A Shaky Start for the ENP

International Relations and Security Network (Link) - Valentin Misteli (December 16, 2009)

Moving the European Neigbourhood Policy to a new portfolio has made its adaptation to post-Lisbon institutions even more difficult, hindering the new EU High Representative in unleashing its potential.

To establish a brand new office and build a new, potentially long-lasting institution from a �blank sheet of paper� is an invaluable privilege. Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU�s first High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, however, has not started with a clean slate.

Before Ashton took office, the EU member states agreed on the guidelines of the European External Action Service (EEAS) and picked who would chair the foreign ministers� Council meetings in her absence. It will be the foreign minister of the country holding the Council presidency and not a fellow commissioner.

European Commission President Jos� Manuel Barroso has not been very supportive, either, and has shifted the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) from the External Relations to the Enlargement portfolio given to Czech Commissioner-designate �tefan F�le. By doing so, Barroso has hampered Ashton in proving the advantage of the double-hatted role as High Representative and Commission Vice President with regard to the one policy that should be the prime example of combining supranational with intergovernmental instruments.

Barroso�s move � cushioned by a �without prejudice� caveat � is all the more deplorable, given that the ENP is in need of a pillar-bridging makeover, as it lacks a �second pillar� related institutional framework that would provide for close political association.

After all, the ENP was also devised as a fully fledged foreign policy and alluded to in the European Security Strategy (ESS), while it has been mainly �first pillar� driven so far. As the one person bridging the two �pillars� informally retained by the Lisbon Treaty, only Ashton possesses the competence � and indeed the duty � to re-conceptualise the EU�s relations with its eastern and southern neighbours: balancing multilateral necessities with bilateral needs, harmonising the Eastern Partnership with the Mediterranean Union, and addressing economic issues as well as political disputes.

Confronting Barroso

There is no doubt that Ashton�s workload is considerable. And it is no surprise that some neighbouring states with accession ambitions are intrigued by Barroso�s decision. Ideally, both enlargement and the ENP would fall under the scope of the EEAS and be directed by a Commissioner/Deputy High Representative. The member states, however, did not opt for such an audacious set up. In their EEAS guidelines they singled out enlargement to the Commission. But not the ENP.

There are of course good reasons for F�le to be tasked with implementing programs of the ENP-related financial instrument, but calling him also Commissioner for the ENP is clearly not one of them. This title will only compromise Ashton�s conceptual prerogative in ENP matters. Therefore she should not hesitate to present an EEAS proposal to the Council that adjusts Barroso�s decision.

So far, association agreements and action plans form the backbone of the policy toward the neighbourhoods. They cover free trade and economic cooperation but also provide for political dialogue including cooperation on issues related to the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). This kind of association is part of the (former) community method. And its political incentives have neither been sufficient enough to foster the transformation toward democracy, the rule of law and good governance nor to initiate the resolution of protracted conflicts.

Ashton�s task would be to establish a contractual framework or an institutional structure that allows for enhanced association of neighbouring states with the CFSP, occasionally even for formalized participation in CFSP structures. Opening up the CFSP to third states will provide opportunities and incentives for the neighbours - leverage and conditionality to be applied by the EU.

The EU has already begun upgrading its diplomatic relations with some of its neighbours, awarding higher status and closer consultation. Its institutions, however, refrained from defining the subsequent phases to pass through until the final � unidentified � status is reached. The result was that they did not sketch the influence a �non-European� neighbouring country would be able to attain in EU foreign affairs and security policy: coordination and alignment with EU positions? Systematic consultation and troop contributions to EU operations? Participation in working group discussions and CFSP decision-shaping?

More than new procedures

Whereas EU officials might envisage a Norway-like status eventually, foreign ministries in the east and south might dream of some sort of privileged partnership. This concept drafted by German Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg a few years ago is not a viable framework for the relations with Turkey. But countries like Morocco or Georgia might have some interest in such a status; not least because zu Guttenberg dares to propose the perspective of equal participation in foreign and security policy structures for a neighbouring state.

By contrast, the offer of membership is � for the time being � not at the EU�s disposal to shape the transformation of its neighbourhoods. The prospect of close political partnership, international prestige and influence in EU foreign affairs and security policy might, however, provide incentive enough to trigger changed attitudes toward political reform and conflict resolution � largely because it compensates for the willingness to compromise.

As such, Ashton, supported by her fellow commissioner, should soon start exploring procedures that formalize the presence of third states in the framework of the CFSP, defining criteria and conditions for reward, as well as rallying support among the member states for enhanced association.

And yet, elaborating new procedures and structures will not be enough. First and foremost, Ashton must spur the member states� political will to tackle unresolved conflict - from Nagorno-Karabakh to the Western Sahara - and to challenge authoritarian and dynastic rule.

Ashton will need all her diplomatic skills to convince the member states that they must allocate personal, material and financial resources as well as political determination and risk if they want to expand the zone of stability, security and prosperity into its neighborhoods.

For Ashton to succeed in doing this job, the ENP and the respective Commission services must be put under the direct authority of the High Representative/Vice President.