Saturday 11 August 2012

The Good Neighbour

Erik Edman

The European Union is aiming at creating regional stability through promoting human rights, cooperation, political dialogue, and trade with its neighbours. But its plan could be backfiring. Source.
Collective European foreign policy has for the past twenty years revolved around the theory of “soft power” where strength originates from exporting culture, economic ties, and generally liberal tendencies. A policy which fits neatly within these guidelines is the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).
The ENP is a project which seeks to promote a better understanding between the EU and its neighbours in the south and east. This end is met through bilateral policies which ensure the commitment of both parties to common values such as democracy and human rights, the rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development. It would be safe to compare the ENP with a EU membership prep-course. Countries agree on three to five-year agendas aimed at political and/or economic reforms, in the hope of strengthening their times with the Union.
In effect in 16 countries, the ENP aims at strengthening cooperation and trade agreements, in order to offer political association and deeper economic integration, increased mobility and increased contact between people, a bit like an EU outside the EU.
In theory, this project seems flawless, a true maverick of a policy which at once secures the continent’s borders and increases capital flow between its neighbours and its members.
As noble as the policy might appear and as mutually beneficial as the goals might seem, it is interesting to note certain side effects it has on the regions around Europe.
Chief among these issues is the division caused among certain nations in Europe’s periphery. An example can be found in the countries of the Maghreb (Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Mauritania and Libya) who for the past thirty years or so have been discussing the possibility of a closer political and economic integration between their countries, similar to that seen in the EU. So far only small, shy steps have been taken towards that direction and it’s not just regional politics that is to blame for the plan’s failure. With four of the five Maghreb countries being part of the ENP and thus receiving the numerous economic benefits that come with tapping into Europe’s market, the Maghreb countries have few reasons to seek closer ties with their neighbours since the benefits of European “friendship” outweigh the advantages of regional unity (at least in the short term).
But these ties forged with Europe have returned to haunt the countries of Northern Africa who now see their main trading partner fumbling for a way out of the economic mess it has gotten itself in. Since 2009, all Maghreb countries, to different extents, have experienced an economic slowdown. Algeria, as an oil exporter has seen its exports drop dramatically with European businesses being unable to continue importing at the same levels as before, while less oil-based economies like Morocco and Tunisia who were nevertheless reliant on economic cycles, have to face a less prominent but still important economic hurdle.
So as Europe tends to its wounds, the Maghreb countries turn their gazes inwards to their politically underdeveloped region. The nations of the region have come together twice this year to discuss the old dreams of regional unity and possible ways of realising them. New regional laws are being discussed, cross-boundary development projects have been suggested, and closer political ties are being formed.
Europe, by using itself as the focal point of its European Neighbourhood Policy, managed to construct a situation where security existed, but only while Europe was part of the equation. As soon as that variable was extracted, the neighbourhood realised that it had been living an illusion. It is not enough to promote stability in relation to one’s own country (or collection of countries, as the case may be) but close political ties need to be promoted between the country where stability is being promoted, and its own neighbours (European or otherwise). A European economic dependency might have worked in the short term but it has failed in creating a stable environment around Europe, as recent events like the Arab Spring has proved.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. While promoting human rights, dialogue, political understanding, cooperation, and trade, Europe had forsaken, perhaps intentionally, forging environments where peace could prosper without Europe. While facing an economic crisis, the EU does not want to be surrounded with neighbours fighting with each other. The EU needs to reconsider its approach towards its neighbours and formulate a policy which maintains the same goals but adjusts the means used to achieve them.
The UK is a country with a very keen sense of international duty. Some of the main concerns of the government are immigration, and political extremism, of which a large part of both is originating just beyond the EU’s borders. Seeking to strengthen the EU’s policy towards its neighbours, making it more flexible by contextualising it in accordance to different regions, would be in the UK’s best interests. Neighbours should be encouraged to seek closer integration with non-EU countries, since in the case of even partial European withdrawal from the local economy, nations that had focused solely on their relations with Europe, will find themselves isolated and vulnerable, creating insecurity just beyond the Union’s borders. Europe needs to stop dividing regions through creating unions with them, and should rather risk to suffer completion with our unions by promoting them. Then policies can be made between the EU and its neighbouring unions. It is long-term solutions that we should be aiming for.

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