Documents considered by the Committee on 8 June 2011 - European Scrutiny Committee Contents


2 Partnership with the EU's Neighbourhood

(32815)

10794/11

COM(11) 303

Commission Communication: A new response to a changing Neighbourhood

Legal base
Document originated8 March 2011
Deposited in Parliament14 March 2011
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Basis of considerationEM and Minister's letter of 3 June 2011
Previous Committee ReportNone; but see (32588) 7592/11: HC 428-xxiii (2010-11), chapter 9 (5 April 2011); also see (29704) 9865/08: HC 428-x (2010-11), chapter 16 (8 December 2010); HC 19-xvii (2008-09), chapter 7 (14 October 2009); HC 19-xv (2008-09), chapter 1 (29 April 2009); HC 16-xxix (2007-08), chapter 6 (10 September 2008) and HC 16-xxiv (2007-08), chapter 5 (18 June 2008); also see (29029) —: HC 16-i (2007-08), chapter 2 (7 November 2007)
Discussed in Council20 June 2011 European Council
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared; for debate in European Committee B

Background

2.1 On 4 February 2011, the European Council met to discuss developments in Tunisia and Egypt. In its subsequent declaration, the EU said that was determined to lend its full support to the transition processes towards democratic governance, pluralism, improved opportunities for economic prosperity and social inclusion, and strengthened regional stability; and committed to a new partnership involving more effective support in the future to those countries pursuing political and economic reforms including through the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Union for the Mediterranean.

2.2 In this context, the European Council invited the High Representative within the framework of this partnership to develop a package of measures aimed at lending European Union support to the transition and transformation processes (strengthening democratic institutions, promoting democratic governance and social justice, and assisting the preparation and conduct of free and fair elections); and to link the European Neighbourhood Policy and Union for the Mediterranean more to these objectives.[9]

The Commission and High Representative's earlier Joint Communication

2.3 At our meeting on 4 April we considered this first formal response. The Communication recalled the European Union's "proud tradition of supporting countries in transition from autocratic regimes to democracy" and, while "respecting what are primarily internal transformation processes", offered the expertise of governments, the European Commission, the European Parliament, local and regional authorities, political parties, foundations, trade unions and civil society organizations. Based on "a shared interest in a democratic, stable, prosperous and peaceful Southern Mediterranean", the Commission/HR proposed "a qualitative step forward in the relations between the EU and its Southern neighbours…[which] should be rooted unambiguously in a joint commitment to common values…[and] expressed in recent weeks can only be addressed through faster and more ambitious political and economic reforms." On this basis, the Commission/HR said that the EU was ready to support all its Southern neighbours who were able and willing to embark on such reforms through a "Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity" — this having to be based on commitments to and concrete progress on democracy, human rights, social justice, good governance and the rule of law. The approach would need to be differentiated, acknowledging the fact that, despite some commonalities, no two countries in the region were the same.

2.4 After reviewing what the EU had done to address the short-term consequences of recent events in North Africa and spell out their approach to the longer term process of "turning into reality the tremendous hopes that have been voiced in the region… by listening, not only to requests for support from partner governments, but also to demands expressed by civil society", the Communication set out the three elements on which the Partnership would be based:

—  democratic transformation and institution-building, with a particular focus on fundamental freedoms, constitutional reforms, reform of the judiciary and the fight against corruption;

—  a strong partnership with the people, with specific emphasis on support to civil society and on enhanced opportunities for exchanges and people-to-people contacts with a particular focus on the young; and

—  sustainable and inclusive growth and economic development, especially support to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), vocational and educational training, improving health and education systems and development of the poorer regions

2.5 The detail of these elements includes an incentive-based approach based on greater differentiation —"more for more" — in which those that went "further and faster" in their reforms would receive greater support. A commitment to adequately monitored, free and fair elections would be the entry qualification. Progress in human rights and governance would have minimum benchmarks against which performance would be assessed. Those who did not follow agreed reform plans would have their support reallocated. The Partnership would be underpinned by enhanced political dialogue, with a strong focus on human rights and political accountability. Partner countries carrying out the necessary reforms could expect to resume negotiations on Association Agreements with the aim of achieving "advanced status", viz., significantly strengthened political dialogue, increased links between the partner country and EU institutions, deeper engagement on mobility and improved market access to the EU.

