The 2015 Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Future of Euro-Mediterranean Relationships

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The 2015 Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy

and the Future of Euro-Mediterranean Relationships


Prof. Dr. Erwan Lannon, Ghent University


2015 has put once again the Mediterranean on the top of the international agenda. The deepening of the migratory crisis, the direct military intervention of the Russian Federation in Syria, the consolidation of an “arc of crisis and strategic challenges”[1] from the Sahel to Afghanistan-Pakistan via the Horn of Africa and the Gulf and the terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, France and Mali, to name a few, are unfortunately only some of the indicators of the very serious global deterioration of the situation.


The revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the European Security Strategy are clear signs that the European Union (EU) and its Member States are trying and willing to adapt their strategies in the light of the evolution of the geopolitical context. However, the refugee crisis has shown a deep divide among the EU Member States, whereas most of the proposals put forward in the joint communication of the Commission and the High Representative on the review of the ENP, published on 18th November 2015, will have to be discussed in 2016 and could lead, in 2017, to a difficult revision of some of the provisions of the current ENP financial instrument.


Are the EU and its Member States well equipped to face theses challenges and did the European Commission and the High Representative put the right proposals forward in November 2015? These are pressing questions to be answered. Given the need to put these issues into perspective it is necessary to make a brief overview of the Euro-Mediterranean Relationships from 1957 until 2006 (I). Then the current fragmented cooperation frameworks for Euro-Mediterranean Relationships (II) will be analysed in the light of the proposals contained in the 2015 review of the ENP (III).


  1. The Euro-Mediterranean Relationships from 1957 until 2006


If we look back to the Euro-Mediterranean relations’ history, that started with some provisions inserted within the 1957 Rome Treaty, it is obvious that these relations have always been characterised by up and downs depending on the evolution regional and international contexts and the political will of the different parties.


The first attempts of the European Economic Community


The signature of the 1957 EEC Treaty can be considered as a starting point for the relations between the EEC and the Mediterranean. Article 227 § 2 of the EEC Treaty referred to the peculiar situation of Algeria, a situation that ended in March 1962 with the conclusion of the Evian negotiations, which led to the independence of Algeria.  Several ‘declarations of intend’ with a view to associate to the EEC: Libya, Morocco and Tunisia were also inserted into the final act of the Rome Treaty. The aims of these declarations were threefold: to take into account the agreements concluded between France and Italy and the Maghreb countries; to enhance trade relations; and to contribute to the development of those countries. At this stage “economic association conventions” were envisaged for the future. The first association agreements were however only concluded at the end of the 1960s with Morocco and Tunisia. Those transitory agreements, concluded for 5 years, were limited to trade relations. At the beginning of the 1960’s and during the 1970’s four association agreements were also signed with the Northern Mediterranean countries: Greece, Turkey, Malta and Cyprus. The main objective of these agreements was to give the possibility to become Member States of the EEC.


This first period (1957-1971) was thus characterised by a post-colonial context that implied the perspective of privileged relationships (association conventions), a strong differentiation between the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean on the one hand, and the Northern (European) Mediterranean, on the other hand. Moreover, the strategy was limited to bilateralism.


The Global Mediterranean Policy


From the beginning of the 1970’s the EEC and its Member States tried to develop a first proper ‘Global Mediterranean Policy’ (1972), going beyond pure trade relations with an important development cooperation component. Concretely it took the form of new ‘cooperation agreements’ and the conclusion of five years bilateral financial protocols. At that time however no real multilateral framework was put in place, bilateralism remained the rule but the approach became more holistic. A renewed Mediterranean Policy was put in place between 1992-1995 to answer the consequences of the fall of the Berlin wall for the Mediterranean (fear of marginalisation of the Mediterranean countries) and the creation of the EU. This renewed policy was conceived as being a transition between the Global Mediterranean Policy and the future Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP). What was noticeable, in this period, was that a greater attention was paid to the civil society networks in the framework of the financial cooperation.


The European Union and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership


The 1990’s were marked by the end of the Cold War, the creation of the EU with the entry into force of the Maastricht Treaty in November 1993 and the launching in 1995 of an ambitious Euro-Mediterranean Partnership that was based on a strong multilateral framework (the Barcelona Process) and a new generation of Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements (EMAAs) establishing progressively bilateral Free Trade Areas (FTAs). A quite strong ‘spirit of partnership’, meaning a real sense of ownership, was one of the main characteristics of the process. The fact that the European Commission played the role of the secretariat, promoting the general interest of the EU Member states but also, to a certain extent, of all the partners is to be underlined. Numerous ministerial conferences were held after the November 1995 Barcelona Conference, thus reinforcing this sense of ownership. The context was of course very different compared to the current one, with noticeable progress on the Middle-East peace process track for instance. The situation deteriorated however quite quickly with the degradation of the situation in the Middle East. The atmosphere of the first Summit to celebrate the 10 years of the Barcelona Process was for instance very tensed and put forward the limits of the EMP consensual approach.





The long genesis of the ENP: 2002-2006


Between 2002 and 2006 the ENP was progressively put in place after the 2002 Copenhagen European Council concluded that: “the enlargement will strengthen relations with Russia. The European Union also wishes to enhance its relations with Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and the southern Mediterranean countries based on a long-term approach promoting democratic and economic reforms, sustainable developments and trade”[2]. A series of communications of the European Commission were then published between 2003 and 2006 to, very progressively, define the methodology, instruments and final objectives of the ENP. This very long and difficult genesis is to be emphasized as it illustrates the absence of a clear common strategic vision of what should – or should not – be the ENP.


The major differences with the EMP were that the ENP was primarily European interests based and encompassed not only Mediterranean countries but also East European countries (Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine), and, from 2004 on, three Southern Caucasus countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia). The later was a direct consequence of Russia’s refusal to participate to the ENP, a first major setback for the EU. Another major difference is that the ENP was conceived to anticipate the consequences of the future (2004 and 2007) enlargements of the EU and was based on the pre-accession methodology (evaluation reports, alignment on the acquis, strong conditionality etc.) without however offering the perspective of the accession as such to the EU or even envisaging an appropriate financial support for launching so many and deep political and socio-economic reforms. The lack of ownership was also obvious, given the fact that no common founding declaration was even envisaged. Bilateralism but also unilateralism (a European policy primarily based on European interests) were reinforced, whereas the multilateral dimension was weakened by the vicissitudes of the first years of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).


  1. The current fragmented cooperation frameworks for Euro-Mediterranean Relationships


Today, the current cooperation frameworks for Euro-Mediterranean Relationships are very complex and quite fragmented.


The residuals of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership


The residuals of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership are mainly the Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements that are now used by for the implementation of some aspects of the ENP, through the creation of thematic association sub-committees notably. The Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs), envisaged with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan, will be created on the basis of these, sometimes quite old agreements, as for instance the one with Tunisia was signed in 1995 even before the Barcelona Conference. Moreover, the 2010 global Euro-Mediterranean FTA, a key objective of the Barcelona declaration, has not been reached. The problem is that these old association agreements were conceived for the objectives of the 1995 EMP not for the ENP.


The Union for the Mediterranean


Since 2008 the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) covers 43 countries and its Barcelona based Secretariat concentrates on promoting (‘labelling’) concrete multilateral Euro-Mediterranean projects and more recently has been tasked to re-launch the sectoral Euro-Mediterranean Ministerial meetings. However, this initiative proved originally to be very detrimental to the multilateral dimension of the Euro-Mediterranean relations (the former Barcelona Process). A new impulse was given with the appointment of a new Secretary General and a few sectoral conferences were held since then. The problem is that much time has been lost and that, for the time being, the geo-political context allows limited high-level multilateral convergence.


