European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) is an EU foreign policy instrument by which the latter aims to create an area of security and prosperity around it. ENP was launched in 2004 and comprises 16 countries from North Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe, including Moldova. After 7 years of implementation, the ENP is far from achieving its strategic objective. In the last three years, several developments have questioned the efficiency and capabilities of the ENP, both on its Eastern and Southern dimensions. Among negative evolutions we can mention the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008, expansion of authoritarian drifts in most the Eastern Partnership countries, flagrant violation of fundamental human rights in Belarus, the violent suppression of peaceful protests in Chisinau in April 2009, and Minsk in December 2010, the worsening of economic and democratic conditions in states from North Africa and the Middle East, which led eventually to the outbreak of civil war and popular uprisings in Libya, etc... These and other negative trends have determined the EU to start the ENP reevaluation.
On 25 May 2011, aiming to revitalize the ENP, the European Commission officially presented its new approach, which, like the previous one, aims to strengthen individual and regional partnerships between the EU and neighboring countries, yet this time based on the principle “more funds for more reforms”. The new approach was baptized by the European Commission officials as representing “an ambitious new European Neighborhood Policy”. According to Baroness Catherine Ashton, Vice-President of the European Commission and High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Affairs of the EU, the new approach is a partnership among nations to support and develop a deep democracy and economic prosperity in the EU neighborhood. At the same time, Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, believes that the new approach involves a greater degree of differentiation, which will ensure that each state develops its own links with the EU as much as their aspirations, needs and capabilities allow it.
Chisinau has wisely abstained
European officials’ enthusiasm is not shared in the same way in Chisinau. Our authorities are not very delighted with the new approach worked out by the European Commission. So far, both Government and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration have not officially welcomed the new vision set to rejuvenate the ENP. Instead, they wisely have abstained from any open criticism against the proposals put forward by the European Commission. As a matter of fact, neither civil society has reacted to the announcement made on May 25 by Catherine Ashton and Stefan Fule. The new approach did not arouse the curiosity of the ENP even after the publication in the local press of the analysis “For a new innovative and ambitious European Neighborhood Policy”, signed by European Commissioner Stefan Fule. I do not exclude that this apathy has some connection with the recent local election campaign. Yet, I believe that the NGOs’ lack of interest is also related to the essence of the new ENP approach, which maybe has a new shape, but the substance is more or less the same. But, let’s tackle its deficiencies one by one.
The new ENP approach comes with several terminology innovations, such notions as “building deep and sustainable democracy” or support inclusive economic development”. Paradoxically or not, even if these terms sound innovative, their content is not new to the area between the Prut and Dniester or even to the Eastern Partnership in general. Thus, if until now by democracy we understood free and fair elections, freedom of press, freedom of assembly, independence of the judiciary, fighting corruption, democratic control of armed and security forces, from now on all of this will be called “deep democracy”. If until now by economic and social sustainable development we understood development of small and medium enterprises, creating new jobs, improving the investment climate, investment promotion, agricultural and rural development, removing regional economic disparities, improving macro-economic policies, improved social policy dialogue, etc., from now on all of this will be called “inclusive economic development”. New forms, yet the content remains the same.
The new ENP approach proposes the creation of two new instruments to finance projects and programs initiated by NGOs to promote democratic reforms, namely: Civil Society Facility and the European Endowment for Democracy. Both funds are extremely important for helping NGOs to improve their capacities to initiate, promote and monitor democratic reforms, including in partnership with governments. However the efficiency of these two assistance mechanisms will depend very much on how they will be able to respond quickly to the needs of civil society in the ENP countries. If these procedures will replicate the European Commission's current rigid procedures that consume a lot of time and effort, then the disappointment will be great. Therefore, as long as it is not clear how the application procedures for accessing financial resources of the Civil Society Facility and European Endowment for Democracy will look like, there will be inevitably doubts about their efficiency. By the way, the project application and monitoring rules applied by the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation and Balkan Trust for Democracy of the GMF of the United States are, in our opinion, good examples to follow by the new instruments proposed by the Commission.
EU is hesitating in front of Russia
Under the new ENP vision, the EU will improve its involvement in the resolution of long term conflicts in its neighborhood, particularly by exploiting the tools offered by the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, promoting joint actions on security issues in the international organizations, supporting measures that promote confidence in the secessionist territories, supporting international efforts and structures related to the resolution of these conflicts, supporting the implementation of political settlements , etc.. In case of Moldova, these general offers/promises are not new, on the contrary, they have been applied since 2005. Thanks to them, the EU has increased tremendously its presence in the Transnistrian settlement process. Unfortunately, the increased visibility of the EU in the Transnistrian region has not materialized yet in real leverages of influence on the Transnistrian administration. Instead, in order to make its messages heard and listened by Tiraspol, Brussels has to rely on Moscow as a communication relay. EU still hesitates to assume and exercise a similar role played by Russia in the Transnistrian settlement. Regrettably, the new ENP approach does not give us certainty that the situation will change greatly in this regard in the nearest future. Nevertheless, there is a new element to be fully exploited by the Moldovan government, namely: EU's readiness to develop with relevant international organizations and key partners post-conflict reconstruction scenarios that could influence considerably the resolution of regional conflicts, including the Transnistrian one, by formulating convincingly the tangible benefits of the future peaceful settlements.