2.6 A "Civil Society Neighbourhood Facility" would be created to help develop the advocacy capacity of civil society organisations and increase their ability to monitor reform, and the EU would continue its work on supporting capacity building to strengthen government institutions and strengthen borders and migration, asylum and law-enforcement co-operation, to improve security.

2.7 "Mobility Partnerships" would be drawn up in order to manage movement of persons between the EU and third countries would include visa facilitation and readmission agreements, and, eventually, steps towards visa liberalisation.

2.8 The promotion of economic development, including support for SMEs, an increase in the European Investment Bank's (EIB) general lending envelope by €1 billion, extending the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's (EBRD) operations to the region, and allowing "reflows" — the re-investment of previous financing operations to support the private sector — were all outlined.

2.9 The proposal also addressed longer term financing issues and refocusing existing programmes. Noting that €4 billion was currently available to the region under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI), the Communication stated that all ENPI programmes for the region would be screened and possibly re-focused to address the Partnership's three priorities. It also detailed the need to leverage loans via IFIs, and encouraged Member States to contribute to the Neighbourhood Investment Facility (NIF), which provided grant support.

2.10 The development of trade and investment would be supported through the conclusion of a single, regional, Convention on pan-Euro-Mediterranean preferential rules of origin. It would include the conclusion of EU trade liberalisation agreements and the negotiation of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas,[10] building on the current Association Agreements.[11]

2.11 Sectoral co-operation would include the establishment of an EU-South Mediterranean Energy Community with the long-term aim of extending the Energy Community Treaty; launching an Agricultural/rural development support programme; increasing participation in education programmes; and developing access to the Internet and other communication technologies.

2.12 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 29 March 2011, the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) described the proposed changes as "broadly in line with UK thinking and the views I expressed to the European Commission in response to their review of the ENP."

2.13 The Minister continued as follows:

"We share their thinking on the need for greater differentiation between countries. We have stressed that strict conditionality is essential; that clear and measurable conditions must underpin the EU's relationship with countries in the region, and that those countries who meet agreed reforms should continue to receive EU funding, whereas those that fail to reform should have funding withheld. We have stressed the need for reforms in human rights and governance to be given greatest priority."

2.14 The Minister was not opposed to the principle of "Advanced Status", though he thought that the EU should clarify what this status entailed, including what benefits beneficiary countries might expect as a result.

2.15 The Minister supported the involvement of civil society in the development of good governance and monitoring of human rights.

2.16 The Minister went on to note that, as the UK did not participate in the EU common visa policy, the EU visa facilitation and liberalisation agreement proposals would not apply to the UK.

2.17 With regards to financing, the Minister said:

"We believe that priority reforms can be supported by the reallocation of existing funding, rather than an increase in budget, so we are content that the Communication states that assistance will come from the current EU budget."

2.18 The Minister then said that he was opposed to the proposal of a general increase in the European Investment Bank's (EIB) mandate, commenting as follows:

"The Chancellor is prepared to support the proposed additional lending envelope of €1 billion, but subject to the conditionality that the €1 billion increase is a one-off, temporary increase, and that it is a stand-alone increase and not part of a larger increase to general EIB lending. Our policy on 'reflows' — recycling funding from one year to the next — is guided by our commitment to the principle of budget discipline that is enforced by the return of repayments to Member States. Whilst we appreciate that the introduction of reflows would facilitate more flexible use of funds, this should not be at the expense of budget discipline. We favour a return of repayments to Member States to ensure a balanced EU budget at the end of the financial year."

2.19 With regard to the trade components of the proposal, the Minister says:

"We share the view that development of sustainable trade is key to the general reinvigoration of economies in the region, and that the removal of barriers to trade with the EU, and the opening of EU markets, would support this. The opening of markets is one of the greatest incentives to reform we are able to offer the region. However, we are aware of the sensitivities of some, particularly southern, Member States to the opening of certain sectors — in particular agriculture — and are realistic about the difficulty of securing the agreement of all Member States to this."

2.20 On the sectoral element, the Minister welcomed in principle the proposal to establish an EU-South Mediterranean Energy Community and will follow its development."

2.21 Finally, and looking ahead, the Minster said that, as "an expression of the views of the Commission" there was no timetable for implementation, and that the individual proposals the Communication covered would be "dealt with independently of the Communication and according to their nature."