The European Neighbourhood Policy


The European Neighbourhood Policy as such encompasses now the EU’s strategic vision (strategy papers/Joint Communications) and a substantial share of the EU’s financial bilateral and multi-country cooperation through the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI). But countries like Belarus, Syria and Libya or to a less extent Algeria still do not participate fully in this policy. Other beneficiaries of the ENP like Armenia and Azerbaijan also refused to negotiate a DCFTA with the EU, because of the strong pressure of Russia. One of the major objectives of the ENP, put forward by the 2002 European Council, was to avoid the creation of “new dividing lines in Europe and to promote stability and prosperity within and beyond the new borders of the Union”. Today, Crimea has been annexed and the cease fire in the Donbas remains fragile; South Ossetia and Abkhazia are de facto new borders in Europe whereas Syria and Libya are facing terrible civil wars, the whole region being more unstable than ever.


The pre-accession track: Turkey and the Balkans


Turkey is still on the pre-accession track and included in the UfM but is not a beneficiary of the ENP. In the Balkans, one should recall that the candidates countries are currently: Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia; the potential candidates being:  Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo. In any case, the President of the European Commission has taken the decision with the consent of the Member States that there will be no accession during the five years of his mandate and even renamed the former DG enlargement of the European Commission: “DG European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations”, putting de facto these countries in a grey area.


To conclude this first point one can consider, on the one hand, that the EU approach is quite fragmented, but, on the other hand, the whole Mediterranean looks also much more fragmented compared to 1995. There is more divergence than convergence in the Euro-Mediterranean area to the point that it would be very difficult to organise a Barcelona conference today. The challenge of proposing a new approach for the ENP was thus considerable.



III. The 2015 European Neighbourhood Policy Review


A 2015 ‘review’ after a 2011 ‘revision’


The review and consultation process[3], “proposed by President Juncker and requested by EU Member States”[4], and launched by Mrs Mogherini and Mr Hahn on 4th March 2015 took place four years after the first (2011) ENP revision that was effectively implemented with the entry into force of the new European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI) in March 2014. This meant, from the start of the process, that no new financial regulation (and financial envelope) as such could be negotiated before 2020, but that amendments could eventually be introduced during the mid-term revision of the financial cooperation foreseen in 2017. The problem is that the situation is evolving very quickly on the ground.


The EU Member States, in the 20 April 2014 Council conclusions ‘on the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy’, affirmed the “four priority areas that the current ENP review seeks to address: ‘Differentiation’; ‘Focus’ (including inter alia security, economic development and trade, good governance, migration, energy and human rights); ‘Flexibility’; and ‘Ownership and Visibility’” adding that these “areas reflect the key principles that should help define a more streamlined ENP, in line with the EU’s political priorities and interests”[5]. In other words, the Member States framed the – at that time – future joint communication.


The 2015 Joint Communication on the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy


The joint communication on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy[6] was published on 18 November 2015. It is however important to stress that: “the EU proposes to start a new phase of engagement with partners in 2016, consulting on the future nature and focus of the partnership”[7] and that: “the EU will use the mid-term review of EU external financing instruments in 2017 to look at streamlining administrative procedures and, where required, proposals will be made to amend the underlying legal acts”.[8] In other words, in principle, no real fundamental change will be introduced before mid-2017 as far as financial cooperation instruments are concerned. As a consequence the “new ENP will seek to deploy the available instruments and resources in a more coherent and flexible manner”[9]. So the question is: ‘what is really new in this ‘new’ ENP’?


The joint communication is articulated around four points, namely:

– Stabilising the neighbourhood;

– Stronger neighbourhood, stronger partnerships;

– Good governance, democracy Rule of Law, and human rights;

– Proposed joint priorities for cooperation;

– The regional dimension;

– More effective delivery.


It is important to stress that most of the elements referred to in the joint communication are already in place. Most of the proposals are about re-focussing the priorities or improving and enhancing current initiatives. There are however some quite new proposals.


