Belarus has been a special case within the framework of the ENP since the beginning.
On 18 November 2015 the European Commission and the EU´s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy introduced a review of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) accenting its attempt to establish new relationships with its southern and eastern neighbours in a time of multiple crises for EU´s neighbourhood. Growing instability beyond the EU´s border proves that a new plan of cooperation is needed – one that is based on mutual responsibility and the promotion of universal values, principles on which the EU´s own stability is built. Despite being unable to bring the added value initially expected by some partners, the ENP is considered to still be relevant.
The ENP was launched in 2004 in the times of no serious conflict threats near the EU´s borders. It was born as the optimistic policy towards the EU´s eastern and southern neighbours in order to strengthen stability, security and prosperity in the EU itself and its neighbourhood by supporting common interests and common values. The main objective of the ENP has been to help transform EU´s neighbourhood into a democratic and open market economy.
In 2011, in the light of the upheavals in North Africa and the Middle East and the EU´s failure to develop a coherent position on its policy towards its eastern neighbours (particularly the policy of sanctions against Belarus), the ENP was revised for the first time. It stressed the need to outline new future dialogues with both regional platforms and to respond to a changing neighbourhood. The optimistic mood for rapid transformation of the EU´s neighbours has, nevertheless, faded away and transformation itself has not been happening as fast as it was hoped to.
The review also expressed its concern about the lack of respect for human rights and democratic standards and threatened to apply sanctions and other policy measures on the authoritarian governments. At the same time it promised to strengthen its support to civil society and “keep channels of dialogue open with governments, civil society and other stakeholders”. It put emphasis on political reforms, conditionality based on a “more for more” principle (more aid for more reforms) and differentiation.
The ENP remained slow and often inefficient. Ten years after the ENP´s launch, the policy has still not been working for most partners and the first review has not brought the significant changes they had expected. The reason for this seems to derive from the fact that both reviews come in the time of crises not through a continuous dialogue with partner countries.
What is new about the current review?
And again, current reset of the ENP comes at a time when there are numerous conflicts at the EU´s doorstep and the EU is forced to come up with a tailor-made approach within security cooperation. The new approach should reflect a higher level of differentiation enabling each partner to develop its relationship with the EU proportionally to its nature, ambitions, and interests.
The current review stresses that in the next few years the most pressing challenge the EU and its neighbours will have to face is stabilisation. Stabilisation had not been used in previous review, nor had it appeared in the Strategy Paper. Previous documents were concerned about instability that directly affected the EU geopolitical, economic and security interests, never really defining how to tackle its source. Latest developments, nevertheless, force the ENP to accept stabilisation as its main political priority, stressing that the vulnerability of those living in instability could easily be changed to radicalisation.
According to the review, the EU will seek to address the roots of instability that could lie in poverty, inequality, corruption, low economic and social development, and lack of opportunities for young people. The stabilisation will be achieved through the support of economic and social developments, offering a tailor-made approach to security matters that would be in agreement with international laws and human rights laws, cooperation on migration and mobility, and financial support.
The ENP claims differentiation is its new hallmark. The differentiation principle was already emphasised in the Strategy Paper, as well as in the first review, prompted by the increased diversity between the countries of the MENA region since the Arab Spring. Thus, in the current revision it does not constitute any new principle of the ENP. But hand in hand with the “more for more” principle the EU could motivate its partners to even greater reforms in exchange for not only financial assistance, but also for closer political association and deeper economic integration. Even though the importance of Association Agreements and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas within the ENP is constantly highlighted, the new review remains silent as to whether or not the Agreements might open doors for its neighbours to ascend.
The ENP´s methodology of “going beyond co-operation to involve a significant measure of economic and political integration” derives from the EU´s experience with the enlargement process and follows the model that helped transform eight countries of Eastern Europe. However, vague formulations of the policies and their interpretations from the EU have not weakened the ambitions of some partners. The prospect of membership has always played an important role in the assessment of the EU´s policies. Despite the fact that some of the neighbours (particularly eastern neighbours) had emphasized accession as one of their main goals and had seen the ENP as the means to achieve it, the ENP is perceived by them as having negligible added value.
While in the first revision differentiation was supposed to be pursued together with a rather ambiguously-mentioned search for policies to address challenges the countries faced at that time, in the current review the differentiation principle seems to be more elaborated. Together with a tailor-made approach, it is tinged with more concrete steps such as working more closely on visa facilitation, security-related matters, mobility issues, promotion of energy production, distribution and its consumption efficiency, as well as the modernisation of its technical assistance instruments.
The new ENP is ready to continue promoting universal values. This values-based approach was already enshrined in the Strategy Paper itself, in which a privileged relationship with the EU´s neighbours was supposed to be built on mutual commitment to common values. The ambition and the pace of such a relationship was to be dependent on the degree of commitment. Both the first and current revisions seem to be only repeating the need for an approach based on values, the latter one with a less direct approach stating, “It is the sole right of the EU and its partners to decide how they want to proceed in their relations.”
