Rebuilding the Neighborhood: Introduction

Written by | Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

Ilana Bet-El (Heinrich Böll Stiftung European Union)

What are the relations between the EU and all of Europe with its neighbors in Asia and Africa? Since the consecutive EU institutions have long ignored the problems in these regions, there has been an escalation of the situation at all levels, whereby we are currently experiencing the direct implications of the EU’s shortsighted approach. The consequences have taken the form of an influx of refugees and the threat of terrorist attacks. Our neighbors have arrived in the EU that has failed.

The whole issue is connected with the historical development, since it was the Europeans who colonized the whole world and did not respect the more complex local reality when drawing the boundaries of modern-era states all across the Middle East and Africa. Following the subsequent decolonization, these states were mostly left to their dictators. To make things worse, their former colonial masters set out to closely cooperate within these dictators, thus inevitably contributing to the trampling of the local democracy and civil society. As a result of this development and also of the rise of a new dynamic generation, popular uprisings – known as the Arab Spring – broke out at the end of 2010. It was the clash of the only two existing functional entities: the army and religion. Today, we can see that the path, which served our ancestors as the entrance to the regions neighboring Europe, nowadays serves migrants who come in the opposite direction, from failed states, such as Syria, Libya and other Middle Eastern and African countries.

What is the role of Turkey and Russia, Europe’s Eastern neighbors, in this issue? Turkey currently constitutes both a cause of the problem and a possible solution to the problem. The Turks enabled Syrian refugees to enter Europe and, due to their own problems with the Kurds, they additionally complicated the situation. On the other hand, they are part of the coalition fighting the Islamic State and thus have the opportunity to strongly contribute to a solution to the Syrian conflict. The Russians led President Vladimir Putin provide a military support to the Syrian government by bombarding its political opponents rather than the positions of the Islamic State. Because of this situation as well as due to the Turkey-Russia spat over the downing of a Russian aircraft, Russia’s relations with the West, including with NATO and the EU, have reached their lowest point in at least two decades. Only the promotion of stability, security and prosperity will lead to the calming of the situation in the Union’s neighborhood. And the Union is currently going through the crisis of these three variables. Moreover, European values and the overall weakness of EU political elites are both being questioned internally.

To resolve the situation, balance must be established in the European neighborhood. The price of money, borders and values, however, may be too high for the EU. Rather than striving to uphold the “Fortress Europe” principle, which may prove to be unsustainable in the long term, the EU need to start focusing on the promotion of those policies aimed precisely towards stabilizing and empowering the European neighbors.

(The study can be downloaded here:

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