Anna Shalyganova: The European Neighborhood Policy – Great Aspirations And Dramatic Failures
Anna Shalyganova: The European Neighborhood Policy – Great Aspirations And Dramatic Failures

The enlargement possessed a danger of creating a new dividing line in Europe, with the integrated, stable and prosperous members of the Union in the West and their less stable and much poorer neighbors in the East. This gave a rise to the discussions on how to avoid the new dividing lines and project stability and welfare in the wider Europe.

The solution was found in adoption of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), originally directed on the cooperation with the Eastern European countries and later extended to the southern neighbors of the EU. In 2009, the eastern dimension of the ENP received its new form – the Eastern Partnership (EaP), which covers Eastern neighbors of the EU, including Belarus.

The ENP presents a visage and the goals of the EU’s relations with its neighbors. The ENP implies cooperation based on commitment to the core values – democracy, human rights, good governance, rule of law, market economy principles, and sustainable development. In this cooperation the EU aims to be surrounded by stable and prosperous neighbors. To accomplish this goal, the EU takes upon itself to help the peoples and their governments to carry out political and economic reforms, and to implement measures leading to the neighbor’s participation in the EU’s internal market.

Although it looked as an effective tool on the paper, the EU’s expectations in regards to the ENP failed dramatically – it did not led to a stable and prosperous neighborhood. The surrounding has never been so unstable and violent. The refugee crises, the war in Syria, rising terrorism and extremism, threats possessed by ISIL/Da’esh, an armed conflict in Ukraine, and an increasingly assertive foreign policy of Russia made the EU to review its neighborhood policy in November 2015. But is the new ENP in position to resolve these issues?

The revised ENP: an attempt to tackle chaos

Although the new ENP is not an anti-crisis mechanism, it is called to facilitate the stabilization of the EU’s neighborhood. The main difference between the previous and the revised ENP is that the latter is called to stabilize rather than to transform the neighborhood in the zone of stability, security and prosperity. In the new ENP the EU explicitly says that it is not in the position to solve many of the today’s challenges and its leverage is limited. Today the EU’s priority is to handle the concrete problems like inflow of refugees and to stop radicalization. Thus, the new ENP is more specific than the earlier version. The EU has decided to focus on cooperation in the spheres where there are concrete interests for both sides. As a result, such interests as stability, security and manageable migration, are outlined more precisely than before. The cooperation in trade, investment and energy sector remains highly important.

Pursuing the goal of stabilizing the neighborhood, the EU is ready to abstain from the approach “one size fits it all”. The Union is going to make its policy more “political” and tailor it in accordance to what each of its individual partners wants. However, the new ENP’s clear focus on the interests does not mean that the EU pursues to declare off its values. References to rule of law, democracy and human rights remain eminent. The specific emphasis in made on the programs that support the judiciary, accountable public administration and civil society. Will more “political” approach booster relations with Belarus? The EU’s positions on the politically delicate issues, such as cooperation with authoritarian regimes and conditionality are not clear.

The European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI), a financial tool of the new ENP, has a budget of €15.4 billion for the period 2014-2020. It has not been increased despite the crises.

The EU and Belarus

The effective collaboration between the EU and Belarus under the ENP framework has never been in place. Each country’s agenda is defined under the ENP Action Plans – bilateral agreements between the EU and ENP countries, defining individual partners’ reform priorities. The EU and Belarus do not have such agreement, as its ratification has been frozen since 1997 in reaction to the political situation in the country. Thus, Belarus is outside most of the ENP’s structures. This significantly limits the possible benefits for democracy, rule of law and human rights, which the country could have received from the cooperation with the EU. In addition, the absence of the cooperation agreement impacts the EU’s levers of influence on the human rights situation in the country, as the system of conditionality, enshrined in these agreements, is not applicable to Belarus.

Belarus is often called “the last dictatorship in Europe”. Every new elections in the country has shown the increase of brutality of Lukashenko’s regime. In a referendum 2004, the restriction on the number of terms the president can serve was removed from the Constitution, opening the possibility for Alexander Lukashenko to stay in power indefinitely. The 2006 presidential elections, in which Lukashenko won for the third time, did not meet democratic standards according to the OSCE. The apex of the violations of electoral standards violations occurred during the 2010 presidential elections, which were marked by the mass protests and arrests of opposition, allegations of fraud, and crackdown on civil society. The EU condemned the political situation in Belarus in addition to freezing the cooperation agreement has introduced restrictive measured against those responsible for the crackdown on civil society and human rights violations.