2.22 On 14 March 2011, the European Council held an extraordinary session to discuss developments in Libya and the Southern neighbourhood region and set the political direction and priorities for future EU policy and action. The Council noted that progress and democracy needed to go hand in hand, and all countries in the region needed to undertake or accelerate political and economic reforms; and said that the EU would support all steps towards democratic transformation, political systems that allowed for peaceful change, growth and prosperity, and a more proportionate distribution of the benefits of economic performance. It endorsed the notion that progress by partners towards transformation would drive EU support. Developing strong democratic institutions would be one of the key objectives. On a more general level, the Council noted that existing partnership and assistance programmes would be rapidly reviewed, in close cooperation with partners in the region, in order to target better. In this context, the Council called on the Commission and the High Representative to give priority to country-focused and performance based approaches. Looking to the medium term, the European Council called for a new partnership with the region, in line with its declaration of 4 February 2011, broadly welcomed the joint communication and called on the Council to examine rapidly the proposals contained in the communication and in particular the conditions under which the EU's support to its partners could be enhanced.

2.23 In particular, the Council was asked:

—  to agree urgently pending proposals on pan-Euro-Mediterranean rules of origin (and the Commission was invited to present proposals on further means to enhance trade and foreign direct investment in the region in the short, medium and long term);

—  to consider rapidly the Commission's proposals on European Investment Bank reflows and look at further possibilities to increase the EIB's overall financial support capacity; and

—  to review the missions of the Union for the Mediterranean, with the objective of promoting democracy and fostering stability in the region and giving "a new push" to concrete measures and projects so as to strengthen democratic institutions, freedom of expression, including unhindered access to internet, reinforce civil societies, support the economy, reduce poverty and address social injustice.[12]

Our assessment

2.24 We noted that the Barcelona Process (a.k.a. the Euro-Med Process) was launched during the 1995 Spanish Presidency between the EU and its Mediterranean partners — Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey (Libya has observer status since 1999) — with the aim of building "a space of dialogue, peace, security and shared prosperity". At the outset, the Commission described this as "a turning point in Euro-Mediterranean relations". On examining the most recent Commission Communication on the Process in November 2007, the previous Committee concluded that, in reality, it had become impossible to judge the extent to which the Process was merely processing, rather than achieving concrete outcomes; and that, with approximately €4.7 billion committed in 2000-06 and a further €1.3 billion earmarked for 2007-10, it was time to examine the Process more closely, via a debate on the Communication in the European Standing Committee.[13] That debate took place on 22 January 2008.[14]

2.25 During that debate, there was some, perforce limited, discussion of President Sarkozy's idea of a "Union of the Mediterranean". The subsequent Communication (which the previous Committee considered on 18 June 2008)[15] set out the rationale for the Process and a vision for enhanced co-operation. The intention was to build on the existing process, but add a number of higher-profile projects to give added impetus and visibility. Funding arrangements were somewhat imprecise. The Commission noted that the EU and its Member States already provided significant funding in the Mediterranean region, [16] but that "to bring added value to existing arrangements, the 'Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean' should be designed to mobilise additional funding for the region, mainly through regional projects", and that "its added value will very much depend on its capacity to attract more financial resources for regional projects." The UMed process was finally launched in November 2008.

2.26 Two years on, when the Committee last considered the UMed, the Minister for Europe noted that the second UMed Summit (due to have been held in Barcelona on 21 November 2010) had been postponed, for a second time and sine die, because of the lack of progress on a resumption of direct talks in the Middle East Peace Process, and that a new date had not yet been set; and the Secretariat had yet to become fully operational or make substantial progress on developing and promoting any projects.

2.27 We outlined these earlier endeavours to establish a productive partnership with the EU's southern neighbours not to pour cold water on the latest manifestation, but to illustrate the difficulties of implementation. While it was customary in such circumstances to say that the proof of the pudding would be in the eating, we felt that it was by no means clear what could be achieved, when the polity of so many of the southern neighbours was in a state of radical flux, and in circumstances very different from those facing the then Member States in central and eastern Europe in 1989. In present circumstances, it was by no means clear what form the entry qualification of a "commitment to adequately monitored, free and fair elections" would take, in societies with little or no parliamentary history or embryonic civil society (in contrast to the situation in Europe in 1989). Or whether, once the process was underway, the EU would really be willing to slow down or turn off funding in the face of backsliding.

2.28 Nevertheless, unpromising as the context was, we felt that there was no good alternative to the essence of what was proposed — with the proviso, as the Minister had rightly noted, that priority reforms were supported by the reallocation of existing funding, rather than any increase in budget.