A new focus 


According to the joint communication: there will be “a new focus on stepping up work with our partners on security sector reform, conflict prevention, counter-terrorism and anti-radicalisation policies, in full compliance with international human rights law. (…) Safe and legal mobility and tackling irregular migration, human trafficking and smuggling are also priorities”[10]. Security and migration were identified among the six priorities areas by the Council in April (see above). The four others (economic development and trade, good governance, energy and human rights) are also tackled throughout the joint communication. So the focus will change as for the revision of 2011 the keywords were: promoting deep democracy in the Mediterranean and ‘deeper political association and economic integration’ with the EU. This remains valid for the partners having the political will to do so. But should be understood is that is that for ‘security’ and ‘migration’, other EU policies, outside the ENP framework, will have to be taken into consideration.


A new methodology?


In terms of methodology, the conditionality, reinforced with new deep democracy criteria in 2014, will be now be more ‘adapted’, at bilateral level, to the engagement of the partners. The joint communication states that: “the incentive-based approach (“More for More”) has been successful in supporting reforms (…) where there is a commitment by partners to such reforms. However, it has not proven a sufficiently strong incentive to create a commitment to reform, where there is not the political will. In these cases, the EU will explore more effective ways to make its case for fundamental reforms with partners, including through engagement with civil, economic and social actors”. More concretely, there “will no longer be a single set of progress reports on all countries simultaneously. Instead the EU will seek to develop a new style of assessment, focusing specifically on meeting the goals agreed with partners”. Moreover, for “those partners who prefer to focus on a more limited number of strategic priorities, the reporting framework will be adjusted to reflect the new focus”[11]. This means that the regional regular reports (South-East of the ENP) will “contain the elements required under the (ENI) Regulation” on “fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, gender equality and human rights issues”[12] but the bilateral evaluations will be differentiated. This could mean a double standard approach: the current ENI deep democracy criteria for bilateral evaluations for those willing too deepen political association and economic integration with the EU (Moldova, Ukraine Georgia, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan mainly) and a different one, more limited, for countries not willing to do so. This is not in line with the current ENI regulation that would need to be amended.


The neighbours of the EU neighbours


The issue of the neighbours of the EU neighbours (Sahel, Horn of Africa, Gulf and Central Asia) mentioned by the Commission in 2006[13] has been now been taken into consideration a different levels. According to the joint communication: the “new ENP will now seek to involve other regional actors, beyond the neighbourhood, where appropriate, in addressing regional challenges”.[14] This is certainly a good initiative that could be enlarged to other areas of cooperation[15], the trans-national/regional issues (migration, security, energy) being prioritised. Moreover, in this regard, the EU “will use Thematic Frameworks to offer cooperation on regional issues (…) to provide a regular forum to discuss joint policy approaches, programming and investment that reach beyond the neighbourhood”[16], Turkey being mentioned explicitly in this framework.


The security factor


What is striking is the importance given to the security dimension and more especially CFSP. If some bridges between the CFSP and the ENP have been created from the start of the ENP, like the alignment of partners on EU CFSP declarations or the participation of partners to CSDP missions and operation,[17] the joint communication, in the section devoted to security, identified seven main areas:

– Security sector reform;

– Tackling terrorism and preventing radicalisation;

– Disrupting organised crime;

– Fighting cybercrime;

– Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Risk Mitigation;

– Common Security and Defence Policy;

– Crisis management and response.


The idea of ensuring a better coherence between the CFSP and the ENP is definitely a good initiative, but it is important to understand that these are two distinct policies that do not involve the same logic, methodology and procedures at decision making level. Therefore there is a need to avoid an excessive strengthening of the intergovernmental approach, which, by definition, would be based on the lowest common denominator and could contaminate and paralyse the ENP.


