by George Archangelakis, researcher of the Unit «Politics & International Affairs»


Undoubtedly, the European Union, has played a pivotal role in the Southern Mediterranean in the light of the challenges that have occurred in recent years. However, these destabilizing events that took place on EU’s periphery have showed clearly that EU’s neighbourhood has been transformed to a ‘ring of fire’ (The Economist, 2014).Indeed, in the middle of the eurozone crisis and the establishment of the European External Action Service, the EU has found itself in front of unexpected foreign policy challenges from both of its eastern and southern neighbours(Whitman & Juncos, 2012). Specifically, the EU, in the view of the Arab uprisings that triggered in the North Africa, adopted a new strategy that supported the demands for reforms(EU Commission, 2011).Launched in 2004, the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), that based on EU’s wish for cooperation on common interests with itsneighbours, after a series of policy adjustmentsresponded with the ‘’more for more” principle which required the promotion of reforms accompanied by economic development (Stivachtis, 2018). Nevertheless, despite the EU’s attempt to change its strategy in order to support the democratic transition processes of the region, it seems to be still bound to geopolitical goals (Behr, 2012). Considering this, this research, after examining the main principles, objectives and instruments of ENP and analysing the impact of the Arab uprising to the security of EU, it argues that the ENP has a contradictory policy in North Africa.

Theorizing the European Neighbourhood Policy

The ENP, indisputably, consistone of the most visible exercises of EU’s soft power in world politics (Moravcsik, 2017).Conducted as a response to the redrawn of EU’s political map and a comprehensive approach to its new neighbours (Prodi, 2002), the ENP is an important foreign policy tool that seeks to create a zone of security, stability and prosperity among its immediate neighbours (Mousis, 2013). In other words, designed to cope with the consequences resulting from the 2004 enlargement, the ENP embraced Union’s sixteen neighbours[1] with unlikely accession perspective by offering them progressive economic and political integration (Cameron, 2007). On this basis, the distribution of the benefits of the enlargement with its neighbours and the fulfilment of mutual accepted priorities and values (democracy, human rights, the rule of law, good governance, market economy principles, sustainable development) that where incorporated in jointly agreed Action Plans, the EU expected to close the gap between them (Commission, 2014). For instance, the ENP in North Africa, offered bilateral cooperation programmes that guaranteed the reduce of differences in living standards and addressed their common challenges like the illegal migration (EU Commission, 2018). Therefore, ENP’s mission to create a «ring of friends» is based on the development of existing forms of regional cooperation (Euro-Mediterranean Partnership «Barcelona Process») and its three organizing principles: the joint ownership, the differentiate approach to the countries and the added value that the Policy brings among them (Commission, 2014). Yet, the ENP’s work in the first years after its launch could be considered as ambiguous because of the gap that existed between its objectives and the results that delivered. In other words, even though the values promotion (human rights, democracy) seemed to be a vehicle for regional stability, they were marred by contradictions and inconsistencies (Balfour, 2007).


The ENP’s evolution

A. The Arab uprisings cause revision of ENP’s policy

Subsequently, the uprisings of 2011 succeeded to change the Arab world irrevocably, since the protestors’ requests for political and economic reforms achieved the fall of some of the most deeply established regimes in the world. However, the upheaval against these authoritarian regimes, that triggered by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia, has not achieved to reshapeMaghreb’s politics(LSE IDEAS, 2012).On the contrary, while some authoritarian regimes fall (Tunisia, Libya, Egypt) others remained in power (Algeria, Morocco) and they did not prompt to a remarkable change of their institutions and modes of governance, mainly because of the nature of authoritarian regime institutionalisation (Volpi, 2013; Greffrath & Duvenhage, 2014).Nevertheless, the revolts put into question the ENP’s agenda and paved the way to its revision. Undeniably, the uprisings, while reflected an unexpected transformation process with lasting consequences, simultaneously constituted a golden opportunity for EU to advance its foreign policy with the formation of the new governance in the region (EUCE, 2012). Thus, acknowledging the ENP’s inability to promote its democratisation objectives and the necessity to support the transition process, the EU’s initial response with the «Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity» requested Maghreb countries commitment to reforms through an incentive-based approach («more for more») (Commission, 2011). The revised ENP as «A New Response to a Changing Neighbourhood» entailed four principles: deep and sustainable democracy, conditionality, higher differentiation among the countries and conflict resolution (Commission, 2011). All in all, the new strategy has refocused on democratic transition and institution building of the southern neighbours with a stronger partnership with the civil society and economic development (Lannon, 2011).Nonetheless, the ENP’s revision, neither provided effective assistance to the neighbour countries but enhanced the normative and realist interests of the EU(Tömmel, 2013) nor constituted a «new» policy rather than a reinforcement of the prior policy, a case of «less of the same» (Bicchi, 2014).rrr