The new ENP abandons an approach based on the judgment and evaluation of the partners and moves to an approach based on more political dialogue, more political partnership, and cooperation as equal partners. The equal bilateral partnerships are expected to bring more profit to the EU´s neighbours than the policy based on a loose cooperation and a hectoring tone telling its partners what to do. The demand for transformation itself has silently vanished from the new ENP rhetoric. While the previous versions held democratic transformation of the partners as one of its core principles, the current review takes a U-turn and aims to focus more on cooperation as equal partners notwithstanding the state of democratic reform implementation.
The promotion of universal values is based on the will of the partner; meaning that for a partner country to be engaged in deeper cooperation and relations with the EU, the members will work with the partner to promote reforms in a mutually agreed format. It is, however, important to stress that in some countries this will be according to the will of the authoritarian political elites in power who do not cherish the same democratic values as the EU does, and therefore these values are to be under direct threat from powerful elites. Since its inception the ENP and both of its policies (the Eastern Partnership and Union for the Mediterranean) have been unable to penetrate these circles in order to promote further democratic reforms.
Focus on mutual interests throughout the document does not inevitably mean less focus on mutual values. A values-based approach is still on the table, though sharing its spot under the sun with other principles newly adopted into the core of the ENP. The EU will strive to promote fundamental values through an independent and effective judicial system, gender equality, human rights protection, anti-corruption measures, and support of civil society together with an emphasis on stabilisation, engagement with partners in the security sector, differentiation and a tailor-made approach to each of its neighbours.
The question is, however, how does the new ENP plan to find common ground with the authoritarian powers ruling in the neighbouring countries and not abandon its values-based approach at the same time? Will the enhanced principles of stabilisation, differentiation and a tailor-made approach work if they are not conditioned by compliance with the EU´s definition of fundamental values?
The EU needs to ensure it will not fail to comprehend the different understandings of fundamental values in each neighbouring country and to accept that the EU´s perception of democracy is not the only one. Instead of conditioning cooperation from partners, the EU should make concrete offers to its neighbours, offer a concrete definition of the policies, and secure faster implementation of all goals stated. The EU should be reminded that it will get “more” engagement from the partners “for more” engagement from itself.
A “special case” of Belarus
Conditionality policy “more for more” has, however, not proven to achieve a strong incentive to commit to reforms and openness from the authoritarian governments. As it has been stressed by the partners, researches and other stakeholders it has never worked for most partners since it is established on common principles defined by the EU, irrespective of willingness or unwillingness of the political regimes to cooperate. Moreover, the authoritarian regimes are not willing to follow “carrot and stick” approach, as long as their survival is threatened.
Belarus has been a special case within the framework of the ENP since the beginning. Due to the fact that the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement negotiated in 1995 has never been ratified by EU members, Belarus is not a fully-fledged ENP member. It participates in the ENP policy through the Eastern Partnership platform, the only legitimate platform for engaging with Brussels. Since the Belarusian regime stepped up repression against the public, opposition, independent media and particularly civil society at the end of 2010, its relationship with the EU deteriorated even more. The EU immediately declared the actions of the government against the imprisoned opposition politicians and activists as human rights violation and applied sanctions on Belarusian officials.
After many years of the ruling power unwilling to change the political status quo the EU now seems to lower its expectations toward Belarus. In 2004 the ENP conditioned to extend the full benefits of the ENP to Belarus when it would establish “democratic form of government, following free and fair elections” and its long-term goal was to transform Belarus into “a democratic, stable, reliable and increasingly prosperous partner”. It wished to engage Minsk in process leading to free and fair elections and to assist and support civil society and democratisation. The 2011 review mentions Belarus rather randomly when it intends to strengthen international protection by implementing the Regional Protection Programme for Belarus (as well as Republic of Moldova and Ukraine). While the latest ENP review does not mention Belarus at all (neither Belarusian political power nor its civil society).
The only reference that distantly refers to Belarus would be a promise to strengthen regional cooperation with its eastern partners within the Eastern Partnership policy “in line with commitments at the Riga Summit in 2015” and to engage deeper with non-state actors. The EU is silent about its intentions to achieve positive changes from the ruling power in approach to opposition and civil society which would prevent their further threatening, silencing and side-lining. Why does the EU avoid to mention tangible steps to become more visible in Belarus and to stand on civil society side against the human rights violation by the ruling power?
The reason seems to lie in the current Ukrainian – Russian conflict. Since Ukrainian crisis escalated Belarus has enjoyed benefits from balancing between the EU and Russia and its relationship with Brussels has improved. It led to the EU´s decision to change its sanctions policy toward Belarus to engagement one. The EU lifted sanctions imposed on Belarus for releasing Belarusian political prisoners and in response to the nonviolent facade (neither free nor fair, however) presidential election held in October 2015. Unfortunately, it seems that the current EU´s goal is not political changes in Belarus but rather avoiding violence against Lukashenka´s opponents and securing Minsk´s favour in Russia-Ukrainian conflict on EU´s side.
The EU should not just settle for lower expectations on Belarus, no matter how necessary Belarusian ally in Ukrainian crisis is, but it should apply “carrot and stick” approach more astutely to Lukashenka´s regime and create a strong and visible partnership with Belarusian civil society groups, democratic values defenders and activists in order to involve them in negotiations on agreements within the ENP, particularly the Eastern Partnership.
Nelly Tomčíková, Project Manager Prague European Summit, specially for charter97.org