The migratory factor


The migratory factor is also a key focus. Under the heading: ‘migration and mobility’, five elements are put forward:

– Develop partnerships based on an integrated approach;

– Promote mutually-beneficial migration and mobility;

– Ensuring protection for those in need;

– Tackling irregular migration;

– Stepping up cooperation on border management.


Here the novelty is mainly to incorporate the latest developments of the refugee crisis, and corresponding EU initiatives and decisions and to develop a more holistic approach including the neighbours of the EU neighbours. Some proposals like: “a platform of dialogue with businesses, trade unions and social partners (…) to better assess labour market needs”; the creation of a “new start-up (Startback) fund to provide capital to promote brain circulation”[18]; the reference to ‘circular migration’ and the links to be made with ‘diaspora communities’ must be highlighted.


Some proposals of specific interest


Even if the ‘new ENP’ means mainly to (re-)focus on some new priorities and to adopt a more flexible approach in certain areas, most of the actions and programmes mentioned in the joint communication are already in place. However, some novelties should be underlined:

– The “Commission and the High Representative will (…) examine the case for a ‘flexibility cushion’ within the ENI, i.e. to set aside resources until used for urgent programming of unforeseen needs”[19];

– The “engagement with young people across the neighbourhood will be stepped up by creating partnerships for youth. These partnerships will promote people to people contacts and networks for young people (…). It should include a substantial increase in exchanges between schools and universities, including the potential for a pilot-project of a European School in the neighbourhood”[20];

– “The development ‘Friends of Europe’ clubs and alumni networks” ; “networks of “youth ambassadors”; “creation of fora to enable exchanges between young leaders and future opinion formers from across the EU and its neighbourhood.”[21]



Conclusion: Towards a more Strategic, Differentiated and Intergovernmental ENP


The near future is very unpredictable given the development of very difficult humanitarian, (geo-)political and socio-economic challenges. In the short term, the EU and its Member States should answer the major challenges posed by the situations in Syria, Iraq and Libya and its humanitarian consequences, including the refugee camps in neighbouring countries and the issue of foreign fighters. The migratory factor has always been a major issue in Euro-Mediterranean relations. However the progressive externalisation of EU’s border controls has generated many questions at the level of human rights protection for example. Now the current crisis is quite unique but must be first of all considered as being a humanitarian crisis. For instance, the potential impact of the 18th May decision of the Council to establish an EU military operation – EUNAVFOR Med- to break the business model of smugglers and traffickers of people in the Mediterranean[22] generated strong negative reactions, including an impressive petition of academics.


The recent engagement of Russian forces in Syria is certainly a major event. Washington and Moscow are now directly and officially engaged in “combat over the same country for the first time since World War Two”. It is also “the first time Moscow has ordered its forces into combat outside the frontiers of the former Soviet Union” since the 1980s Afghanistan campaign”.[23] In other words, the strategic situation has changed with the first Russian air and naval strikes. Following the terrorist’s attacks in Paris, the ‘mutual assistance clause’ based on Article 42(7) TEU[24] was activated, for the first time, on 17 November 2015 by France and unanimously supported by the EU Member States who expressed their readiness to provide “all the necessary aid and assistance”. The High Representative pointed out that: “offers may consist of material assistance and of support in theatres of operation where France is engaged” and underlined that “this is not a CSDP operation, but an activation of aid and assistance”[25]. At NATO level, the collective defence clause of the article 5 of the Washington Treaty has not been (yet) activated but the UNSR 2249 (2015), adopted on 20Th November, called UN Member States to “redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL (…) and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups” and to “eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”. The members of the UNSC are: “determined to combat by all means this unprecedented threat to international peace and security”[26]. One should also recall that article 4[27] of the Washington Treaty has been activated by Poland and Turkey in 2014 and 2015. Turkey, being NATOs pillar in the region, is definitively on all frontlines.


