end of June last a public consultation process was going on to which the Secretariat of COMECE submitted a joint contribution with Justice and Peace Europe. In the autumn, a joint High Representative-Commission Communication will present the results of the review process with a view to new policy orientations.
How to make the Neighbourhood Policy work better ?
One of the main shortcomings of the current approach has been the tendency to apply a “one-size-fits-all” package to all neighbours ignoring their differing interests, needs, ambitions and levels of socio-economic development.
The reviewed framework should certainly allow for a greater differentiation and flexibility including a multi-tier structure ranging from an “ENP light package” for countries only interested in a loose relationship with the EU to an “ENP plus package” for partners wishing a close economic integration and political association with the EU. Where the latter is concerned, it is important that the EU defines with a united voice and unambiguously a clear vision of the long-term form of relationship with these countries. Weak statements and repetitions from the past – such as the one adopted at the last Eastern Partnership Summit in Riga – are not a way forward and they risk undermining the credibility of the Union’s policy.
Moreover, the strict limitation of the geographical scope of the current framework to sixteen countries at EU’s doorstep proved to be short-sighted. Complex challenges involving a number of countries also beyond EU’s immediate neigbourhood, such as migration flows, terrorism and other security threats, as well as geopolitical considerations, require a broader conceptual framework. Thus, the reviewed Neighourhood Policy should also include strategical thinking on the neighbours of the EU´s neighbours and be tied more closely to EU’s broader foreign policy in order to be better integrated into EU’s comprehensive approach to external conflict and crisis.
More flexibility and increased ability to react to rapidly changing environment in EU’s neighbourhood could be ensured by foreseeing the possibility of creating alliances on an ad-hoc basis between the EU as such, or some of its Member States, and the respective partner countries, focusing on areas of truly shared interests.
An area which has not been sufficiently reflected in the current framework is the role of religion. The reported restrictions and violations of the rights of religious minorities in several of the neighbouring countries underline the necessity for the reviewed Neighbourhood Policy to focus more on promoting Religious Freedom and fostering mutual respect and understanding. Facilitating the dialogue between different religious communities and intensifying the dialogue between religious and political representatives could be a potential tool. The value of interreligious dialogue and its contribution to trust-building and reconciliation should be recognised as an integral part of the reviewed policy.
However, the proclaimed goal of creating an area of “good neighbourliness” can only be fully achieved, if the reformed Neighbourhood Policy goes to the very heart of the biblical notion of the “neighbour” and puts people-to-people contacts at its centre. In order to achieve this human dimension, the reviewed policy will have to promote an inclusive and comprehensive dialogue process reaching to all levels of society and provide adequate platforms for inter-cultural exchange, cross-border educational projects and enhanced possibilities for mobility.
COMECE/Justice and Peace Europe