As part of its progress towards a more integrated regional organisation, and in reaction to events and opportunities, European Union (EU) policy towards the Mediterranean has evolved through several phases, from the Barcelona Process in 1995 to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2004 and the Union for the Mediterranean in 2008.
The ENP goal was to create “a ring of well-governed states” to the south and east of an enlarged EU, including the countries of the “Eastern Partnership” (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine) and the countries on the south and east of the Mediterranean.
But strong challenges to the ENP have resulted in calls for its revision, if not replacement with a new approach. Now the new EU leadership has tackled this issue. But what are the views of the Arab countries that are members of the Euro-Med order?
Over the last year or so, momentum has been gathering for a review of the ENP. There are three main reasons for this. First, there have been very substantial changes in the Mediterranean landscape, including upheavals, changing governments, civil wars and new European concerns such as waves of migration and returning jihadis.
A policy that sought to bring together Eastern European countries with those of the south and east of the Mediterranean has become severely challenged as two very different sets of changes have taken place: conflict over Ukraine and state failures and problems of democratic transition after the Arab Spring.
Second, there has been a growing critique of, and also perhaps a frustration with, the Euro-Med track record since the launch of the Barcelona Process in 1995. The transformational objectives or hopes placed on the ENP may have been responsible.
As one analyst, Stefan Lehne, says, “The European Neighbourhood Policy was conceived as the European Union’s alternative to traditional geopolitics. Through long-term, in-depth engagement, including financial support, trade agreements and arrangements for easier travel, the ENP would promote structural reforms in the EU’s partner countries.
“The policy was meant to help those partners become democratic states governed by the rule of law with prosperous economies that would share in the benefits of the EU’s internal market. Ten years after the launch of this policy, it is clear that this plan has not worked.”
Third, the new team taking over the management of the EU secretariat (President Jean-Claude Junker and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini) was determined to tackle the ENP as one of its top ten priorities, under the title of “stocktaking and way forward.”
The criticism of the ENP is extensive and multidimensional. Another analyst, Michael Leigh, has written: “In fact, there is hardly any other external policy of the EU with a larger gap between its stated objectives and the actual outcome.”
There are many shortcomings, among them that the geographic scope of the ENP does not encompass a number of countries that influence the neighbourhood (e.g. Russia, Iraq, Iran and Sudan), which raises questions on the geographic logic of the policy.
Moreover, the long-term goals remain unclear, except for aspiring to a peaceful, well-governed hinterland, and the model of perspective EU membership is not useful in the case of countries that will never become members.
Other criticisms include the fact that EU incentives are insufficient to impose on other countries the EU’s agenda or to counter the influence of other actors, and EU countries do not follow the ENP political conditionality in their bilateral relations with the concerned countries.
There is also an avalanche of confusing terminology and concepts, such as Black Sea Synergy, Eastern Partnership, Barcelona Process, Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and Union for the Mediterranean.
Some years ago, former Italian prime minister Romano Prodi said, “Europe has not implemented policies in the Mediterranean committed to a decade ago … There is no European initiative and countries are divided. Europe is effectively absent from all foreign policy scenarios.”
After the 1995 Barcelona Process, he added that the Euro-Mediterranean policy had stalled and that there has been division and jealousy. “What happened in Iraq, in Syria, the permanent tension between Palestine and Israel … all this should be addressed with strong, united policies. This is not happening … when there are great problems and high levels of tension, the ball is in the American court.”
DIRECTIONS OF CHANGE: In order to meet such challenges, ten ideas have been presented in European debates on redesigning the ENP:
– A new and urgent analysis of the European security environment as a whole is required, and new policy responses should be developed accordingly. The concept of a “neighbourhood” is too confined as dialogue is also needed with the “neighbours of the neighbours,” addressing a larger area to include the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Horn of Africa and the Sahel.
– Planning should be on the basis of different values, not shared values. But rather than dropping the human rights approach, it should be sharpened to make it more effective through innovative cooperation with all actors, including governments, civil society, youth and social media.
– There is a need for more and better coordination with the US. The opposite view was also presented – that US disengagement requires a more active and independent EU role.
– Capacity to address transnational phenomena such as migration flows, terrorism and organised crime should be increased.
5. The concept of “more for more” should be changed in order “to accept that there are situations, such as the risk of state failure, when both the interests of the partner country and the EU’s interests demand more engagement regardless of the level of reform.”
– There is a need to work more closely with the intelligence, military, security and border management services of member states. There is also a need to mobilise all policy instruments like trade, financial and development assistance.
– The requirement to undertake fundamental political and economic reforms to achieve “deep and comprehensive free trade agreements” (DCFTAs) should be reined in. In a situation where states are collapsing, huge numbers of refugees are moving across borders, unorganised migration is a concern and youth are being recruited to join terrorist organisations a different set of instruments is needed.
– The ENP branding should be dropped in favour of a “differentiated approach” or “targeted policies” with dedicated strategies for each country or group of countries.
– There is a need to work more with regional organisations, take more regional initiatives and strengthen capacity to work on crisis management and humanitarian assistance.
– The EU management structure should be changed, bringing the ENP under the wing of the high representative (it is now shared between her and the European commissioner for enlargement and the ENP). Another idea is to appoint a new commissioner for non-EU European countries.
Arab critics of these proposals see them as deficient in five key ways. First, they are Eurocentric approaches, since Mediterranean initiatives, designed mainly by EU institutions and members, seem to be more focused on EU policy towards other regions than reflecting a jointly conceptualised and implemented framework.
The concepts, terminology, review processes and critiques used are all Eurocentric. Second, the calls for involving the US, Turkey, Israel, the GCC and “other interested states” in redesigning the ENP do not clarify the process or criteria for identifying the non-EU parties that should be consulted or involved.
Third, countries like Morocco and Tunisia, for understandable reasons, are interested in going their own way rather than being hindered by instability in other parts of the region. Fourth, there is no emphasis on problem-solving or a European role for addressing problems in the Mediterranean, particularly the Palestinian issue, when there is the assumption that closer cooperation can be forged with Israel, irrespective of its policies.
Fifth, there are questions to be answered that may be different from the ones addressed in a Eurocentric review. What should the Arab region be seeking from the northern Mediterranean (both EU and non-EU) at this time?
What kind of understanding should be sought in the light of difficulties faced in the post-Arab Spring era, with transition processes facing setbacks? Where should the ENP be directed on issues like support for democracy, human rights and civil-society groups?
How should the ENP reflect shifts in European thinking on Israel, as in the cases of Sweden and France? What kind of EU action is needed in the face of growing threats from nonstate actors (like Islamic State, AQIM, AQAP, Al-Shabab and Boko Haram)?
How should the role of the Gulf be viewed in contrast to that of the EU and US at a time of such uncertain politics and a likely declining future for the volume of both Gulf and EU resources in the coming decade?
What position should the Arab states take in response to increased restrictions in Europe over south-to-north migration? How should the ENP deal with the rise of xenophobia, negative images of Islam and the advance of extreme right-wing groups in Europe, as well as the negative perceptions of the West in the Arab world?
AN ARAB POINT OF VIEW: Earlier this year, the EU issued a “green paper” to solicit ideas for redesigning the future ENP. Two meetings were held with Arab countries in Barcelona and Beirut. Civil society organisations were invited to present their views by the end of last June.
Despite efforts to present a coordinated point of view, Arab inputs appeared to be late, lacked creativity and generally accepted that the ENP should be shaped by the dominant EU side rather than through a process of dialogue and consensus.
The Arab partners fell into three different groups: countries that want to push back against the EU bid to promote democracy, human rights and the role of civil society; those that want to forge ahead with closer relations with the EU (mostly North Africans), irrespective of the complex problems of the “Arabs of the East”; and countries that play it by ear and are ready to go with the flow.
It has been proposed that the Arab League form a committee of the wise to review the ENP and present a new set of strategic ideas. Arab think tanks and prominent persons should also be invited to debate the objectives and mechanisms for building peace and prosperity around the Mediterranean.
And in the future, there should be a sharper focus on joint projects that promote education, health and peace. None of these ideas were heeded, and the routine intergovernmental processes have continued, losing opportunities and repeating old songs.
The writer is director of Development Works International and a board member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs.