France’s Perspectives and Priorities for the European Neighborhood Policy
Photo: (BERTRAND LANGLOIS/AFP/GettyImages)
PARIS—The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) remains largely absent from the public and media foreign policy discussions in France. However, the recent security crises in Ukraine and the Mediterranean, the refugee crisis, and the latest terrorist attack in Paris have underlined the need to improve EU coordination in both the Eastern and Southern neighborhoods, and put the question of a common European foreign policy under the spotlight. In this context, France’s vision of the ENP can be described as pragmatic, differentiated, and flexible.
France defends a rather conservative and minimalist approach to the ENP, based on the deepening of economic and political cooperation rather than the assertive promotion of the European model in its neighborhood and integration. French officials, and President François Hollande himself, have repeatedly stated that the ENP “should not be designed in opposition to Russia.” While engaging with its Eastern neighbors, the European Union should remain aware of the Russian sensitivity of what Moscow considers its “near abroad.” The French administration refuses to see the negotiation for an Association Agreement with Kyiv as the cause of the conflict in Ukraine, but it opposes European actions and policies that could be perceived as provocation in the region.
As a result, Paris supports continuity in the ENP principles. First, the geographical scope of the ENP is pertinent and should not be revised. It supports a clear distinction between “partnership” and accession to the EU; the ENP should not be a vehicle for EU enlargement. Moreover France does not wish to see the conflict in Ukraine be a game-changer in the budgeting of the ENP, and the European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI) should not be the subject of a fundamental change. The ENI as it is currently designed is a budget tool that has proven its relevance, and its revision would lead the EU to long and useless negotiations.
Given its own strategic priorities, France wants to maintain a balanced approach to the Eastern and Southern neighborhoods. In fact, for both historical and societal reasons, France’s ENP policy has been mainly focused on the Mediterranean. In 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy launched the initiative for the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), which was designed to return the Mediterranean to the core of France’s and the EU’s geopolitical priorities, by claiming the “the future of Europe lies in the South,” rather than in the East. As with other Euro-Mediterranean initiatives, disagreements within the EU and among Mediterranean countries (Israeli-Palestinian conflict) and regional dynamics (2008 Gaza conflict, 2011 Arab revolutions, and the lack of new leadership in the region), combined with the 2008 economic and financial crisis, have not allowed the UfM to really take off. Despite the deep crises they currently face, Syria and Libya may be able, in the future, to benefit from a fruitful development partnership with the EU and should be kept as part of the ENP.
France also promotes a more pragmatic approach to the ENP, with increased flexibility to adapt to the variety of situations and issues that are faced in the European neighborhood. This pragmatism implies that the democratic values and the promotion of the rule of law should not prevent an intelligent cooperation with countries that are less advanced in these domains. From a French perspective, the EU needs to prioritize constant dialogue and exchanges with the ENP countries, and therefore avoid a too strict approach to its conditionality. Moreover, Paris values the possibility of a “two or three-speed ENP,” taking into account each country’s specificities to adapt the level of cooperation. France has developed closer cooperation with Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, while Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Belarus rank lower in priority. This enhanced differentiation should, however, respect the principle of unification that is crucial for Paris, in order not to marginalize the Southern neighbors from the more integrated Eastern neighbors. Consequently, financial tools have to be developed, in addition to the ENI, to respond quickly to rising crises and special needs.
France also sees the ENP as a way to engage and work with “the neighbors of our neighbors.” These countries, which include Central Asian, Gulf, and Sahel region countries, cannot be subject to the same terms of cooperation, but since most security, energy, and development issues have a regional dimension, the ENP should not miss the opportunity to have a comprehensive vision for its “larger neighborhood.”
Finally, the November 13 attacks in Paris will deeply affect French foreign policy in the near future, and it is likely that France will strongly promote enhanced security cooperation with its European partners. In his speech to the congress in Versailles on November 16, Hollande announced that the French minister of defense would use Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty and call for European solidarity against the self-proclaimed Islamic State group. The concrete implications for the ENP are yet to be defined, but the new importance given to its security dimension can already be expected.
As the French leadership assesses the multiplicity of threats surrounding the EU, France wants to encourage what it perceives as a realistic and practical European foreign policy. The wars in Ukraine and Syria, the refugee crisis, and the high risk of terrorist actions in European countries require embracing a pragmatic approach to the partnerships built with neighbors. From a French perspective, these partnerships are meant to focus on workable and concrete cooperation rather than the strict promotion of norms and values, and create a clear distinction between the EU enlargement process and the development of economic and political ties with countries that should not integrate with the EU in a foreseeable future.
Dr. Alexandra de Hoop Scheffer is a Senior Transatlantic Fellow and the Director of the Paris office of The German Marshall Fund of the United States. Martin Quencez is a Program and Research Assistant in GMF’s Paris office.
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The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.