An Introduction to the European Neighborhood Policy

By Drew Buys, Alumni at the University of WisconsinMadison

This is the first in a three part series on the European Neighborhood Policy as a framework for European Union foreign policy for nearby countries that are not on the membership agenda.

The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) guides European Union (EU) policy with external partner countries as a way to foster deeper economic and political ties to countries in the EU’s region that will not be offered membership. These neighbor countries are split into two groups. Countries to Europe’s east are a part of the Eastern Partnership. They include Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. To the southeast and south lie Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, which are part of what the EU calls the Southern Neighborhood. Although each of these countries have agreed in principle to become a part of the ENP, several countries are not currently participating. Algeria, Belarus, Libya and Syria all currently lack bilateral plans with the EU through the ENP.


The ENP was founded in 2003 as a way for the EU to “[avoid] the emergence of new dividing lines between the enlarged EU and its neighbors and instead [strengthen] the prosperity, stability and security of all.” The ENP is designed to export the EU’s common values of human rights and democracy to neighboring countries. This concern seems to have arisen not only from the traditional dividing lines within Europe (e.g. the Iron Curtain) but also from the spillovers of potential conflicts in the Mediterranean. Consequently, the EU designed a policy that would try to limit migration and conflict by improving prosperity and security in these neighbor countries, while both living up to the EU’s humanitarian norms and addressing more pragmatic security concerns.

The first six years of the Partnership were characterized by a series of negotiations over bilateral ENP Action Plans or Association Agendas. Action Plans are used with the other ENP countries, and Association Agendas are used with the Eastern Partnership; each serves as the road mapping document for relations between the EU and that country. These are primarily medium-term agreements between the EU and a partner, with goals lasting up to six years. Although there are thematic similarities across agreements, they are specialized for the needs of each partner country.

Funding and Implementation

The European Neighborhood Instrument funds the ENP with €15.4 billion set aside for various initiatives from 2014 until 2020. Although most of this funding is allocated for bilateral projects between the EU and a partner country, some of it is used for greater regional development across both EU members and several partner countries.

The levels of funding that countries receive varies widely. Israel, the most developed of ENP countries, receives just over €2 million annually. Most of this money is set aside for twinning projects, which focus on the harmonization of regulations and standards between the EU and Israel. This covers sectors from data protection to veterinary inspection. Anything that makes it easier to communicate and conduct trade between Europe and Israel is eligible to receive funds.

At the other end of the spectrum are countries like Jordan, Palestine and Tunisia. Each received more than €100 million in grants in 2016 through the European Neighborhood Instrument. In Jordan and Palestine, the great bulk of this funding is set aside for refugee aid. Tunisia, while it does receive aid for refugees, has more of its aid earmarked for improvements in public administration and regional development aid. The countries that receive the most aid can be thought of as coming in two types: those that require aid the most, such as Jordan and Palestine, and those that have made the most progress towards their goals, like Tunisia.

The major ways the EU attempts to foster these deeper economic and political ties with partner countries are with aid and by working towards more and more inclusive free trade agreements. Currently, nine partner countries have free trade agreements with the EU: Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Ukraine.

 This aid does not come without stipulations. When an action plan is signed between the EU and a partner country, there is a range of aid for which the partner country gains eligibility during the agreed upon time period. In order to receive the greatest possible amount of aid, a partner country must meet benchmarks for progress in the priority sectors of intervention.

For example, between 2014 and 2017, Azerbaijan could receive between €77 and €94 million in bilateral assistance from the EU for regional and rural development projects, justice sector reform, and education and skills development. To receive the full €94 million, Azerbaijan must implement certain reforms in these sectors and demonstrate commitment to these reforms.

Benefits for the EU

The biggest selling points on the ENP for EU member countries are (1) greater access to external markets for their goods and services through expanded free trade agreements and twinning and (2) improved security in the region thanks to increased stability in neighborhood countries. The latter is particularly important now during the ongoing migration crisis. If ENP countries Libya and Syria had the stability of most EU countries, many of the millions of migrants that have flooded the EU in recent years would never have left home. This is an area where the ENP came too late to help stabilize the region, but the ENP can still help stave off future crises.

Twinning also has major benefits for the EU and its member countries. When neighboring countries have the same standards for health, safety and government operations that the EU has, it will become easier for the EU to cooperate with them. Diplomats from the EU and of member countries will have greater trust in and understanding of their counterparts; EU citizens will be safer when they travel because they will have access to better food and hospitals; EU companies will find it easier to expand into new markets when regulations in partner countries are parallel to those in the EU.

Benefits for Partner Countries

There are a few ways to look at the benefits of the ENP to neighborhood partner countries. The first is to consider why it benefits the governments that agree to the deals, particularly when those governments don’t practice the humanitarian and democratic ethos so important to the EU. Why would Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi sign up to receive euros that are in part conditional on his government implementing pro-democratic reforms? Money is the obvious answer, but not the only one.

The second is to look at why the populations of a partner country might want their government to agree to an action plan with the European Union. This is, on its face, an easier argument to understand from the Western perspective. Citizens whose governments agree to an action plan will eventually receive many of the benefits of the European Union through funding for infrastructure projects and twinning of regulations. Moroccans and Moldovans will have better roads, better schools, and safer foods through closer integration with the EU.

The third is the loosening of travel barriers for citizens of partner countries. Countries that make progress on their ENP Action Plans can be rewarded with greater access to the Schengen Area through a relaxation of visa requirements and an increase in the number of visas available. Recently, some countries such as Ukraine and Georgia received visa-free entry to the Schengen area.


One common criticism from partner countries is that the money promised by the EU doesn’t arrive on time or doesn’t arrive at all. This quote, found in several European Commission Implementing Decision of the Annual Action Plan documents, captures the caveats from the EU succinctly:

“The implementation of this decision is subject to the availability of the appropriations following the adoption of the general budget of the European Union of [current year]”

A common criticism of the ENP (and of EU foreign aid in general) from within Europe is that too much of the aid money goes to autocratic governments that waste it away. Eurosceptics have done an excellent job publicizing these occurrences as a way to illustrate the alleged wastefulness of EU bureaucrats. Those in the EU Common Foreign and Security Policy argue that by not making all EU aid conditional, they bring these autocrats to the table for discussions when they might not otherwise participate. EU officials might also argue that this type of aid is essential for cooperation on security and migration policy in the region. Without some money to grease the wheels, perhaps Egypt and Algeria would not work quite as hard to stop migrants or be as diligent about sharing the names of every person who may have been radicalized. Putting money on the line makes EU concerns a priority for these neighboring governments.


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