When the EU reported on it revised external policies in its neighbourhood, did it deliberately overlook its shortcomings and meagre deliverables? Is the EU shying away from following a harder line with southern neighbours to achieve the agreed-upon objectives of political reform? Worst still, is the maintenance of the status quo a goal in itself?
A report on the implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy’s (ENP) revision was published on 18 May, outlining the progress achieved since the policy’s review. Launched in 2003 as a framework to foster prosperity, stability and security in the EU’s southern and eastern neighbourhoods, the ENP could be best described as a labyrinth of opaque objectives and goals. Coupled with the EU’s overly diplomatic and soft-law approach, the ENP’s limited achievements were ultimately blurred in a mist of political instability in a crisis-ridden southern region. As Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn stated during a press conference on 4 March 2015: “the ENP had not always been able to offer adequate responses to the partners, which consequently meant that neither side’s interests were met.” The statement begs the following question: did the EU do something about this?
In November 2015, an assessment of the ENP was concluded with the aim of re-evaluating the dynamics of the EU’s interaction with its neighbours. Nonetheless, the alternative policies that were put forward stubbornly maintained the previously introduced ‘2003 approach’, however cladded in a more pragmatic, bespoke, and cooperative rhetoric. Essentially, the ENP’s revision maintained the soft power ethos of the EU, and favoured – as indicated in the aforementioned press conference – an approach based on cooperation between equal partners, political dialogue, shared principles, and the freedom of countries to choose their own way forward. It’s an approach that rests on the reliable and solid foundations of listening and working together, and one that encompasses greater respect for the diverse aspirations of the EU’s partners. Nearly one and a half year down the line, the new, open mode of engagement seems not to yield any substantial results, particularly in the southern neighbourhood within the ENP (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Palestine, and Tunisia).
The degree of democracy remains unaltered in the southern neighbourhood, and the EU’s persistent efforts to inject democracy were proven futile. According to the latest Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index, 2016 marked another year of political stagnation in the southern Mediterranean. The standing in the Democracy Index either deteriorated or witnessed extremely modest improvement. In fact, the report suggests that authoritarian regimes remain the norm in the region. Consequently, for the EU to press on with morphing policies that are simply but a clone of one another, and to insist on the power of dialogue and patient cooperation prove that the re-woven policy is doomed to its fate of mediocrity.
The EU’s commitment to promote democracy, rule of law, and good governance is laudable; enhancing the state of democracy in southern neighbouring countries bestows tranquillity, prosperity and stability for both shores of the Mediterranean. For instance, the aforementioned report on the implementation of the ENP’s review outlines some of the progress achieved, including the celebration of parliamentary elections that abided with international standards for democratic elections, the completion of transitional plans, and the participation of EU election expert missions in elections. Nonetheless, taking a closer look at these breakthroughs, one could only conclude that such progress could only be described as general, and void of any actual substance. With the persistence of authoritarian regimes, and the glacial-paced reforms made on the democratic front – as attested by the Economist’s Democracy Index – speaking of any development would be an act of deliberate self-deception.
It is evident that the ENP still suffers from shortcomings that render the goal of sustainable, enduring, and full democratic development unattainable. If the EU indeed wishes to encourage democratic change, it must consider a policy that has clear objectives and measurable deliverables, and is managed through both dialogue and the key principle of conditionality. In short, the ENP might need to bluntly condition its financial and political support to the achievement of pertinent and substantial reforms that actually introduce democratic change, instead of being coy about the whole issue. However, if content with surface-limited actions and the maintenance of the status quo, then the audience could be spared the rhetoric of the EU’s efforts towards democratisation and reform.
To conclude, the ENP’s revision only confirms that the EU’s policies towards the southern Mediterranean might not have been an absolute failure, but they certainly were no success.1 comment