EU: Neighborhood Policy Focuses On Economics, Not Membership

The EU/Armenia action plan document, accessible from this ENP page, states, that by joining the ENP “Armenia is invited to enter into intensified political, security, economic and cultural relations with the EU, enhanced regional and cross border co-operation and shared responsibility in conflict prevention and conflict resolution.”

Politicians from a lot of ENP countries, especially from Ukraine and Georgia, but also from Armenia as well, have been quite apt on selling the idea of ENP as a first step to EU membership, and promising economic benefits, Shengen visa and work permits in Europe for everyone, etc.

However, the message delivered to the ENP countries at the September 3, 2007 conference in Brussels was clear: economic cooperation — yes; membership — no.

This RFE/RL article has an interesting coverage of the high-level conference on the EU’s Neighborhood Policy, bringing together ministers and senior officials from all 27 EU member states and the 16 ENP countries.

Economic Focus of cooperation has dominated the agenda at the conference, along with clear signals, that ‘All Neighbors are Equal’ and that EU membership aspirations of the neighbors especially from the European parts of the Former Soviet Union are groundless.

Instead, the EU is keen to capitalize on practical matters of mutual interest. Its current priorities for cooperation with the neighbors are economic integration, energy cooperation, increased travel and work opportunities, and increased financial and technical assistance. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner underlined the bloc’s economic ambitions. “Our vision is of an economically integrated area, which spans the whole of the European Union and its closest European and Mediterranean partners,” she said. “An area where goods, services, and capital move freely.

Armenia has been taking an eagerly reserved attitude towards the ENP from the start. We’ve been a motivated partner for the EU so far, but I haven’t seen any Armenian official declaring about Armenia’s ambitions to become an EU member in the near future. We know, however, that our “more democratic” and “more European” peers: Ukraine and Georgia, have been daydreaming about Europe, and shouting about it on every occasion. As Mr Rasmus Wiinstedt Tscherning, Senior Consultant from the Centre for Experience Economy, Business & Market Development told us during his presentation at the European Commission in Brussels this March, the attitude of Armenia towards the EU, and the expectations from the ENP displayed by Armenian officials, is more acceptable for the EU, compared to the blind rush towards the EU Membership, that Ukraine or Georgia are displaying. The RFE / RL has an interesting paragraph, dealing with the issue:

Barroso explained that without regional distinctions, the ENP remains free from the vagaries of the “special interests” of different EU members as they rotate the bloc’s presidency among them.The evolving consensus within the EU is clearly skewed against further accessions, partly as a result of previous enlargements. Correspondingly, the EU is now putting less emphasis on political reforms and rights standards, which are crucial for candidate countries. Political standards were not raised by any of the EU headline speakers today.

This is indeed something new in EU’s approach to the post-soviet ENP members, Armenia among them. It is no secret, that a large section of priorities and responsibilities assumed by Armenia in the EU / Armenia action plan deal with democratic reforms and human rights. The Action plan has so far served as a serious tool in the hands of both the Civil Society in Armenia and the International Community to advocate democratic development in the country. It remains to be seen what will the consequences of this new signal – economic cooperation and development, instead of democracy and future political integration with the EU mean for Armenia. I wonder, will the promise of only economic cooperation be enough to drive further democratic change in Armenia, or does it mean the end of it?