The European Neighborhood Policy towards North Africa

Posted on Posted in Africa, Analyses, EU & NATO

By Konstantina Mintzoli, EU Migration Expert

Under the umbrella of EU enlargement, which aimed at materializing Brussels’ aspirations for deeper integration with the surrounding states, the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) is the union’s initiative to the strategic goals laid out in the European Security Strategy (EUSS) adopted by the EU in 2003. It aims to deepen relations between the European Union and its ‘Southern’ and ‘Eastern’ neighbors. Due to that, the ENP can be approached not only as a EU ‘policy’, but also as a reflection of some deeper transformations on security architecture, as well as on governance in the ‘wider Europe’ (1).

Any change in the regional balance or, in essence every change occurring in North Africa – a region that is so close to the European continent but so different from it – directly or indirectly affects Europe. Through ENP, EU wants to keep its attractiveness without offering to its neighbors a full-fledged membership perspective, by creating a ‘Ring of Friends’ of the EU on its borders. Reading between the lines, this is called “enlargement lite”. By that, it offers to the neighborhood states the prospect of eventual political and economic alignment with the EU while dampening down any hopes of actual accession.

EU’s policies aim a “shared responsibility in conflict prevention and conflict resolution”(2) _ and the structural transformation, promoting democracy, the rule of law, and successful market economies. In other words, the partnership is based on a belief in economy as the answer to security concerns. However, twelve years after the ENP’s launch, I argue that ENP policy has not stood up to its expectations.

Conflict resolution is not an objective in the ENP. Thus, it is divided into three ‘baskets’: political and security; economy and finances; and last, social, cultural and human. The partnership is based on a neoliberal ‘logic that free-trade, increased private investment and macro-economic reform would stimulate socio-economic development, industrial modernization and macro-economic reform’ (3). This bilateral policy between the EU and each partner country has a twofold approach: multilateral and bilateral (4).

On the multilateral level, the Southern Dimension of the ENP is enriched through the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). On the bilateral level, the ENP offers economic integration, encompassing a network of agreements (the Association Agreements) and the Action Plans (5). This is the so-called ‘carrots and stick approach’; for commitments to political, economic, trade, or human rights concrete reforms in a non-member neighbor, in return, this country may be offered more of the ‘3 Ms’ – money, market access and mobility(6).

The case of North African neighbors

Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of North or Northern Africa includes seven countries or territories; (7) Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Western Sahara (8). However, in EU discourse, and in this article, when one refers to North Africa countries, refers to the Southern neighbors of Europe (9), where their borders are on the Mediterranean and geographically in Africa.

The reason for the many but not lucrative efforts for an effective cooperation between the two shores of the Mediterranean, is that the objectives of the northern and southern Mediterranean countries are different. For the EU, the other countries of the Mediterranean are sources of asymmetric threats and have to reach the West principals. In contrast, for the southern Mediterranean countries, all these necessary reforms are not only an excuse used by EU to avoid contributing to their development, but also a great opportunity to mix in their interior.

As Browning and Joenniemi argue “questions of the Union’s borders (…) cannot be separated from questions regarding the Union’s security”. The EU has adopted the “more for more” and “less for less” principle, or in other words ‘more funds for more reform’ approach (10).

Before assessing the coherent ENP management towards the North Africa countries, it is essential to present an overview of the agreements that ENP has achieved:

We can observe that the ENP is not yet ‘activated’ for Algeria and Libya. An Action Plan with Algeria – the EU’s fifth-largest energy supplier and a strategic partner- is currently under negotiation. Cooperation between the partners focuses on political and socio-economic reforms and the fight against corruption, since Algeria has expressed growing concerns about the nexus between drug traffickers and jihadists operating in southern Algeria (11).

The negotiations for a EU–Libya framework agreement was suspended in February 2011 and has yet to be resumed. “There is no overstating the chaos of post-Qaddafi Libya; two competing governments claim legitimacy”, frequent electric outages, little business activity, and a loss in revenues from oil by 90% (12).

Egypt made limited progress in implementing the Action Plan, especially on sustainable democracy. Regarding the human rights, the continued use of the death penalty, executions and the restrictions on civil society are of concern_. The ‘Implementation of the ENP in Egypt Progress and recommendations for actions (2014)’ is characterized by political, security and economic challenges for the country (13).

The EU-Tunisia Taskforce in 2011 is the first of its kind to take place within the framework of the reformed ENP. To date, its economy is negatively affected by regional instability and an international environment of low growth, particularly in the EU (14). However, the country has made remarkable progress in the implementation of the action plan of the ENP, regarding the transition to democracy, the important role of civil society and mobility (15). On the contrary, Morocco has an ‘advanced status’ with the EU, as it has fully implemented, and moved beyond, their original action plans (16).

Despite their institutional differences, these regimes are in fact authoritarian. Their problems vary from the dysfunction of the state to the indifference and/or corruption of public officials. The gap that exists due to the absence of an active welfare state (17), come to meet Islamic organizations. Hence, the reforming of Southern neighbors is a complex, cross-sectorial exercise in stability, which should be tackled on a country-to-country basis.

Conclusion: ENP as Crisis management

The EU was unprepared for the tremendous dynamics of political change and the emergence of new actors that took place since 2011. In addressing the events, the revised ENP proclaimed the need for a new approach “to build and consolidate healthy democracies, pursue sustainable economic growth and manage cross-border links” and specifically “stronger political cooperation on […] security [and] conflict resolution matters” (18).

In theory, the ENP has a much stronger focus on security, clearer terms of conditionality and a far greater emphasis on the spreading of EU norms to the region (19). However, the reality is composed by major threats and challenges that European countries face in North Africa, including jihadism, transnational crime, and economic and political instability. Moreover, the inflow of irregular migration from North Africa to Europe poses significant challenges for Europe’s ability to control its own borders. In that way, in my opinion, the EU has replaced security with the decrease of illegal migration from the South. These countries’ successful transition to democracy is crucial to stability in the EU’s southern neighborhood, and thus to the EU’s security; the opposite cannot be achieved.

Placing the ENP’s political leadership directly under the authority of the high representative for foreign affairs and security policy could be a significant first step that would strengthen the ENP (20). However, the main problem is not the ‘placing’ of the ENP in the policy map, but the fact that both Mediterranean European states and East European states push for fostering different policy dimensions/ aspects depending on their interests.

A closer look at the geographical scope of the ENP to North Africa and the EU’s interest, reveals that the reviewed ENP does not address the engaging with/or have an impact on countries, which are reluctant about/or uninterested in stronger relations with the EU. Thus, the present ENP approach is questioned on two concrete counts. First, the engagement is not intensive enough and does not allow for the long-term structural transformation of the partner countries of the ENP (21). Second, the current EU approach does not allow the union to respond adequately to rapidly changing circumstances. Even budgetary support takes many months to be agreed (22).
The lack of unity and coherence in the EU’s foreign policy is undermining the potential leverage and power the EU could have in responding to external crises, like in Libya. This example shows that member states generally support the EU’s positions and principles, but continue to follow their own national agendas, pursuing bilateral action rather than coordinated efforts.

In order to be effective, the EU has to strengthen the regional and multilateral instruments of the ENP; engaging the entire neighborhood as a whole, otherwise, does not make sense in view of its differentiation policy (23). It is of high priority for the EU to rethink the type of relations between the two shores, and not just the forms, methods and tools to exercise political conditionality. As the HR/VP Federica Mogherini states at the Informal Ministerial meeting with Southern partners on the future of ENP: “We are all neighbors, equally. This is a common interest, a common responsibility, a collective responsibility”. (24)


1. Crombois, J.F. (2007) The European neighbourhood policy and the EU actions in the field of conflict management: Comparing eastern Europe and the. Available at:
2. Montgomery, T.M. (2006) European neighbourhood policy. Available at:
3. Christou, G. (2010) European Union security logics to the east: the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Eastern Partnership. European Security, 19 (3), pp. 423-425
4. Hellenic Republic: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, External Relations – European Neighbourhood Policy. Available at:
5. The Action Plans are policy documents designed to identify the priorities of the reforms, reflecting each partner’s needs and capacities, as well as their and the EU’s interests. See further: Taylor & Francis, The European Union, Civil Society and Conflict, edited by Natalie Tocci, 2011.
6. European Commission – Press release: Towards a new European Neighborhood Policy: the EU launches a consultation on the future of its relations with neighboring countries, 04 March 2015. Available at:
7. (2014) United Nations statistics division- standard country and area codes classifications (M49). Available at:
8. The disputed territory of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) is mostly administered by Morocco.
9. MENA includes Middle East, a region centered on Western Asia and Egypt, and Maghreb countries, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya (often Mauritania and Western Sahara). I discuss about North Africa countries geographically, thus, I include the Maghreb countries and Egypt.
10. EU support for its southern neighborhood:
11.Balfour, R. (no date) EU Conditionality after the Arab spring. Available at:
2.Anderson, Jon Lee (2015). Letter from Libya. The Unravelling”. The New Yorker. Retrieved 18 February 2015. Available at:
3. European Commission: Implementation of the European Neighborhood Policy in Egypt Progress in 2014 and recommendations for actions:
4. COMM (2015) PEV rapport de Suivi 2014 – Tunisie. Available at:
5. Tunisie ENP report 2015 en (2015) Available at:
6. Commission européenne – Fiche d’information PEV Rapport de Suivi 2014 – Maroc:
7. Holger Weiss, Social Welfare In Muslim Societies In Africa 2002 P14 Available at:
8. Cameron F. & R. Balfour, The European Neighbourhood Policy as conflict prevention tool. EPC Issue Paper 47, June 2006. Available at:
9. Pace, M. (2007). Norm shifting from EMP to ENP: the EU as a norm entrepreneur in the south?. Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 20(4), 659-663. See also, Kausch, K. & Youngs, R. (2009). The End of the ‘Euro-Mediterranean vision, International Affairs, 85(5), pp. 963-965.
20 Lehne, S. (2014) Time to reset the European neighborhood policy. Carnegie europe. Available at:
21. Monastiriotis, V. and Borrell, M. (2012) Political and political economy literature. Available at:
22. Qvale K. (2015) It’s time to review the EU’s foreign policy and crisis management. Available at:
23. Lehne, S. (2014) Time To Reset The European Neighborhood Policy. Available at:
24. (2015) EU@UN – opening speech by HRVP Mogherini at the ministerial meeting with southern partners on the future of European neighbourhood policy. Available at: