In the wake of the Big Bang enlargement of 2004, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was designed to keep neighbourhood countries engaged with the EU, and to avoid creating dividing lines on the continent. But ENP has thus far failed to emulate the success of the Enlargement programme, which has been regularly attributed to the loose and varied nature of the policy. The 1989 Generation Initiative has thus sought to redefine the EU’s engagement with its neighbours, at the expense of abandoning ENP altogether.
It is not just a case of regional differences challenging the ENP model, but differences within the regions themselves. Though these disparities have been present for some time, they have become increasingly acute over the last five years, with the Arab Spring, the Russian annexation of Crimea, and the historic levels of migration adding to the strain. Tunisia, the EU’s most progressive North African partner, has found itself neighbouring a Libya on the verge of failure; Moldova’s peacebuilding efforts with its separatist regions shines in comparison to Ukraine’s internal turmoil; and while Georgia’s record of civil liberties and political freedom has improved in recent years, Azerbaijan’s has grown steadily worse. In the chaos of such a diverse range of nations, there is little room for horizontal cooperation, as the Eurocentric ENP model focuses more on bilateral agreements than real neighbourhood partnerships. Moving forward, the EU needs to more effectively recognise the differences in its neighbourhood partnerships, and realise that there are more levels to EU cooperation than just those countries with EU potential and those without.
There is an argument to be made for all the current neighbourhood partners to be included in ENP at its inception, back in 2004. They were all considered close neighbours of the EU, but were also seen as ineligible for future EU membership. But this is now no longer the case, as some partner states strive to have their potential for membership recognised. For example, Moldova’s progressive reforms and vocal EU aspirations have made the idea of Moldovan membership much stronger in recent years, although actual candidacy is still some time away. One obstacle that is holding the country back from real consideration is its internal conflict with the breakaway state of Transnistria, as well as the separatist rumblings of the Gaugazia region. It is this prevalence of conflict that the think-tank European Forum cites as being a considerable deterrent for EU membership. Yet this way of thinking is challenged when an EU candidate country such as Serbia is brought in for comparison. Both states are embroiled in ethnic conflicts within their own territories, with Kosovo and Transnistria operating outside of the control of their supposed parent state. Furthermore, the Moldova/Transnistria conflict has been regarded as among Europe’s ‘most solvable’ territorial problems, with hot violence having subsided some time ago. This is in stark contrast to Serbia/Kosovo, where peacebuilding operations were put by the wayside while both the EU and local authorities attempted to de-escalate the violence that had erupted in Northern Kosovo in 2011.
While the EU’s conflict resolution resources are of course more concentrated in its recognised membership candidate, ENP’s contribution to Moldova’s commendable progress in creating an inclusive civil society (in conjunction with Transnistria) has produced amazing results in terms of cross-border cooperation. Given that regional reconciliation features highly in both countries’ bids for greater EU association, Moldova’s proven success in this field gives one pause for the EU’s approach to external relations, particularly among its neighbours. The line between enlargement and neighbourhood policy may appear wide with a comparison such as Libya and Macedonia, but it becomes noticeably finer where Moldova and Serbia are concerned. This not only puts ENP up for judgement, but also the regional cooperatives within this framework. It is for this reason that one of the top priority proposals of the 1989 Generation Initiative is the abandonment of ENP, in favour of more tailored partnerships that look beyond the geopolitically-driven status quo.
Ultimately, the EU needs to stop differentiating its concentric circles of association by geography alone, and to take a more holistic approach to how it conducts its neighbourhood affairs. Furthermore, moving away from a one-size-fits-all mentality to a more bespoke categorisation may go some way to replicate the success of conditionality that has been enjoyed by EU Enlargement policy thus far.
1989 Generation Initiative