Documents considered by the Committee on 6 January 2016 - European Scrutiny Contents


8   Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy

Committee's assessment Politically important
Committee's decisionNot cleared from scrutiny; further information requested and awaited; drawn to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee
Document detailsJoint Communication: Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy
Legal base
DepartmentForeign and Commonwealth Office
Document Numbers(37290), 14315/15 + ADD 1, JOIN(15) 50

Summary and Committee's conclusions

8.1  The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was designed in 2003 and encompasses 16 of the EU's neighbours in two regions — the Eastern Partnership: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine; and the Southern Neighbourhood: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Syria and Tunisia.

8.2  The ENP offers those neighbours a privileged relationship, offering closer political and economic integration and building upon a mutual commitment to common values — democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development. The level of ambition of what is essentially a bilateral relationship depends on the extent to which these values are shared in practice.

8.3  Individual country Actions Plans with each of the partners set out a package of reforms for the next three to five years.

8.4  The European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI), with a budget of €15.4 billion (£11.06 billion) for the period 2014-20, is the main financial instrument for implementing the ENP.[63]

8.5  In March 2015, having announced "a fundamental review" of the ENP's principles and scope, and how its instruments should be used, the Commission and European External Action Service (EEAS) launched a formal consultation, with view to engaging with a range of stakeholders, including Member States, partner countries, national parliaments, NGOs, universities and think-tanks.[64] The outcome — this Joint Communication — was published last November.

8.6  Introducing the Review on 18 November 2015, EU High Representative/Commission Vice President Federica Mogherini described "a stronger partnership with our neighbours" as key for the European Union, in order to build together a safer environment, try to solve the many crises in "our common region", support the development and the growth of the poorest areas, and address the root causes of migration. The ENP would engage partners in increased cooperation in security matters and find ways to strengthen together the resilience of the EU's and its partners' societies, and the ability to work effectively together on common purposes. At the same time, the Commissioner for ENP and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn described the most pressing challenge as "the stabilisation of our neighbourhood"; described conflicts, terrorism and radicalisation, poverty, corruption and poor governance as sources of insecurity; and said that the EU's relations with its ENP partners would be refocused where necessary on those genuinely shared common interests, with economic development in particular, and a major focus on youth employment and skills, being key (see our previous Report for details).[65]

8.7  Given the dramatic changes in the Southern Neighbourhood particularly since 2011, the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) told us he fully supported "a recalibrating of the ENP's policies and operating processes to reflect both the changed needs of the region and the interests of EU Member States". The main tool — which he supported — would continue to be Association Agreements (AAs) including Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Areas (DCFTAs); currently only Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine had taken up the opportunity; the key priority was full and effective implementation. For partners not currently interested in a DCFTA, the Minister welcomed a more flexible approach to strengthen trade and investment relations that reflects mutual interests, and the continued use of the multilateral framework to offer cooperation on regional issues.

8.8  The Review had correctly identified stabilisation as a key priority. The Minister welcomed the addition of a security dimension, it being "essential that the EU takes a holistic approach to its neighbourhood, with security being a vital part of its stability". The priorities highlighted in the review — "a broad spectrum … from counter terrorism and crisis management to security sector reform" — were the right ones.

8.9  At the same time, the Minister was also pleased to note that, in parallel, the EU would "continue to pursue promotion of universal values, including democracy, human rights and the rule of law in these countries".

8.10  The Minister also welcomed the highlighting of the socio-economic issues that underlay "the problems currently besetting the region — extremism, terrorism, migration" — and "the renewed focus on economic development, job creation and the empowerment of women". The consultation exercise had endorse the EU's key role in ensuring that partner countries were stable and, to that end, economic and social development needed to be factored into the EU's approach. The EU should also be active in areas such as capacity building, modernisation of the economy and fostering innovation.

8.11  Turning to Migration and Mobility, the Minister said:

"We support the view of many other Member States that decisions on legal migration fall within Member State competence. The UK's legal migration routes for economic migrants are demand-led and are intended to ensure the UK attracts those it needs to support growth."

8.12  Nonetheless, the EU needed "a more integrated and comprehensive migration response, linking short-term humanitarian measures with longer-term development and security responses", and "should help ENP partners develop their asylum and protection procedures, especially to protect vulnerable refugees and meet their basic needs (including through both new and existing capacity building programmes in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and the Middle East).

8.13  The Minister also strongly supported "the assertion that the EU and ENP will work on addressing the root causes of illegal migration", with work to be conducted on better returns and readmission processes, ensuring that EU (and ENP) nations can return those individuals not in need of international protection to their countries of origin, where those persons can be reintegrated; thus "[r]eadmission will have a central place in all dialogues with countries of origin and transit of illegal migrants".

8.14  The Minister was likewise "supportive of any EU efforts made to strengthen the security of the EU external border", noting that "the EU, including through FRONTEX and EUROPOL, will work with 'interested partner countries' on training and capacity building, leading to better information exchange, capacity, and operational and technical cooperation on border management".[66]

8.15  All in all, the Minister said, given the "vastly differing" political and security situations in the eastern and southern neighbourhood, "tailor-made, differentiated partnerships are essential to their success". The Review "align[ed] with UK strategic policy objectives"; the "key now" was:

"shaping the architecture of implementing this Review to maximise the impact of this work and make real changes to the prosperity and security of our neighbourhood and ultimately the lives of citizens in Partner countries."

Our assessment

8.16  We noted that in response interventions during her 18 November 2015 meeting with the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on the Review, the HR had said that the Commission's first year had been one of "crisis management", with security and migration the most pressing challenges. However, whether, as she felt, the EU and its neighbours were on the same page on both issues, remained to be seen. We considered that the Minister had also rightly raised caveats about EU over-ambition on the migration front.

8.17  Nonetheless, the Review was undoubtedly timely. The much-criticised "technocratic" approach of the first decade had clearly been overtaken by the varied responses thus far of "partners" in the "neighbourhood" and "events". "Shared values" remained on the agenda, and help would continue to be given to those who were seeking to promote and develop a democratic, law-based polity. But pragmatism and variable geometry — "tailor-made, differentiated partnerships" — were now fully part of the European Neighbourhood Policy fabric, with security, migration and economic development front and centre.

8.18  However, as the Minister said, "implementation would be "key", so as "to maximise the impact… [and] make real changes to the prosperity and security of our neighbourhood … [and] the lives of citizens in Partner countries". It was thus odd that, while jettisoning the customary annual country reports, no clear alternative was provided for assessing impact. The 2014-20 budget was large — €15.4 billion (£11.06 billion) of EU taxpayers' money.[67] The Commission and the EAS needed regularly to account for their performance, especially given what the Minister had said before about the failings of the present reporting system (c.f. paragraph 7.29 of our previous Report) and what he said now about their failings in coordinating with other actors in this area. We therefore asked the Minister:

·  to explain how the performance of partner countries and of the Commission\EAS was to be assessed in the absence of annual progress reports (noting that such reports continued to be central to the not-dissimilar enlargement process);

·  to indicate — as the Commission/EAS took the Review forward in consultation with partner countries and Member States — whether, and when, there would be further opportunities to take stock; and

·  when he forwarded to us the Council Conclusions that he expected from the December Foreign Affairs Council, to explain how they would drive the European Neighbourhood Policy forward in the right way.

8.19  In the meantime, we retained the Joint Communication under scrutiny.

8.20  We also drew these developments to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee.[68]

8.21  On the question about how the performance of partner countries and of the Commission\European External Action Service is to be assessed in the absence of annual country reports, the Minister says that it is right that the reporting arrangements should also be revised to support this less bureaucratic and more results-oriented approach, and timed to provide the basis for political discussion in the relevant high-level meetings with partner countries, such as Association or Cooperation Councils. But "regular reporting on progress will remain a crucial part of the management of the ENP", and should provide Member States "with assurance that the policy objectives set by the Council are properly delivered, and that programmes are implemented effectively". He and his officials "will remain seized of this", and "continue to press the case with the EEAS and Commission for regular and appropriate reporting on performance under the ENP".

8.22  We find this response unconvincing, as it leaves us unclear as to precisely what the new arrangements are going to be. Moreover — unlike the annual enlargement package and its country progress reports — as well as reporting and assessment becoming irregular, it seems that no role is any longer envisaged for parliamentary scrutiny.

8.23  Regarding whether, and when, there would be further opportunities to take stock, the Minister says that the Council and Member States will "continue to have an important role in identifying priorities under the ENP and in supporting their delivery", and that he is "confident that there will be opportunities during 2016 to take stock of the implementation of the Review, in the Council's preparatory bodies and at Council as appropriate". Again, there is no mention of parliamentary scrutiny in this formulation. Such scrutiny is vitally important.

