Editors Prof. Dr. Tanja A. Börzel, Director of the Center for European Integration and head of the Kolleg-Forschergruppe (KFG) „The Transformative Power of Europe”, Freie Universität Berlin, and Dr. Katrin Böttger, Deputy Director and Director of the research project „The EU’s policy towards Eastern Europe and Central Asia – A key role for Germany“, Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP), Berlin, presented their edited volume entitled „Policy Change in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood: A sectoral approach“ on 7 June, 2012. The presentation took place in the European House in Berlin, within the framework of an IEP Lunch Debate. Marzenna Guz-Vetter, Delegation of the European Commission in Germany, Berlin, and Christoph Retzlaff, Director of the department EU-Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, Federal Foreign Office, Berlin, joined in the discussion as commentators.
The edited volume is the result of a cooperation project between the IEP and the KFG. Written by a total of ten authors, the seven papers of the volume analyse the influence of the European Union with regard to policy change in the states targeted by European Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). Using a differentiated situation analysis of concrete policy areas in single countries, the papers answer not only the question of how the EU influences third-party countries, but of why the EU has greater transformative power in some policy fields than in others. The results of the research are supplemented with policy recommendations on how the EU can improve its support of reforms in social, economic and political areas of targeted countries.
The focus on policy change gave the authors the possibility to display the available but limited power of the EU when it comes to encouraging transformative processes. Causes of the EU’s relatively minor influence can be traced to both the absence of reform incentives put in place by the EU as well as the “one size fits all”-approach of the ENP. Elites in the countries examined in the volume showed their willingness to implement EU-led reforms only when those reforms directly assisted in the preservation of their power. For example, authoritarian regimes in the South Caucuses used EU measures against corruption to preserve their power by marginalizing political competitors– behaviour amazingly legitimized by the European Union itself. Due to the systems of asymmetrical interdependence and thus the EU’s lack of leverage, it was widely agreed upon that the ENP could not wield the influence EU representatives hoped for. The results of the “new” ENP after the Arab Spring illustrated this.
In the discussion, participants emphasized that the policy of the ENP cooperates insufficiently with civil society in targeted countries. A perpetual dialogue between the EU and pro-European civil society groups is of large importance as they often provide the driving force behind implementation of reforms and thus behind fundamental system changes. The addition of communication departments to EU delegations seems a useful approach as public diplomacy is needed, in order to both feel the pulse of the civil society and inform the general public about values, goals and benchmarks of the EU. Another idea was the establishment of an EU-owned foundation which practises civic education and awards travel grants to civil society. It was seen of major importance that the ENP was not perceived as a “second-best” option, but rather a significant step in the direction of the EU which holds advantages for all countries involved.
Participants acknowledged that the EU needed a specific plan for addressing civil society in the ENP programme and that the EU had to differ between targeted countries. The events of the Arab Spring are an example of how difficult it is to interact with a civil society not open to change as it is supported by the EU. The opinion was split on cooperation with the opposition in ENP countries the more prevalent saying that the EU should not perceive the opposition as its “natural partner” as this would not only mean interfering in the domestic politics of targeted countries, but also possibly endangering successful cooperation with the ruling class and politicians.
To breathe fresh air into the ENP and Enlargement programmes, it was suggested to establish an instrument of differentiated sectoral and regional integration. The latter could promote the reduction of borders also between neighbouring countries. The policy towards the neighbours should be more goal-orientated and should be embedded into a strategy, which could lead, for instance, to a common economic area. The ENP would benefit from these improvements, as it would appear an independent program, rather than the second-best alternative to the EU.
During the discussion, the necessity for a differentiated view on the topic was emphasized. The conclusions and recommendations of the edited volume would unequivocally argue for an individualised strategy developed and implemented on a country-to-country basis. In light of the political developments in the Arab world and the accompanying reconsiderations of European foreign policy, the volume proved to be “a good book at the right time”.