The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) : A Decade Later

The crisis in Ukraine and the civil war prevailing in Syria have raised deep concerns over the European Union's ability to act as a credible actor in foreign affairs. So, has the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) failed to meet its objectives? What are the challenges facing the ENP?

By Szymon Jagiello

Launched in 2004, the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) is the leading European Union (EU) policy initiative aimed at forging closer ties with sixteen countries in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, the Middle East, and North Africa. Since its inception, it has sought to establish regional stability and support the structural transformation of some countries surrounding the old continent, promoting democracy, the rule of law, good-governance, and successful market economies.  However, the recent events that have taken place in the EU’s neighborhood, such as the crisis in Ukraine and the civil war prevailing in Syria, have called the ENP into question and have raised deep concerns about the EU’s ability to act as a credible actor in foreign affairs. In light of heightened concerns, the following article seeks to answer whether the ENP has failed to meet its objectives in light of new rising challenges.

An Overview of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP)

The ENP was initiated to avoid new divisions in Europe after the EU gained ten countries (Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia), mainly from the former Soviet space. As Stefan Lehne explains: “The policy was initially meant for the Eastern European neighbors of those new Member States. At the insistence of countries in the EU’s south, the program was extended to ten countries of the Southern Mediterranean and eventually to the Southern Caucasus.”[1] Today, the ENP includes more than 16 countries to the south (Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine) and east (Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Belarus, Moldova, and Azerbaijan).

With the ENP, the EU aimed for an approach that would go beyond the traditional foreign policy of interacting with the neighboring countries according to ad hoc developments and short-term interests. Through long-term engagement, the ENP would assert the EU’s influence over the region by offering economic incentives to foster political reform with the goal of creating a “ring of well governed states.”[2] More concretely, “it consisted of a series of bilateral agreements and regional frameworks through which the EU offers financial aid, market access and visa facilitations to these countries in exchange for the conduct of domestic reforms in the political, economic, and administrative spheres.”[3] The hope was that over time, “this would result in a partnership with an area founded on the values of the union.”[4]

In reality, this means that the partner countries develop action plans setting out their agendas for liberal and democratic reforms. Once a year, the European External Action Service (EEAS)—the EU’s foreign policy arms–and the executive power, the European Commission, “publish ENP progress reports assessing the progress made towards reforms.”[5] The EU assists these countries through the so-called 3 Ms, or “Money, Market access, and Mobility.”[6] As Stefan Lehne argues:

The EU supports these countries through financial assistance, with €12 billion ($16 billion) offered from 2007 to 2013 and a similar level of funding envisaged for the period to 2020. The ENP offers improved EU market access for the most advanced countries in the form of a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area aimed at the progressive integration of these countries into the EU’s internal market. The EU also promises easier travel through “mobility partnerships” as well as technical assistance.[7]

In many ways, the ENP is rooted in a dynamic of enlargement, inspired by the EU’s own experience of economic integration. “The EU has long sought to capitalize on what is often dubbed its greatest foreign policy success, namely the successful transition of Central European countries encouraged by the prospects of accession and by conditionality incentives. The ENP flows from a similar logic of attempting to foster peace, stability, and prosperity at the EU’s borders by exporting its internal model.”[8]

The ENP and Europe’s Periphery

In the last 10 years, the ENP has faced important political developments in its geographical areas of influence. Countries included in the EU initiative have experienced state failure, uprisings, political and religious strife, terrorist attacks, and even revolutions. As a consequence, the EU appears more fragmented and volatile today than it was ten years ago.

In the south, hopes ignited in North Africa by the 2011 “Arab Spring” remain disappointing, as new authoritarian regimes emerged in some states, such as Egypt, and chronic instability prevailed in Libya. Though few exceptions exist, Tunisia remained the positive example of a state where “transition to democratic rule after a 2011 revolt has been hailed as a regional success story.”[9]  Yet, most countries, such as Syria, continue to experience wars that “jeopardize regional stability” and become breathing grounds for terrorist organizations. [10] Cases akin to the latter will pose a greater security risk to the EU in the coming years.