2.29 We then cleared the document.[17]

The Commission and High Representative's further Joint Communication

2.30 European Neighbourhood Policy was first proposed by the Commission in 2003-2004 as a framework policy through which an enlarged EU could strengthen and deepen relations with its 16 closest neighbours (Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine) with a view to counteracting risks of marginalisation for the neighbouring countries which had not participated in the historic 2004 enlargement and therefore ensuring the strengthening of a shared area of prosperity, stability and security.

2.31 On 25 May 2011, as the centrepiece of a review of the ENP, the Commission and High Representative produced this further Joint Communication — "A New Response to a Changing Neighbourhood" — which builds on the previous Joint Communication.

2.32 It begins by noting that since its inception in 2004, the ENP has promoted a variety of important initiatives, particularly on the trade and economic front, which have allowed the EU and its neighbours to develop stronger relationships, exchanges and co-operation in virtually all policy fields, from energy to education, from transport to research. It says that EU assistance has increased and is better targeted:

"But there is room for improvement on all sides of the relationship. Recent events and the results of the review have shown that EU support to political reforms in neighbouring countries has met with limited results. There is for example a need for greater flexibility and more tailored responses in dealing with rapidly evolving partners and reform needs — whether they are experiencing fast regime change or a prolonged process of reform and democratic consolidation. Coordination between the EU, its Member States and main international partners is essential and can be improved."

2.33 Against this background, the Joint Communication says that "a new approach is needed to strengthen the partnership between the EU and the countries and societies of the neighbourhood: to build and consolidate healthy democracies, pursue sustainable economic growth and manage cross-border links." The new approach must be based on "mutual accountability and a shared commitment to the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law". It will involve "a much higher level of differentiation allowing each partner country to develop its links with the EU as far as its own aspirations, needs and capacities allow. For those southern and eastern neighbours able and willing to take part, this vision includes closer economic integration and stronger political co-operation on governance reforms, security, conflict-resolution matters, including joint initiatives in international fora on issues of common interest. This new approach aims to:

  • provide greater support to partners engaged in building deep democracy — "the kind that lasts because the right to vote is accompanied by rights to exercise free speech, form competing political parties, receive impartial justice from independent judges, security from accountable police and army forces, access to a competent and non-corrupt civil service — and other civil and human rights that many Europeans take for granted, such as the freedom of thought, conscience and religion";
  • support inclusive economic development — so that EU neighbours can trade, invest and grow in a sustainable way, reducing social and regional inequalities, creating jobs for their workers and higher standards of living for their people;
  • strengthen the two regional dimensions of the European Neighbourhood Policy, covering respectively the Eastern Partnership[18] and the Southern Mediterranean, so as to work out consistent regional initiatives in areas such as trade, energy, transport or migration and mobility, complementing and strengthening bilateral co-operation;
  • provide the mechanisms and instruments fit to deliver these objectives.

2.34 With regard to the Eastern Partnership, the Joint Communication says that the degree to which the partners have addressed key elements — respect for universal values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law; continuous efforts to reform; and a strengthened focus on the resolution of protracted conflicts — varies:

"While some are clearly committed to reaching its full potential, others have only made piecemeal progress. The EU will ensure that partners most advanced and committed to the democratic reforms that underpin the Eastern Partnership benefit the most from it. At the same time, Eastern Partnership instruments need to be better tailored to the situations of individual countries, based on experience following this first phase of implementation — notably by identifying tools to bridge the long period required to negotiate far-reaching and complex Association Agreements."

2.35 the EU will accordingly:

  • move to conclude and implement Association Agreements including DCFTAs;
  • pursue democratisation;
  • pursue the visa facilitation and liberalisation process;
  • enhance sectoral cooperation, notably in the area of rural development;
  • promote benefits of the Eastern Partnership to citizens; and
  • increase work with civil society and social partners.

2.36 In the shorter term, the Joint Communication notes that the second Eastern Partnership Summit will take place in September 2011 in Warsaw, and says that the Commission and the High Representative will subsequently put forward a roadmap to guide future implementation, drawing on the results of the Summit.

2.37 The Southern Mediterranean Partnership will be developed on the lines set out in the earlier Joint Communication.

2.38 The Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) should "enhance its potential to organise effective and result-oriented regional cooperation", drawing on its inclusive character for regional cooperation (given the membership of Turkey and the Western Balkan countries) and "revitalising" itself by "a switch to a more pragmatic and project-based approach" and ensuring that the UfM Secretariat operates as a catalyst to bring states, the EIB, International Financial Institutions and the private sector together around concrete economic projects of strategic importance and generating jobs, innovation and growth throughout the region. Partner countries' participation in these projects could follow the principle of variable geometry depending on their needs and interests.

2.39 With regard to the funding aspects, the Joint Communication says that the Commission will:

  • re-focus and target foreseen and programmed funds in the ENPI as well as other relevant external policy instruments in the light of this new approach;
  • provide additional resources of over €1 billion until 2013 to address the urgent needs of our neighbourhood;
  • mobilize budgetary reinforcement from various sources.

2.40 All in all, the Joint Communication says, implementing the new approach requires additional resources of up to €1,242 million until 2013 over and above the €5,700 million provided under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument for 2011-2013. This includes €250 million stemming from reflows from older loan and risk-capital operations to be made available to the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) to promote growth and employment by financing new operations and to support the long-term financing needs of SMEs. These additional resources will be provided through reallocations from within Heading 4 of the 2007-2013 multi-annual financial framework, and by making use of the unallocated margin under the expenditure ceiling in 2012 and — to the extent necessary — through the Flexibility Instrument. The Commission will submit an Amending Letter to Draft Budget 2012 shortly. The Commission is also "currently reflecting on how best to integrate the overall country situation regarding democracy, accountability, the rule of law and sound financial management into its decisions on budget support arrangements", and will outline its approach in an upcoming Communication on budget support, which the Joint Communication says "should also provide the necessary flexibility to tailor levels and types of support to each partner's reform track record."

2.41 Beyond the present financial timeframe, the Joint Communication says that the Commission will reflect the renewed ENP vision and medium term objectives in its proposals for the post-2013 EU Multi-annual Financial Framework, which will be tabled later this year.

2.42 Summing up, the Joint Communication says that cooperation with the EU's neighbours is the only means to take on the challenges and threats that do not respect borders — such as terrorism, irregular migration, pollution of our common seas and rivers — and to tackle sources of instability and conflict in the region. It regards it as in the EU's own interest to support these transformation processes, "working together with our neighbours to anchor the essential values and principles of human rights, democracy and the rule of law, a market economy and inclusive, sustainable development in their political and economic fabric." The new approach to the ENP set out in this Joint Communication "is a step in this direction." Calling on the Council and the European Parliament to endorse both its overall thrust and the concrete proposals it puts forward, the Commission and the High Representative now intend to pursue consultations with the EU's neighbours on the best way to translate this new approach into each individual partnership:

"The challenges are many, and fully meeting them may take time. What we are aiming for together is a democratic, prosperous and stable region where more than 800 million people can live, work and shape their own country's future, confident that their freedom, their dignity and their rights will be respected."

The Government's view

2.43 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 3 June 2011, the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) says that the UK has taken a leading role in arguing for an ambitious new EU policy towards the EU's neighbourhood, in particular following the momentous events in the southern neighbourhood earlier this year, and given the opportunity to support democracy in the region.

"We judge the Communication to reflect UK interests well. The language has been heavily shaped by UK lobbying and it incorporates most of our arguments. It also is in line with the G8's commitment at the recent Summit in Deauville to support the 'Arab Spring'.

"UK Ministers lobbied hard for the ENP reform to include a bold, ambitious offer to our partners, centred around trade liberalisation and economic integration. The Communication majors on a long term vision of partners' economic integration within the EU's internal market, leading to an economic community between the EU and its neighbours. It states that the EU will seek to extend trade concessions in existing agreements or ongoing negotiations through the negotiation of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements, focusing particularly on those sectors best positioned to provide an immediate boost to partners' economies. There is also recognition of the need for capacity building, rural development programmes and initiatives to promote regional trade flows."

2.44 The Minister notes that, in line with the principle of conditionality, the Communication suggests that only those partners that have a fully functioning independent judiciary, an efficient public administration and have made significant progress towards eradicating corruption should be considered for integration into the non-regulated area of the Internal Market for goods; and that this integration could only happen once participating countries have reached a sufficient level of administrative and legal reliability.