There is no long term vision
We are also promised that the new approach will further strengthen the Eastern Partnership. Thus, parties will negotiate and implement the Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements, continue the democratization process and facilitation and liberalization of visa regimes, enhance sector cooperation, bring closer to citizens the benefits of the Eastern Partnership, reinforce the partnership civil society and social partners, etc.. . Reiteration of these assurances stated clearly or implicitly in 2009, is essential for the countries of Eastern Europe, but not enough. Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, countries with strong European aspirations have expected that the ENP’s revaluation will bring a convincing outline, even if a distant one, of their chances to materialize those aspirations. Despite high expectations, this did not happen. Instead, the European Commission has chosen to console us by underlining that the political association and economic integration of the Eastern Partnership are based on the same values on which the EU is built. As long as the EU is facing big domestic problems, no realistic member of the Eastern Partnership expects Brussels to continue the EU's enlargement policy towards Eastern Europe. Kiev, Chisinau and Tbilisi expects in exchange that Brussels will offer them a long term vision, which, to our great regret, is missing in the new ENP approach.
Yet, Stefan Fule, European Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy, assures us that the new approach brings a greater level of differentiation, which will ensure that each state develops its links with the EU as far as its own aspirations, needs and capacities allow. We do not exclude this assumption, however, we wonder and ask ourselves and the EU officials as well: how Kiev, Chisinau and Tbilisi could capitalize fully and entirely their European aspirations by following “more for more” principle, if the new ENP approach remains faithful to the underlying motto of the former European Commission President Romano Prodi: “everything but institutions”? In fact, as long as Prodi's motto will be the fundamental principle of the ENP, the new approach should be titled: “more for more, yet no institutions”. Moreover, the formula “more reforms for more funds” is by no means new, it was from the beginning a inherent truism of the differentiation principle stated by the ENP in 2004 and then restated by the Eastern Partnership in 2009. The difference is that, this time around, this apparently new magic modus operandi has been explicit formulated.
Also, Stefan Fule promises us that the increased EU support to the ENP states will be dependent on progresses made by these countries in strengthening democracy and respect for the rule of law. Is this principle new for the Eastern Partnership states? Those who are well informed about the essence of the ENP and the Eastern Partnership know very well that it is not. The conditionality “reforms versus assistance” is a basic principle of both initiatives. It is true that this principle was not applied strictly even by the EU, which being especially concerned with ensuring security and stability around it, has been often tempted to turn a blind eye to undemocratic deviations taking place in the ENP countries. At the same time, effective application of the conditionality principle enshrined in the ENP requires both a powerful set of incentives and clearly defined concrete quantitative, qualitative and time benchmarks. However, the new approach of the ENP reiterates the same set of strategic incentives granted by the Eastern Partnership in 2009: political association, economic integration, deep and comprehensive free trade areas and visa liberalization. Undoubtedly, such reiteration is useful, however, we have expected from Brussels something more, namely: tangible and predictable perspectives for visa liberalization with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia. Instead, the European Commission has preferred to comfort us further on with long-term perspectives, which have a demoralizing impact on ordinary citizens, thus undermining the EU’s image in the ENP states. Besides, the new approach does not give us the certainty that the monitoring and reporting procedures will change very much soon.
ENP’s biggest weakness
These and other deficiencies corrode the “new, innovative and ambitious” label of the recently re-evaluated European Neighborhood Policy. The new approach did not overcome the greatest ENP’s weakness, which is the absence of inspiring long-term vision that would motivate not only the political elites, but also the societies in all member states of the Eastern Partnership. This inspiring motivation is needed to engage them fully and irrevocably on the path of reforms that would get us closer to and gradually integrate into the EU. In fact, as long as the reform process will depend only on the enthusiasm and commitment of the political elites, democratic transformation process in Eastern Europe will never be irreversible. The new EU member states from Central Europe know very well this truth. They also underwent through this difficult process of transition to democracy and functioning market economy. Yet, in comparison with the Eastern Partnership states, they were bestowed with a strong motivating factor, a beacon that helped them to face all internal and external challenges on their way to modernity, on their way to the EU.
Unfortunately, the countries of Eastern Europe are diplomatically denied the privilege/advantage that the Central European states tremendously enjoyed before. We have to recognize that this subtle rejection is stated somewhat cynically by the European officials. They use to say that Moldovans must make painful reforms because they need them most of all and, therefore, they must do them even without having a clear prospect of EU accession. Yes, they are utterly, utterly right. However, the same fact was equally true for Poles, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Slovenians, Romanians, Bulgarians, Estonians, Latvians, Lithuanians, yet, despite of that, they were given the greatest privilege to be inspired, motivated and guided by the clear prospect of European integration.
Eastern Partnership has as well a vital need to enjoy a similar beacon (symbol of hope) bestowed by the EU. Does the EU have enough courage to grant such an inspiring and guiding vision to Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia? Does the EU have true visionary politicians who have the will to ignore the advice of the former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who once said: “If you have visions, go see a doctor”? Our question will be answered by the ENP Summit, that will take place next September, in Warsaw. Then we will find out how far and profound the EU has the courage and determination to look on.
Victor Chirila, Executive Director, Foreign Policy Association for Info-Prim Neo, Rome 21.06.2011