Ex-EU Commissioner for ENP: Factors Behind Morocco’s and Tunisia’s ‘Success Story’ – Civil Society, Domestic Politics and Openness to Learn

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW with Štefan Füle (Former EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy)

EUBULLETIN: European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was an important part of your portfolio during the tenure in the European Commission. It is quite conspicuous that most of the countries involved in the ENP process seem to have been more stable 10-15 years ago than they are today, so there is an obvious question: What went wrong with the European Neighbourhood Policy?

Štefan Füle: You know I wish the European Union had sometimes the power to decide about the level of the stability in its neighbourhood – who is going to be the lucky one and who is going to be the less lucky. Unfortunately, this is not the EU’s role and the EU does not have the necessary tools at its disposal that would enable it to influence these countries. The European Union is not running the ‘colour revolutions’ and, as you know, these kinds of things are coming from within the societies. What came in 2009 and 2010 as Arab Spring, it was exactly that reflection of the internal development in a number of countries and an important element in this process was that the people wanted to have more of accountability, better life and recognition of human dignity.

EUBULLETIN: Are you suggesting that the EU’s strategy in North Africa was not really appropriate in light of the internal developments in the regional states?

Štefan Füle: Well, it was us sort of living in some kind of illusions that our deals with the totalitarian regimes are here to ensure the stability forever. I think what happened in 2010 was a very clear example that the only sustainable and long-term stability is possible if it’s based on those principles of accountability, of human dignity and, if you would like, democracy – and I am not talking about some kind of Western concepts of democracy – and that dealing with totalitarian, authoritarian regimes could lead to such unforeseen developments like the one we saw in 2009-2010. Now, is it difficult to achieve stability on the basis of those principles I have alluded to? Yes – it’s extremely difficult, it’s a long-term process and we have seen that some of the countries actually even have not made it but there were also others who were more successful.

EUBULLETIN: In response to these seeming deficiencies of the European Neighbourhood Policy, the European Commission announced last year some changes and introduced an revised version of the ENP. Do you think that this new version of the ENP is better suited to these countries along the EU’s southern and eastern flank?

Štefan Füle: There has been an effort to reflect on the lessons learned from our relationships with our partners and I see a number of important points there like A/ focusing on the security reforms in our partner countries, like B/ bringing the Member States in the driving force of many of the programs and projects and so on. Because it’s important that our Common Foreign and Security Policy is not characterized by the Member States and Brussels agreeing on the Neighbourhood Policy and then leaving it up to the EU institutions but instead implementing that policy needs to be a shared responsibility.

There is only one extremely important challenge, which should not be ignored, and it is the right balance between the interest and values when you are trying to put together the foreign policy. One of the problems – that we were not able to see the expectations of the people during the Arab Spring revolutions – was exactly that we have sometimes pursued the policy, which ignored the values, the standards, and followed only the interests. Some other times, we looked at the values but we forgot the interests, like the stability we mentioned earlier. One has an extremely difficult task to have those angles to be as close as possible for each country if you would like to design and implement a successful and sustainable foreign policy towards our partners.

EUBULLETIN: Talking about having different recipes to fix problems in each individual partner country, if you look at the MENA region some 5-6 years down the road from the Arab Spring revolutions, you will find perhaps only Tunisia and Morocco that could be considered as the success stories. Could you perhaps highlight the main developments or factors that have contributed to these two countries to fare much better than the rest of the region?

Štefan Füle: I think one of the elements is a stronger civil society within these two countries. The second element was, and particularly for Tunisia, that even those Islamist political parties, which you would have otherwise might call ‘Muslim Brotherhood’, have understood their political service to be a service for the country and it was not necessarily some kind of religious ‘fata morgana’. And they have been ready to make some painful compromise delivering their service to the country and to its citizens.

The third element of the success was that these two countries have made it much more clear than other partners what they would like to see as an assistance and help from the European Union. Morocco and Tunisia were also listening when we were in the sort of most humble way making certain recommendations how this or that reform would work and what kind of impact it might have. I am sure there are a number of other reasons but I would just refer to those three.

EUBULLETIN: Looking at the increasing assertiveness by Turkey, Russia, Iran, Arab countries and China in particular who compete among themselves and also with the EU for geopolitical influence in the ENP regions, can you foresee what the North Africa, Middle and Near East and Eastern European regions will look like 20-30 years from now? Will the EU’s clout be relatively weakened there?

Štefan Füle: I wish to have a crystal ball to make that prediction and I’ll try to be serious enough and not just translating my dreams into what I would like to be the reality. I think what is going to happen is a realization – and I hope it is not going to be a painful one – that the EU cannot live in the illusion we will be able to be inward-looking and somehow isolated group of countries where the peace, stability and prosperity reigns while the countries around us are in are facing more and more problems.

We have to learn that the world is going to be a more complex space to live in – there will be much more competition beyond our borders, so we have to count on this crisis-management capacity much more and to make the space for our partners to help to us handle that space we share, whether they are sort of our partners and want to have a special relationship with us leading to EU membership or whether they are someone who defines itself almost as our enemy. I hope that the politicians will be courageous enough and creative enough not to be afraid to making the changes also in the way we work, we operate. Let’s strengthen the interfaces with our neighbourhood though which we influence and we are being influenced in the most positive way. This is the only way forward in the 21st century.

EUBULLETIN: Thank you for the interview.

Štefan Füle is the former EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy where he was responsible for two vital policy areas in the EU’s mission to consolidate peace, democracy and prosperity in Europe. Mr Füle studied at the Faculty of Philosophy of Charles University and at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

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