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IEP Lunch Debate with Tanja A. Börzel: “Policy Change in the EU’s immediate neighbourhood: A sectoral approach”

Mariella Falkenhain, Julia Langbein, Marzenna Guz-Vetter, Katrin Böttger, Tanja Börzel, Christoph Retzlaff

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”.