In eastern and south-eastern Europe, the EU retains substantial influence and is able to generate positive change. Enlargement produced remarkable transformations in acceding Member States. The EU has been instrumental in bringing about the stabilisation and demilitarisation of the Western Balkans and the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue. It was also critical in fostering reforms in Turkey. Beyond enlargement, the EU’s power of attraction persists in parts of the eastern neighbourhood.
But the EU’s ‘soft power’ is waning as the memory of the ‘big bang’ enlargement recedes and other actors strive for influence in its neighbourhood. Today’s challenge is to revive the reform momentum through credible policies of integration and association. In the Western Balkans, promoting economic integration and development are essential to counter de- industrialisation, unemployment and low investment. In Turkey, the task is to rekindle a positive political reform dynamic and move forward on structural economic reforms. In those eastern neighbours seeking closer ties with the EU, the Union has a unique role to play to support political, economic, governance and broader societal reform.
At the same time, the conflict over Ukraine, Russia’s hybrid destabilisation tactics, Europe’s energy security challenges, and Turkey’s rise as a regional power all highlight – in different ways and to different degrees – the imperative of forging a genuine common foreign policy that includes but is not limited to an accession or association policy.
The EU must indeed ‘develop a special relationship with neighbouring countries’. But this does not necessarily mean that enlargement and the European Neighbourhood Policy are the only ways of doing so. Our approach to Turkey cannot neglect issues of common interest, including trade, migration, energy and security in the region. Our approach towards our eastern partners needs to include robust policies to prevent and resolve conflict, bolster statehood along with economic development, and foster energy and transport connectivity. And our policy towards Russia needs to prevent new dividing lines by combining a firm response to destabilising actions at and within our borders with engagement to rebuild a sustainable European security order with which all are at ease, while seeking common approaches to global issues.
The EU needs to continue to support reform in the Western Balkans, Turkey and the Eastern partners through integration and association policies, respectively. We also need to develop foreign policies that engage Turkey on issues of common interest; that strengthen the statehood of our Eastern partners; that respond firmly to destabilising actions on our borders, while also engaging Russia to restore a sustainable European security architecture and address global challenges.
The EU carried out a review of the policy including public consultation from March to July 2015 with partner countries, international organisations, social partners, civil society and academia. More than 250 contributions were received. On 18 November 2015, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European Commission presented the main lines of the review of the ENP, spelling out the Union's new approach to its eastern and southern neighbours.