2.45 The Minister says that the UK:

"also argued strongly and repeatedly in favour of the principle of conditionality in the ENP: that the more and faster a country progresses in its internal reforms, the more support it will get from the EU. This principle is clearly stated in the Joint Communication. We successfully made the case (against some opposition) for "negative" conditionality — that for those countries which fail to achieve benchmarks for political as well as economic reform, the EU should scale back its cooperation and even reduce its funding (or redirect funding towards civil society partners as opposed to state organisations)."

2.46 This goes, the Minister says, "further than the EU has ever gone before, and is in our view a welcome change, providing additional incentives to our partners in both the East and the South to implement meaningful reforms."

2.47 The Minister also highlights the emphasis in the Communication on the work needed to strengthen respect for the rule of law and to fight corruption, thus facilitating increased FDI and technology transfer which will, in turn, stimulate innovation and job creation. He also draws attention to aim of supporting initiatives to clarify partner's national investment priorities and seeking to build investors' confidence: e.g., an enhanced investment protection scheme, or options to provide legal security to investors.

2.48 With respect to migration and mobility, the Minister welcomes proposals to pursue migration co-operation within the existing framework of Mobility Partnerships, noting that:

"these partnerships ensure a comprehensive approach to migration which focuses on strengthening the capacity of partner countries to manage their borders effectively and to tackle irregular migration, as well as measures on legal migration and migration and development. Though visa liberalisation measures do not directly apply to the UK, we nonetheless welcome the recognition in the Communication that such measures should only be considered on a case-by-case basis, where partner countries have taken the necessary steps to ensure well-managed and secure migration. However, the Communication still places a stronger emphasis on visa facilitation than the UK feels is appropriate."

2.49 With respect to the section on labour mobility, the Minister believes that:

"these offers should be balanced with progress on tackling irregular migration, and should respect the differing characteristics of Members States' demographic and labour market needs, remembering that legal migration is a national competence. The UK welcomes the emphasis on strengthening international protection in the region — effective asylum capacity is key to a well functioning migration system. However, we would be cautious about overemphasising the role of resettlement in the immediate term — we see resettlement as a strategic long term tool which is best used in countries where there are protracted refugee situations."

2.50 With regard to the Financial Implications, the Minister says:

The vast majority of the finances for the ENP are to come from reallocation within existing spend. The Communication suggests a headline figure of €1,242m for the period up to the end of 2013 (€250 million of which relates to a Commission proposal on European Investment Bank (EIB) 'reflows'), with the majority of money for the South. It also recommends an extra €1 billion in additional EIB loans, and €154m being reallocated from a reserve pot (outside Heading 4) under the Flexibility Instrument. Funding levels will be linked far more closely to countries' track records in reform, in line with the stricter application of the principle of conditionality."

2.51 Finally, the Minister says that he expects the Communication to be discussed at the 20 June Foreign Affairs Council and the 24 June European Council; and that he expects the European Parliament also to give its Opinion on this Communication in the near future, and for the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions to do likewise.

The Minister's letter of 3 June 2011

2.52 Referring to the timetable outlined above and the fact that the Joint Communication was published only on 25 May, the Minister says that he would therefore be grateful if the Committee would scrutinise the Joint Communication in time to allow the government to take a position on the review of the ENP at the June FAC and European Council. He goes on to say that "we are working to a tight timetable for a number of reasons", viz:

  • "The speed with which the Commission and EAS have published these documents and the short time between publication and discussion in the Council reflects the EU's determination to respond nimbly to the momentous events in the Southern Neighbourhood. We have been pushing hard for this nimble response; quick and bold action by the EU is in the interests of international security and prosperity, and so in the UK's interests.
  • "If the EU fails to produce its response in a timely manner, it will lose influence in this crucial region at a time when others are actively seeking to extend their influence (Russia, China, Iran and the Arab states).
  • "It is important that the EU does not lose the momentum built up in the last few months. If EU Heads of Government fail to endorse the ENP Review in June, their next opportunity is in October, pushing implementation back by over three months while the crisis in the South continues to unfold.
  • "For these reasons, I consider it unlikely that the Council will be prepared to delay its discussion of this Communication until October. As the UK is a key player in the EU's response to events in the Southern Neighbourhood, and as we have been a key influence in the preparation of this Communication, I consider it to be very important that we take an active role in the Council debate. Your early scrutiny would allow the government to do that with the support of Parliament."

2.53 Noting that the Committee's only meeting before the FAC will take place on 8 June, the Minister says that he is therefore submitting this document for scrutiny at this meeting, "with a request that you will forgive such short notice."