To the east, the situation fares no better. Moscow’s foreign policy behavior after the conclusion of the EU association agreement with Kiev—and arranged under the neighborhood initiative banner—culminated in the outbreak of severe tensions in eastern Ukraine. As analysts have noted, “Russia’s objections to the agreement have translated into Crimea’s annexation” and the destabilization of a former Soviet satellite country.[11] In the South Caucasus, the situation remains fragile. “Frozen conflicts” involving Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia carry the constant risk of escalation. [12]  Finally, Belarus remains authoritarian. It shows little interest in implementing economic and political reforms.

Against this backdrop, the EU has responded to events and menaces emerging at its eastern and southern gates. It has taken several initiatives to revive the Middle East peace process, even engaging in the role of mediator during the Russo-Georgian War of 2008.[13] In reaction to the 2011 revolutions in North Africa, the EU even reviewed the ENP reformulating EU conditionality in the form of a “more and more” principle, “which promises the EU will develop stronger partnerships and offer greater incentives to countries that make more progress towards democratic reform.”[14] However, in spite of such actions, the aforementioned events within Europe’s neighborhood highlight how some factors have undermined Brussels capability to shape development in its periphery.

Factors that Undermine the ENP: An Analysis on Moving Forward

When the EU launched the ENP, it saw itself as a role model and thought that the values the EU promoted could be easily exported to its neighbors and close geographical regions. This eurocentric approach towards others has proven ineffective.

First, the concept that has most shaped the ENP was the assumption that partner countries share the “same values and interests” as EU Member States do, which created the belief that neighbors would easily adhere to principles such as social cohesion, the rule of law, and respect of human rights. As Jeanne Park notes, though, “this belief neglects partners’ cultural and historical backgrounds, as well as their political systems.”[15] Indeed, ENP partners differ in almost every respect, from their level of social and economic development to their security and political situations. For instance, Libya requires the reinforcement of Tripoli’s government monopoly of power within its borders, which emphasizes the fact that, in some cases, “more strategic engagement is demanded regardless of the level of democratic reforms.”[16] Meanwhile, Tunisia needs to urgently implement economic reforms to provide its young population with prospective employment opportunities. Subsequently, Brussels’ policymakers should reevaluate their approach by analyzing the specific practices, needs, and capacities of each of the states concerned. A case-to-case approach and the development of more flexible policies that adapt themselves to partner countries’ circumstances are now a necessity more than just a policy approach.

Second, the too often narrow technocratic logic prevailing in the ENP hampers its success. It does not appreciate the anxieties and geopolitical sensitivities of others, mainly powerful countries. As Thomas de Waal explains, “the EU cast the partnership as a bureaucratic and economic project, without sufficiently mapping out the politics to prepare for certain contingencies.”[17] When Brussels completed the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DFCTA) with Ukraine, Russia decided to react and convinced Kiev to shift the course of its policy. Putin even rewarded former president of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych with an attractive economic and energy package. Again, Jeanne Park notes that “having failed to preempt Moscow’s provocations with conciliatory policies, the EU now faces an uncertain future in which a bifurcated Ukraine looms as a real possibility.”[18]

In effect, today’s challenges require more than ever the involvement of a greater number of actors, as many contemporary threats are either regional or sub-regional in character. Quite often, developments in North Africa, the Levant, and East Europe are influenced by events or policies in adjoining countries, which are not included in the ENP. By way of example, the coercive operations undertook by the “Islamic State” in Iraq will undoubtedly have negative repercussions on Syria and Jordan. Therefore, although it has experience in this domain, Brussels should deepen cooperation with the “neighbors of the EU’s neighbors” and build systematic dialogue and engagement with both regional actors such as the Arab League or the Organization of Islamic States and powerful states that are not included in the ENP.” [19]

The changing geopolitical realities of modern threats and foreign relations further highlight that several member countries supersede the EU’s neighborhood policy through state-to-state relations. In these, ENP members pursue agendas closely aligned to personal over regional interests. This ultimately reduces the EU’s credibility and authority vis-à-vis others. A solution to this problem requires that the twenty-eight foreign affairs ministries across Europe align their policies in support of the ENP. Such a vision should take political priority, especially as emerging threats, such as terrorism in EU neighbor states, pose a growing risk to the EU as a whole.