8.24  Finally, the Minister says that the December Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions for the Review of the ENP:[69]

—  provide "good language on differentiation, trade, security and flexibility to deal with the challenges of the neighbourhood";

—  "make clear that the Review should feed in to the development of wider EU policy, including the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy"; and

—  "also importantly support increased flexibility of existing financial instruments in order to improve the EU's capability to respond flexibly to crisis situations."

8.25  From our perspective, what matters most is that the second tiret further underlines the need for the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy — the first such revision since 2003 — to be deposited for scrutiny prior to any decisions thereon by the Council or its preparatory bodies. This document, which is being prepared by the HR/VP for the June "Defence" European Council, is due to emerge in the spring. We ask the Minister to confirm that it will be deposited in the way in which we have, reasonably, requested.

8.26  Looking slightly further ahead, the Minister undertakes, "in the first half of 2016", to provide "an update on how the new European Neighbourhood Policy is working in practice". When he does so, we should be grateful if he would then explain how parliamentary scrutiny of the ENP process is to be maintained.

8.27  In the meantime, we shall retain the Joint Communication under scrutiny.

8.28  We also again draw these developments to the attention of the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents: Joint Communication: Review of the European Neighbourhood Policy: (37290), 14315/15 + ADD 1, JOIN(15) 50.

Background

8.29  The full background is set out in the previous Reports cited below.[70]

The Minister's letter of 15 December 2015

8.30  The Minister writes about annual reporting, future opportunities to take stock of the implementation of the Review and how the Council Conclusions on the Review would drive the ENP forward in the right way, as follows:

"While there will no longer be a single set of annual progress reports on all countries published simultaneously, regular reporting on progress will remain a crucial part of the management of the ENP. It is right that as the EU seeks to establish more effective relationships with ENP partner countries, based more clearly on a prioritised set of shared interests, the reporting arrangements are also revised to support this less bureaucratic and more results-oriented approach. We support the idea that these reports should be timed to provide the basis for political discussion in the relevant high-level meetings with partner countries, such as Association or Cooperation Councils. I remain of the firm view that reporting by the EEAS and Commission should provide Member States with assurance that the policy objectives set by the Council are properly delivered, and that programmes are implemented effectively. My officials and I remain seized of this, and will continue to press the case with the EEAS and Commission for regular and appropriate reporting on performance under the ENP.

"The review makes clear that the Council and Member States continue to have an important role in identifying priorities under the ENP and in supporting their delivery. While dates have not yet been set, I am confident that there will be opportunities during 2016 to take stock of the implementation of the review, in the Council's preparatory bodies and at Council as appropriate.

"I have attached the December Foreign Affairs Council Conclusions for the Review of the ENP ….[71] The Conclusions provide good language on differentiation, trade, security and flexibility to deal with the challenges of the neighbourhood. The Conclusions make clear that the Review should feed in to the development of wider EU policy, including the Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy. The Conclusions also importantly support increased flexibility of existing financial instruments in order to improve the EU's capability to respond flexibly to crisis situations."

8.31  The Minister concludes by undertaking to provide an update on "how the new European Neighbourhood Policy is working in practice" in the first half of 2016.

Previous Committee Reports

Eleventh Report HC 342-xi (2015-16), chapter 7 (2 December 2015); also see (36714), —: Thirty-ninth Report HC 219-xxxvii (2014-15), chapter 13 (24 March 2015) and (36812), 8129/15 + ADDs 1-15: First Report HC 342-i (2015-16), chapter 60 (21 July 2015).


63   See European Neighbourhood Policy for full details. Back

64   See the Committee's consideration of the Joint Consultation, (36714), -: Thirty-ninth Report HC 219-xxxvii (2014-15), chapter 13 (24 March 2015). Back

65   See Eleventh Report HC 342-xi (2015-16), chapter 7 (2 December 2015). Back

66   See our previous Report for the Minister's full analysis and comments. Back

67   €1 = £0.704. Back

68   Eleventh Report HC 342-xi (2015-16), chapter 7 (2 December 2015). Back

69   Reproduced at the Annex to this chapter of our Report. Back

70   Also see the Minister's Explanatory Memorandum of 26 November 2015. Back

71   Reproduced at the Annex to this chapter of our Report. Back


 
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Prepared 15 January 2016