Reactive vs Visionary Policy: the Journey of the EU and its Neighbours

March 16, 2018

Until now, and with few exceptions, the West has nurtured two distinct communities of foreign policy specialists: the development community and the democratic community. More often than not, they have had little or no connection with one another: development specialists dealt comfortably with dictatorships and democracies alike, believing that prosperity can best be created by concentrating exclusively on economic issues and institutions.” (Palacio)


            The quote comes from an article published by many outlets, written by former Spanish foreign minister and a former senior vice president of the World Bank Ana Palacio, as she describes the situation of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2011. Of course, in order to do justice to the amount of effort put into EU-Neighbour relations by both sides, it is essential to contextualise this quotation. After its first establishment in 2004, ENP’s initial aim was to regulate and improve financial relations in order to ameliorate socio-economic structures in neighbouring countries. However, these policies – we could say – were, myopically, not interpreted through a Marxist lens. In fact, the EU should have recalled how with economic growth and growing global interaction comes a certain tendency to change in fundamental social structures. Moreover, since Europe has been the birthplace of the Renaissance, it could have forecast the coming unrest in its neighbouring regions. There are of course many differences between today’s Arabic Region and 15th century Italy:  technology, the speed with which ideas are shared, connections between countries and the rest of the world, the way the Arabic and 15th century Italian bourgeoisie was formed and their respective compositions, etc. etc. With all those difference in mind, it would be unjust to blame any side for not planning well for possible future scenarios. Still, mistakes must be acknowledged and not be repeated.


The mistake of the Western world mentioned above was not only about poor risk management in long-run relations with the East. There was also an ethical problem in dealing with the Arabic countries before the Arab Spring. Referring to the quote, the West mostly ignored the undemocratic governments’ internal affairs. Furthermore, it hoped that with time and economic growth social improvement would follow. EU’s actions here could easily be justified by referring to Jacobinism, and the grey lines defining it. How many assumptions about what people of different cultures need or want must be made, before criticising a government and its actions becomes a biased practice? Which rights can be held as “ubiquitously inalienable” so to justify the responsibility of the developed world to put sanctions against governments that violate them? Without answering these questions, a democratic and non-invasive order cannot be reached. This is another reason why most responses are slow on this topic.


Ethical fallacies and confusion cannot be solved by using only one perspective, Conversely, rational debate and research is essential. A step forward out of this confusion may be result from EU and UN cooperation in the Middle East and by better understanding the social structure of the Arabic Region. EU policy-making would benefit from increased communication and a grounded understanding of societies. Still, the EU lacks the political drive and expertise in these subjects. This void is currently, and partially, compensated by UN’s research and projects. Using UN’s established relations and knowledge would decrease the workload of the EU significantly. Moreover, it could result into a faster and structurally more sound policy.


This idea is not new. The UN and the EU have worked together in the Middle East for the past 13 years. Still the plethora of bureaucracy does not seem to help delivering faster policies. However, it should be noted how the memo released in October 2017 by the UN “Cooperation Between the EU and UNDP in the Arabian States Region” cites an impressive and visionary policy aimed at reshaping the war-struck region. Some results were already achieved. Nevertheless, the EU needs to have slight reservations on celebrating the news from this report. In fact, how much of the progress was due to cooperation and not to sole donations is unknown. Donations alone, not followed by active policies and on-ground work, surely fall short from the needed effort to achieve Europe’s goals.


Criticising the past is always easy and from a little distance it may appear hostile. Still, digging deep into and analysing the past is the only way we can have solid ground to work for the future. EU does not and should not carry this weight alone. Every party involved wants and need a solution as fast as possible. Ranging from Eastern Partnership to Union for the Mediterranean, many international organisations are trying their best and are working towards the same cause. This brings up the earlier point about bureaucracy and how tedious it can be. Many voices working well together may create a lovely harmony, but the slightest incoordination will result in cacophony. In the micro lens this is already a problem within the EU on many issues. Things can only get worse when international parties join in the conversation; the formalities and paperwork go off the charts.  Before taking further steps in any programme, a better way of communicating and collaborating with other stakeholders must be established.


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