2.54 The Minister couples this with a further request; that the Committee should agree to consider this Joint Communication reviewing the ENP independently of the Joint Staff Working Papers on the implementation of the ENP in 2010. He says:

"These latter documents were published only on 30 May. They were annexed to the 25 May ENP Communication by the Commission and EAS for reasons of expediency, and in the normal course of events we would submit both sets of documents to your Committees together for scrutiny. However, given the stand-alone nature of the Joint Communication, the late submission of the Joint Staff Working Papers, the urgent need for your scrutiny of the Joint Communication, and the additional time required to prepare an Explanatory Memorandum on the Joint Staff Working Papers, we would be grateful if you would agree to a procedure whereby your Committee will scrutinise the Joint Communication at its 8 June meeting and then scrutinise the Joint Staff Working Papers separately at a later meeting."

Conclusion

2.55 We are happy to accede to the Minister's timetabling requests, and look forward to receiving his Explanatory Memorandum on the Joint Staff Working Papers in due course.

2.56 In the meantime, though we recognise the desire to press on, we do not see that responding to events in the Southern Neighbourhood requires precipitate consideration of this important document. Several questions raised by the earlier Joint Communication remain unanswered, both with regard to the basis of the increased funding (see, for example, paragraphs 2.17 and 2.18 above) and the practicalities of the new approach. The Minister says nothing about the inter-relationship with the UMed, which remains as marooned as ever; nor about the Eastern Partnership, which some other Member States are likely to see as every bit as important as the Southern Neighbourhood, and which has already demonstrated the many slips between concept and implementation. Indeed, within the expanded EU itself, as we have noted on many occasions, both Bulgaria and Romania remain notably short of meeting some of the criteria that are now to be applied to countries for whom they are likely to pose significantly greater challenges. The EU has been reluctant, Bulgaria and Romania's continued failings notwithstanding, to adopt the "negative" conditionality being proposed here — where, when countries fail to achieve benchmarks for political or economic reform, cooperation is scaled back and funding reduced. Given that, as the Minister notes, there was opposition by at least some Member States to this approach, we are bound to wonder how well it would survive the test of reality.

2.57 We see no reason why the Government should not continue to take an active role in the Council debate. But before it can properly expect to receive the support of the House, the issues raised in this important document need to be discussed and debated in European Committee B. This debate will also enable the Minister to explain and be questioned on whatever conclusions are adopted by the Foreign and General Affairs Councils.

2.58 We so recommend. In the meantime we shall continue to retain the Communication under scrutiny.





9   See http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/119145.pdf for the full text of the Declaration. Back

10   A free trade agreement covering a wide array of trade-related issues ("comprehensive") and aiming at eliminating "behind the border" obstacles to trade through processes of regulatory approximation, thus partially opening/extending the EU internal market to the other party. It is currently offered only to ENP countries. Back

11   These refer to contractual relationships between the European Union (EU) and a non-EU country. Association Agreements may promote the establishment/strengthening of regular dialogue and close relations on political and security matters; gradual liberalisation of trade in goods, services and capital; economic cooperation with a view to encouraging economic and social development and regional economic integration; social, cultural and human dialogue. The concept of "advanced status" under the Association Agreements means a strengthening of political cooperation and new opportunities in economic and trade relations, progressive regulatory convergence as well as strengthened cooperation with certain European agencies and programmes.

 Back

12   The full declaration is available at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/119780.pdf. Back

13   See headnote: (29029) -: HC 16-i (2007-08), chapter 2 (7 November 2007). Back

14   See Stg Co Deb, 22 January 2008, cols 3-18: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200708/cmgeneral/euro/080122/80122s01.htm. Back

15   See headnote: HC 16-xxiv (2007-08), chapter 5 (18 June 2008). Back

16   See HC 16-xxix (2007-08), chapter 6 (10 September 2008), Annex 1. Back

17   See headnote: see (32588) 7592/11: HC 428-xxiii (2010-11), chapter 9 (5 April 2011). Back

18   The European Union formally launched the Eastern Partnership Initiative at a Prague summit in May 2009, within the framework of its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The Eastern Partnership (EaP ) seeks to enhance the eastern dimension of the ENP. The goal is developing economic and political relations between the EU and six former Soviet Republics: Ukraine, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia and - depending on the development of the relations with the EU - Belarus. 

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