Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy & Enlargement
Dear Minister, Mr Techau, Ladies and Gentlemen
Let me take your minds back to 2003. The EU is on the brink of its biggest ever enlargement, the "big bang". The will to follow our European model of democracy, rule of law, human rights and free markets is bringing transformational change to our Central and Eastern European friends – and we can feel confident in our power as a pole of attraction for others.
It was against this backdrop that "Wider Europe" was conceived, as a way to use that power of attraction, with countries who do not have a direct "European perspective".
More than a decade later, we, and our neighbourhood, look rather different. Today’s neighbourhood is less stable than it was ten years ago. In the East, growing challenges to the Eastern Partnership countries, from the crisis in Georgia in 2008 to the on-going conflict in Ukraine, have been caused by an increasingly assertive Russian foreign policy which denies the sovereign choices of our partners. In the South, Syria has been afflicted by horrible civil war since 2011, Libya is a country in conflict, the Middle East Peace Process is stalled, and Egypt has undergone complex political change. The EU and its partners are facing increased challenges from economic pressures, migratory flows, and security threats.
The vision we once had – the EU with its supposedly irresistible offer, and partners who would, to varying degrees, want to move closer to us – is clearly no longer apt. Our partners have diverging aspirations: some have, indeed, chosen to move towards greater integration with us. BUT, there are others who have remained ambivalent, or have chosen another path.
The ENP has not always been able to offer adequate responses to the changing aspirations of our partners. AND therefore, the EU’s own interests have not been fully served either.
A far-reaching and necessary review
That is why President Juncker has asked me, in close co-operation with High Representative Mogherini, to carry out a far-reaching review of this policy. Many member states – and indeed our partners - have already signalled they also believe change is necessary.
The aim of the Neighbourhood Policy was to create a zone of shared prosperity and stability on our borders: in the interests of our neighbours, but in our own interests too. That strategic goal remains unchanged.
But in the new ENP that will emerge from the review, we need to be clearer about our objectives and interests. We want to be a key partner for the countries on our doorstep, while defending their right to choose their own way forward. We prefer to work with democracies in open trading relationships, because we believe this is better for everyone. And, we want to have good working relationships on issues that affect us like energy security, counter terrorism, or migration.
Four key points
In the review I believe we need to look at four key points:
First: what can we do increase the scope for differentiation in the way we work with our partners? Some partners in the east are embarking on ambitious association and deep trade agreements – and, although the scope of these has by far not been exhausted, already aspire to more, even to the perspective of EU membership in the very long term. We have partners in the south who are equally willing to work in the framework of very demanding agreements with us, but know they have no membership perspective. AND we have a range of partners in both the east and the south, who have varying wishes to interact with us. On top of all this, we need to work out how to work with the neighbours of our neighbours.
All this calls for some new ways of working that allows each of our partners to find their place in a relationship that fits their aspirations, and ours. We need to do more to recognise that our partners are very diverse. Not just different east and south, but different within the east and within the south.
2) This brings me to ownership. We will never get the best from this policy while it is seen as something more or less imposed by Europe, rather than a partnership actively chosen by the other side. The new ENP must reflect the views and experience of our partners. It must not be condescending, patronising or preaching. We must ensure that we develop a real partnership of equals. AND where partners are not engaging with us, we need to recalibrate to ensure that we are concentrating on areas where they, and we, have shared interests to pursue, without compromising on basic universal principles.
I believe that to achieve greater ownership among our partners we will need to bring more visible results with tangible benefits for their populations. People want to see results within a few years, in order to understand if a policy has paid off.
3) My third point is therefore focus: I want to get away from the current model where we try to cover a very wide range of sectors with every partner. For those that want, and who are able, we should pursue the Association Agreements and DCFTAs. But, for those who can't, or do not currently want to engage so deeply, let's narrow the focus to where the real interests lie and build on more solid foundations – to make our partnerships more effective.
Trade and mobility have been the traditional focus points: I want us to consider some that have not been fully used up to now: energy – both our energy security and that of our partners; and threats to security from organised crime to the frozen conflicts.
4) Lastly, we need to be more flexible: this means being able to react to changing circumstances, and crises when they arise.
These are just some of the ideas that you will find in the consultation paper that we will publish later in the week. We are determined to consult as widely as possible, particularly in the partner countries to ensure that that this time, we design a policy that is better designed to help us grow these relationships. Your views are welcome too, and the consultation will last till end June.
We're not giving up on our values
Before I end, I would like to say: some people ask me whether all this talk of pursuing interests means that we are giving up on our values. The answer is very clearly NO. The promotion of democracy, human rights and rule of law is a defining characteristic of the EU. BUT let us ask ourselves, whether the ENP as currently constituted, has been the success we hoped, in transmitting these values.
It is my view that the values that are at the core of the EU are also in our partners' own interests. I will give you an example: rule of law is key to long-term political stability, but equally to attracting outside investment. An independent judiciary and a system where justice is free from corruption is not only a value in itself, but it is also a key factor in the economic development of a country, indispensable to creating an environment for growth.
Let's make no mistake: the EU's current and future well-being is deeply interconnected with conditions just beyond our borders. Strengthening our neighbours, building more robust relations with each of them, will make our own countries safer, better places to live. That is why strengthening the ENP is a core project of the Juncker Commission.
AND Helping our neighbours to develop modern democracies with strong economies helps to make them less vulnerable to outside pressures.
I believe that Europe must take its responsibilities in its own neighbourhood even more proactively. We should not count on others, from other continents, to solve our problems. If we want to demonstrate that the EU matters in the world, surely it is in our own backyard that we must begin.