An appropriate response to the challenges of the democratic transition in Tunisia is a key short-term priority. The EU and its Member States cannot afford to miss the opportunity to support one of the only genuine democratic transitions in the Southern Mediterranean. The EU and its Member States can notably help in key sectors like the reform of judiciary and transitional justice or support the Small and Medium Sized Enterprises. The participation of Tunisia to the EU agencies and programs in order to accompany the DCFTA negotiations is also very important.


In the medium term it will be indispensible to ensure and sometimes restore EU’s credibility. Credibility can only be founded on a consistent approach of the EU and its Member States. A Double standard approach regarding the implementation of conditionality clauses for example will always be damageable in the medium/long-term and fuel the jihadist’s discourse. Thus, it is very important that the EU, its institutions and Member States develop a coherent approach in order to avoid criticism at the level of the implementation of conditionality. More differentiation and flexibility is possible, but any kind of discrimination should be avoided. Also reallocation of funding in case of breach of the conditionality clauses should be the rule and should not depend on the ‘political engagement’ of the partner vis à vis the EU.


What is proposed in the 2015 Joint Communication is mainly too deepen differentiation and flexibility within the ENP and to refocus some of its priorities, even if for instance stability, security, prosperity were already, in 2002, the main general objectives. What is obvious is that the ENP is becoming more and more strategic and also more intergovernmental. On the other hand, ownership might be reinforced, as a set of concrete proposals will be discussed in 2016. If rapid action is needed in certain areas (Humanitarian aid, Counter-terrorism), deep and shared impact analyses are indispensable to avoid launching any counter-productive initiative in a very dangerous strategic context.

[1] See E. Lannon, “Introduction: the ‘neighbours of the EU’s neighbours’, the ‘EU’s broader neighbourhood’ and the ‘arc of crisis and strategic challenges’ from the Sahel to Central Asia”, in S. Gstohl & E. Lannon, “The Neighbours of the European Union’s Neighbours- Diplomatic and Geopolitical Dimensions beyond the European Neighbourhood Policy”, Farnham, Ashgate, 2014, pp. 1-25.

[2] Conclusions of the Presidency of the 12th December 2002 European Council, Copenhagen, point 24.

[3] See European Commission and High Representative Joint Consultation Paper, Towards a new European Neighbourhood Policy, Brussels, 4 March 2015,

[4] European Commission and High Representative, Joint communication on the Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy, Brussels, 18 November 2015 JOIN(2015) 50 final,, p. 2

[5] See point 6 of the conclusions available at:

[6] JOIN(2015) 50 final, op. cit.

[7] ibid. p. 4.

[8] Ibid p. 20.

[9] Ibid., p. 3. Emphasis added.

[10] Ibid., p. 3.

[11] Ibid. p. 5.

[12] Ibid. p. 5.

[13] See Erwan Lannon (2014) op. cit.

[14] Ibid. p. 3

[15] See: S. Gstohl and E. Lannon (eds), “The European Union’s Broader Neighbourhood: Challenges and opportunities for cooperation beyond the European Neighbourhood Policy”, Routledge, 2015, 348 p.

[16] Ibid. p. 18.

[17] The Naval operation EUNAVFOR recently renamed ‘Sophia’ by Mrs Mogherini is the current main example in the Mediterranean together with EUBAM Rafah, EUBAM Libya and EUPOL COPPS/Palestinian Territories).

[18] Ibid. p. 16.

[19] Ibid. p. 20

[20] Ibid p. 21

[21] Ibid p. 21.

[22] See the Council decision at:

[23] Reuters, Iran troops to join Syria war, Russia bombs group trained by CIA, 2 October 2015,

[24] Article 42(7) TEU:
”If a Member State is the victim of armed aggression on its territory, the other Member States shall have towards it an obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power, in accordance with Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.”

[25] Outcome of the 3426th Council meeting, Foreign Affairs, Brussels, 16 and 17 November 2015, p. 6.

[26] See: Emphasis added.

[27] Article 4 of the Washington Treaty, states that: “the parties will consult whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence, or security of any of the parties is threatened.”

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