Unfortunately, in the absence of membership accession and important financial assets, the EU has lacked incentives to impose on third parties the implementation of targeted liberal reforms. As a case in point, the EU has promised to devote €5 billion (US$7 billion) in economic aid to Egypt in 2011. By contrast, Gulf States pledged €5.9 billion (US$8 billion) only months later without including demanding preconditions and burdensome procedures part of ENP aid. This diminished Cairo’s political will to embark on costly transformations. Brussels should increase the level of funding from now to 2020. Moreover, for the partner countries which would make sufficient progress towards democratic norms, especially for eastern European countries, the EU could open the door for the prospect of accession. The process has few risks, yet it would provide ENP Member States with “something more tangible to marshal support than successive rounds of technical agreements.”[20]


There is no doubt that the EU remains an important player in global affairs. Nevertheless, its key interests lie in its own periphery. The events that have taken place in recent years suggest that the EU’s influence in these regions has diminished or, at least, appears to be facing serious challenges.  Alas, these same occurrences have created a window of opportunity to renew the ENP. They have provided the EU with the opportunity to develop a new and effective approach towards its neighboring partners. Thus, Reshaping the ENP should be high on the agenda of the EU foreign-policy chief, Italy’s Federica Mogherini who will take office toward the end of 2014. But, no major decisions can be expected before 2015. The newly appointed EU foreign affairs leadership team should wisely use time in the coming months for a substantive discussion and reflection about a major reform of the ENP. This is crucial for the EU’s future as an important player on the world stage.

Szymon Jagiello is a Master of Arts candidate in Political Science at the Free University of Brussels. His writings have been published in the Yonsei University Journal of International Affairs, the Tufts University Journal Hemispheres, and the Israel Council on Foreign Relations’ Journal of Foreign Affairs.


[1] Stefan Lehne, “Time to reset the European Neighborhood Policy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 4, 2014, accessed on September 17, 2014,

[2] Christophe Hillion, “The EU Neighborhood Competence under Article 8 TEU,” Jacques Delors Institute, February 19, 2013, accessed on October 26, 2014,

[3] David Cadier, “Is the European Neighborhood Policy a Substitute for Enlargement,” London School of Economics’ IDEAS, Accessed on October 26, 2014,

[4] Stefan Lehne, “Time to reset the European Neighborhood Policy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 4, 2014, accessed on September 17, 2014,

[5] European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), European External Actions Service(EEAS), accessed September 19,2014,

[6] Money, Market access, Mobility – three Ms to underpin EU support to its southern neighbors,” European Neighborhood Info Center, March 11, 2011, Accessed on October 27, 2014,,-Market-access,-Mobility-%E2%80%93-three-Ms-to-underpin-EU-support-to-its-southern-neighbours

[7] Stefan Lehne, “Time to reset the European Neighborhood Policy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 4, 2014, accessed on September 17, 2014,

[7] European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), European External Actions Service(EEAS), accessed September 19,2014,

[8] Ibid;

[9] “Tunisia election: Secularists set to oust Enhada party”, BBC News, October 27, 2014, accessed on October 27, 2014,

[10] “Middle East Headed for Unpredictable Future, but Need to Address Arab-Israeli Conflict in Shaping It Constructively Is Certain, Security Council Told,” UN Security Council Press Release, November 12, 2012, accessed on October 27, 2014,

[11] lexei Anishchuk, and Richard Balmforth, Reuters, August 29, 2014, accessed on October 25, 2014,

[12] Judy Dempsey, “Europe’s New Frozen Conflict,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 22, 2014, accessed on October 25, 2014,

[13] Joshua Foust, “5 Days of War: A Bitter Conflict, With No Heroes,” The Atlantic, August 7, 2011, accessed October 27, 2014,

[14] European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), European External Actions Service(EEAS), accessed September 19,2014,

[15] Jeanne Park, The European Union’s Eastern Partnership, Council on Foreign Relations, March 14, 2014, accessed on September 18, 2014,

[16] Stefan Lehne, “Time to reset the European Neighborhood Policy,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 4, 2014, accessed on September 17, 2014,

[17] Jeanne Park, The European Union’s Eastern Partnership, Council on Foreign Relations, March 14, 2014, accessed on September 18, 2014,

[18] Ibid;

[19] The Neighbours of the EU’s Neighbours: Diplomatic and Geopolitical Dimensions beyond the ENP,” College of Europe, accessed on September 19, 2014,

[20] Jeanne Park, The European Union’s Eastern Partnership, Council on Foreign Relations, March 14, 2014, accessed on September 18, 2014,

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