Figure 1 Federica Mogherini: High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Johannes Hahn: European Commissioner for ENP and Enlargement Negotiations. Πηγή: EC – Audio-visual Service

B. From continuity to the 2015 revision of ENP

Certainly, the 2011 revision of the ENP, even if tried to give a new impetus to the Union’s democratic aspirations for the region it was mostly characterised by continuity rather than qualitative change (Brembergn, 2016).As it can be seen, the EU not only was unable to preserve its strategy but also has reverted to emphasize on European security (Seeberg & Shteiwi, 2014). Thus, the EU, recognizing the wide-ranging changes in its neighbourhood, the geopolitical environment and considering its «Global Strategy (EUGS)», has put the ENP to extensive re-assessment in 2015 based on the principles of differentiated approach to partners, flexibility in the use of EU instruments and joint ownership(Delcour, 2015; EEAS, 2016; European Council, 2015). Indeed, the ENP is deploying its funds with more impact as regards the implementation of the key priorities (good governance, democracy, rule of law and human rights; economic development for stabilisation; security; migration and mobility) for developing neighbours’ resilience (Commission, 2017).Nevertheless, despite the EU’s will to reform the ENP in the light of the humanitarian, geopolitical and socio-economic challenges, what is proposed is a re-focus or enhancement of previous initiatives and priorities (stability, security, prosperity) (Lannon, 2016).

Interests versus values

Furthermore, another essential point is the inherent contradictions of the ENP in promoting values versus interests.Indeed, even before the Arab Spring, some scholars had witnessed the ENP’s paradoxes and contradictions on EU’s agenda on the Southern neighbourhood and more specifically the prioritization of stability and security goals (interests) rather than the democratization objectives (values) (Pace, 2009). Moreover, even though the Arab Spring appeared as a window of opportunity for democratic transition of the MENA region and despite the critical review of the ENP, the deterioration of stability and the social-economic uncertainty have influenced the prioritization of strategic materialistic interests (stability and security) over normative (democracy promotion)(Dandashly, 2015).Similarly, the 2015 ENP review in line with the EUGS, although some positive steps have occurred in terms of democracy promotion, the dominance of the security–stability nexus still prevailed but also the EU appeared as a pragmatic actor whose engagement adapts to each neighbor and the domestic actors involved (Dandashly, 2018). Therefore, as shown above, the EU’s approach has been marked by a rhetoric–practice gap (values vs interests) since the security and stability still feature prominently in the EU’s strategy in the MENA region. Nonetheless, the security–stability nexus has experienced some partial change in the aftermath of the Arab uprisings on counterterrorism,financial reforms and migration policy (Roccu & Voltolini, 2018).


In conclusion, the EU, sunk its foreign policy ambitions with the abandonment of the idea of transforming its neighbors to democratic market economies by focusing on the security-stability goals (Lehne, 2017). Although, the massive, popular uprisings which have taken place in North Africa appeared as an opportunity towards the democratic transition of the region, at present the region looks even more deteriorated by the political turbulence, the violence and the social challenges like the unemployment (Lisiecka, 2017).However, these challenges that lead the EU to abandon normative aspirations for more traditional security concerns (Roccu&Voltolini, 2017), may be due to structural problems of EU foreign policy, such as the Europe’s lack of a coherent strategy for its external policies (Techau, n.d.).Indeed, the EU, while obtained a toolbox for assisting the reform and strengthening of MENA region, has failed to act as a structural power. From one side, the ENP reflected more the EU’s internal policy interests than it resonated with the demands and priorities of the region and from the other side it has faced rival structural powers like a variety of Islamic actors (ISIS)(Keukeleire & Delreux, 2015). Nevertheless,the EU Global Strategy, whether will respond or not to the challenges of North Africa while preserving both of EU’s core interests and principles it remains to be seen(EU, 2019).



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