Reality Check: Why the EU Needs to Rethink its Neighborhood Policy

Written by | Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Cengiz Günay (Euromesco)

In 2004, the Union introduced the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP). The definition of the ENP meant that the EU took consideration of the fact that a multilateral regional framework was not an appropriate response to the emergence of social aggregation in the Euro-Mediterranean political, social and economic space. The Neighborhood Policy was, unlike the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, based on a bilateral approach, and it also acknowledged diversity among individual partner countries. Is this framework, however, sufficient for cooperation now?

The basis of the neighborhood policy as well as of other EU documents and strategies is the European liberal tradition, which places a great emphasis on civil society as an indispensable aspect of democratization. However, the unrests in the Arab countries undermined this fundamental principle of the Union. The EU subsequently began developing the ENP through numerous financial instruments, programs and initiatives, and also shifted towards a country-specific approach, which essentially reflected more their respective individual needs.

One of the most significant financial tools was the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), which was designed to open the European market for the Arab countries. The Union assumed that market liberalization would also contribute to political reforms, eventually leading towards democratization. The Southern partners, however, failed in this regard due to the fact that neither the reform path nor the final reward had been clearly defined. The belief in the democratization of Arab states, especially through economic cooperation, obscured the fact that the EU had developed partnerships with authoritarian regimes.

Behind the belief that democratization will be achieved through trade liberalization, one can recognize neoliberalism, which is not purely an economic program but rather a complex way of thinking that later evolved into some kind of form of governance. Since the 1980s, the goal of the European integration has been to restore Europe’s global competitiveness, which should have been achieved – in line with neoliberal principles – through the reduction of national restrictions on trade and competitiveness. However, neoliberal governance can have drastic consequences in the countries with weak democratic institutions – and it was precisely in the Arab world where this policy triggered non-liberal tendencies. Therefore, if the ENP were to face contemporary challenges, would not it be appropriate to reassess its basic premises and base it on an ideological foundation other than neoliberalism?

(The study can be downloaded here)

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