Since its inception almost seven years ago, the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) has evolved considerably, both in terms of its geographical scope and the policy instruments it offers. Through a series of bilateral and multilateral agreements, the ENP has built links between 16 countries on the eastern and southern borders of the EU. Focusing on the Eastern Partnership, Panagiota Manoli provided an assessment of the potential offered by the ENP for the EU's capacity to project influence beyond its borders.

According to Manoli, the ENP offers countries outside of the EU limited economic integration and political association. The EU has presented the ENP as a plan for building a 'ring of friends' and fostering a 'well-governed' group of countries in Europe's neighborhood. The ENP has enabled the EU to address instability on its borders and contribute to the economic development in its immediate periphery. The relationship between the EU and a neighboring country is built around a series of action plans and association agreements that involve calibrated policies towards a country or region. So far, three regions have been created in an effort to target specific contexts and problems: the Eastern Partnership (EaP), the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), the Black Sea Synergy (BSS), as well as more regional programs.

Manoli explained that the ENP countries benefit greatly from the special financing instruments available through partnership with the EU: for the 2007-2013 period, €12 billion have been allocated for development in ENP partners. Moreover, the EU is providing a wide range of development aid, from micro-loans to bail-outs preventing systemic collapse. While 2009 witnessed the worst economic decline yet as a result of the global crisis, prior to the onset of the crisis ENP partners experienced a regional average of 8 percent GNP growth. Manoli noted that growth was expected to resume over the short run for all Eastern Partnership countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan).

The ENP has provided opportunities for partnership with the EU for countries that are unlikely to enter the EU accession process in the near-term. Thus, even in cases where accession is far off, the ENP allows the EU to leverage the benefits of association to maintain some momentum in the modernization, development and regional integration of the countries of its bordering regions. Manoli posited that, following the EU's example, Russia has also shifted its policies in the "near-abroad" from emphasis on political-military issues to a focus on energy and trade. This shift has helped to relax geopolitical competition in the Black Sea region and has helped mitigate some of Russia's negative views of the EU's Eastern Partnership activities.

Although cultural, political and economic barriers have not been completely overcome and remnants of distrust remain, the ENP has afforded the EU an unprecedented degree of closeness to its neighbors. In addition, the EU remains the only actor in the region that has even attempted to develop a comprehensive policy towards the region as a whole. Most importantly, its partnerships have fostered a dense institutional framework of people-to-people contacts that have softened the EU's image of an impenetrable "fortress."

By Andri Peros
Christian Ostermann, Director ES/HAPP