The Belarussian and international experts question efficacy of the restrictive measures on Lukashenko’s regime. While there is no cooperation agreement in force, EU-Belarus trade relations develop under the framework of EU-USSR agreement. Thus, despite the sanction list, trade between the Union and Belarus was at the uppermost during 2011-2014. This situation is highly favorable for Lukashenko – unbounded by any human right obligations, which follow from the ENP cooperation agreements, his regime benefits from trade with the EU.

In February 2016, the EU lifted most of the restrictive measures against Belarus, extending bans only in relation to four persons involved in the unresolved disappearances of opposition leaders. European sanctions has been lifted in relation to the major “wallets” of the regime – 172 persons and companies in total. This will definitely cause increase of trade and together with it – strengthening of Lukashenko’s oppressive regime.

Additionally, Belarus will continue to receive support from the EU under the ENP framework – namely in the neutral spheres, such as environment, energy efficiency, regional development, and food safety. Under the new ENP, the EU will also continue to support Belarussian civil society movements, media, local authorities, and youth that aims to pursue education in Europe.

Minuses from non-participation in the ENP

The ENP is designed as a conditional policy: the more and the faster a country proceeds towards the building of its democracy and respect for the rule of law and human rights, the more support it receives from the EU. As Belarus hardly takes any steps towards democratization, the support, which the EU provides to it, is much lesser comparing to other countries covered by the EaP. For example, in the period from 2007 till 2013 Armenia, with population of 3 million people, received support of €281,5 million, while Belarus, with three times larger population, only €94,2 million.

The ENP with its “more for more” approach would become a motivation for the Belarusian government on the way to democratization and human rights promotion. It would benefit Belarusian people by simplifying contacts across the border and intensifying exchange of information and experiences. Additionally, through cooperation with the EU, Belarusian views would be heard more extensively on the international level.

The inconsistency of the EU’s policy in relations with Belarus, plays into the hands of Moscow, which considers Belarus to fall into its zone of privileged interests. In 2004, when the ENP was introduced, no negative reaction followed from Russia. However, the EaP, launched in 2009, woke up a high resistance of Moscow, as it saw in it a direct threat to its interests. Russia took the fast steps to bring Belarus to the Customs Union and the Eurasian Economic Community to ensure the imperishability of its zones of influence. The closer to Russia the less sense of European self-identity remains in Belarus. A large proportion of the Belarusian people are not aware of the EU’s politics and tend to refrain from supporting cooperation with the Union.

The close relations with Russian keep Belarus from moving toward a Western path of modernization. The economic support and subsidies from Russia have placed the Belarus on the “gas & oil needle”. The low prices on energy resources make economy highly sensitive and dependent from the outside power. The populist economic politics of Lukashenko has a momentary effect, but cannot be successful in the long-term perspective. On the contrary, the comprehensive cooperation with the EU in the ENP framework would booster the Belarusian economy by opening the opportunities for modernization and making Belarus more attractive for foreign investors. The relations limited only to trade and excluding cooperation in the field of democracy, rule of law and human rights, will booster strengthening of the dictatorship.


Since 1997, when the EU and Belarus cooperation agreement was frozen, the situation with rule of law, democracy and human rights became worse in Belarus. The sense of “Europeans” has virtually disappeared in the country. The economy has not been reorganized and modernized. By restating the minuses of non-cooperation with Belarus in the ENP framework, I do not suggest that the Union should embark liaising with the authoritarian government. Contrariwise, the EU should have enough political will to follow consistent policy of sanctioning the regime and its “wallets” until its significant attenuation. The EU should close the loopholes, through which the regime receives financial recharge – the opportunity of trade under the unconditioned framework of EU-USSR cooperation agreement. The policy of sanctions has showed its efficacy in the past and can be successful in the future.

At the same time, I do believe that the EU give insufficient attention and support to civil society in the country which is clearly seen from the funding it allocates for Belarus under the ENI. There should be no expectations that the authoritarian regime will start to circumscribe its own power. The only hope is that the new generation of leaders will booster a change towards democracy. This generation of leaders can be raised with the EU’s generous support to civil society in Belarus.

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