In order, to tackle relations with its neighbourhood the EU set up the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), operational now for the last six years. Although the policy is quite a young one it requires rethinking. Recent developments in the Southern Mediterranean have demonstrated that the framework of the ENP has failed to deliver.
The EU needs to be clear and honest when it comes to defining objectives, principles and values on which the revised ENP should be built. Moreover, the EU needs to overcome its internal differences on the priorities it sets. Without a truly common position on the EU’s neighbourhood there can be no effective plan of action. The ENP has to become more dynamic. Otherwise the Maghreb partner governments and, more important, the populations of the region will not accept ENP as a policy tool for change. Therefore:
• The EU must put the ‘political’ and the ‘human’ element at the top of its agenda. Recent events show that citizens of the Southern Mediterranean demand political change. The EU must try to politically engage with local movements and even establish a dialogue with the Islamist parties of the region in order to make them see the benefits of moderate politics. Early pre-emptive action in the form of close interaction with society is necessary in order to avoid unpleasant surprises. If the EU fails to interact with its neighbours it will only reap storms in the future.
• The EU must be strict in policy monitoring, and become more demanding in the nature of its partnerships. If the ENP is to be taken seriously by the non-EU partners then it must be strict in monitoring the pace of changes that are happening on the ground. It should reward countries for progress but also punish them when progress does not happen. ENP must not be an EU Public Relations exercise (as it was previously) but, rather, a maker of change. It is also time for the EU to become more demanding with itself, setting up a less bureaucratic, more flexible and more proactive ENP.
• The EU must allow for more resources to be directed to the ENP region, in a truly distributive manner. The EU must ask more from its partnerships but it must also offer more in return. So far the EU has allocated limited resources to its partners, thus making it less appealing to engage ENP countries in its initiatives. This must change if the ENP is to become an effective tool of policy change.
• The ENP should clarify its position and relationship with regard to other similar projects. In 2008, French President Sarkozy launched his own ambitious plan for the region, the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). However, the relationship between the ENP and the UfM requires further elaboration and clarification. The EU must also coordinate its ENP targets with the policies of financial institutions (such as the EIB, EBRD, the World Bank) and other NGOs that are active in the region.
• Stability in the neighbourhood should not be built at the expense of democracy. The EU should be brave enough to demand more progress in the difficult chapter of human rights. It should insist on the freedom of the press and the media. There is now a hope for the flourishing of democracy in the countries that have recently experienced a political revolution. It is time for the EU to help the fragile transitions, by any possible means. It is also time for the EU to decide how to relate to other undemocratic countries that have not experienced the wave of democratic change yet (e.g., Morocco).
• The launching of new democratic political parties is an important task. The role of the European Parliament is decisive in this respect. European political parties and European political groups within the European Parliament must also establish their own missions and help to establish sister parties in the vulnerable region.
• Furthermore, the EU should use various instruments in order to help towards the organisation and monitoring of free elections as well as work with civil society and NGOs to support rule of law administrative tasks.
• The EU should establish more efficient ways to cooperate in issues of migration and human trafficking, by forming new networks between the EU and the Neighbourhood countries. When setting its bilateral plans, it is also vital for the EU to insist on progress on transborder cooperation and good relationships among the Maghreb states themselves, the way it did in the Western Balkans. In this way, the EU will avoid any future tensions between the fragile Maghreb countries that may lead to new, dangerous clashes.
• The EU should be able to find new ways to engage Neighbourhood countries in its own policies. For instance, ENP countries may be called to contribute to peace-keeping missions under the umbrella of the Common Security and Defence Policy. In this way, a Maghreb EU ‘socialisation’ process will be cemented.
• The EU countries must also find ways to curb their own bureaucracy in order to make the circulation of visas easier for target groups such as students, researchers and NGO officials. In the current conditions of political upheaval it is vital for Maghreb society to communicate with the rest of the world, absorb new ideas and to see ways of organising democratic states.