Last week, a document was published in Brussels on the results of the strategic review of the European neighbourhood policy. While such news do not necessarily attract attention, this gobbledegook statement, relates to an important event. The EU is planning to revise its attitude to its immediate neighbourhood, which has a major impact on its future; not the least in the light of the enormous changes that the Arab world has undergone in the last few months.
The term “neighbourhood policy”, had largely been tantamount to Euro-Mediterranean cooperation until the Eastern enlargement in 2004. Afterwards, the EU became immediate neighbours with such key Eastern countries as Ukraine, which necessitated a broader reconsideration of its foreign relations system. It became obvious that the two geographic directions would be differentiated, due to disparities in traditional relations and the level of development and ambitions: Morocco and Georgia, two “extremities”, are good examples for this. Therefore, 2008 saw the establishment of the Mediterranean Union in the Southern dimension, at the initiative of France, while the Eastern Partnership, which aims to develop relations with the Eastern neighbours, was officially launched at the May 2009 Prague Summit, following a Swedish-Polish initiative.
The European Commission proposed a strategic reconsideration of this policy nine months ago. The revision process involved EU Member States, partner countries who participated in the policy (currently 16 nations in the South and the East), and the representatives of civil society. Meanwhile, the revolutions that swept through the Arab countries and the fall of dictatorships, after decades inevitably increased the political significance of the revision process. It is no coincidence that the document prioritises the promotion of value-based sustainable democracy, the reinforcement of civil society and the enhancement of sustainable economic development. From now on, the European Union (EU) will only provide financial assistance to its neighbours who subject to these principles and objectives or conditions, if you like.
Due to obvious geographical reasons, Hungary’s foreign policy has always paid special attention to the Balkans and our eastern neighbourhood. Although the strategic review of the European neighbourhood policy only affects the latter. this of course, does not mean that Hungary’s attention to the Balkans should wane. Besides, while being especially committed to the EU’s European neighbourhood for the reasons mentioned above, Hungary sets great store by preserving the unity and balance of the European neighbourhood policy, and holds that neither the eastern, nor the southern dimension should be strengthened at the expense of the other. It is essential that the European neighbourhood policy should be the common policy of the entire EU, as the conflicting aspirations of Member States may wipe each other out. This ambition of Hungary is duly reflected by the programme, which was developed by the European Commission and the European External Action Service. At the end of September, the second Eastern Partnership Summit in Warsaw, to be co-hosted by Poland and Hungary, will make a good test of efficiency, for the implementation of the Hungarian initiatives in practice.
From a Hungarian point of view, it is also a welcoming prospect that the EU will increase the differentiation between the two geographical neighbourhoods, and the individual partner states. If we really succeed in translating the basic principles that were laid down in the Communication (including the “more funds for more reforms” slogan), to the specific EU measures and financial resources, we can be sure that the EU will be able to provide partner states with assistance, which is more flexible and more clearly subject to political objectives. Of course, all this will call for extensive cooperation and coordination among EU institutions and Member States, and not the least, for commitment and the unbroken continuation of reforms on the part of the affected partner states.