Germany’s Approach to ENP
BERLIN—Germany was never a champion of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and has traditionally been more engaged with Eastern Europe than the Southern Mediterranean. For historical, geopolitical and economic reasons, Germany was a strong supporter of EU enlargement toward Central and Eastern Europe, but its engagement with a coherent EU policy toward the Eastern neighbors of the European Union after 2004 remained limited. Beyond the ENP Plus initiative of 2006, which was designed to strengthen the policy but remained of marginal consequence, it backed Poland and Sweden’s Eastern Partnership proposal in 2009, while maintaining its preference for bilateral trade and political relations with individual countries. It is only since the shock caused by Russia’s annexation of Crimea and resulting destabilization in Eastern Europe that Germany started to take a greater interest in the EU’s policy set-up with its neighbors, including in the just-released review process of the ENP. Given Germany’s relative resilience to the political, financial, and economic crises in the EU and its traditional ties with Russia, as well as the lack of alternative leaders, Germany has taken the lead on negotiations with Russia and Ukraine, together with France, and is playing a key role in keeping the EU united on its strategy toward stabilizing its Eastern neighborhood.
Germany’s strong trade performance relies on a stable European neighborhood, both in terms of security order, energy provision, and export markets. Until 2014, Berlin believed that political and legal stability in the neighborhood was a key component of a rules-based security order to which Russia seemed to adhere. The assumption behind the EU’s “modernization partnership” with Russia, strongly pushed by Germany, was that a degree of peaceful convergence between the EU and Russia could also provide a comparatively stable framework for Eastern Europe. Despite Germany’s close dialogue with Russia, Berlin did not anticipate the U-turn in the Kremlin. After the annexation of Crimea, the German approach to Ukraine and Russia prioritizes three elements: EU sanctions on Russia, dialogue with Russia and Ukraine in the Normandy format, and support for Ukraine both bilaterally and on the EU level. Germany has welcomed the trilateral talks between the EU, Russia, and Ukraine in order to successfully implement the Association Agreement and Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) with Ukraine.
With Germany and France leading the Russia-Ukraine crisis and the broader approach to Russia, the Federal Foreign Office has also engaged more actively in the review of ENP, with the Association Agreement considered the centerpiece of EU policy and the trade component seen as a stabilizing factor in the region. In the medium and long term, Germany seeks to accommodate the European Economic Area with the Eurasian Customs Union so that the EU’s Eastern partners do not need to choose between closer association with the EU and trade with Russia. But Berlin remains reluctant to offer Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia a membership perspective — in contrast with other countries in Central Europe.
In the Southern Mediterranean, Germany was mainly interested in business and cultural ties in North Africa, and maintains a special position toward Israel. But the unfolding refugee crisis has recently driven stronger German engagement. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey in order to gain President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s support in containing the refugee crisis and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s recent trip to the Middle East to look for common ground on Syria can be seen as first signs pointing in that direction. In the context of the ENP debate, the Federal Foreign Office has stressed the need to take into account the “neighbors of our neighbors” more explicitly and promote regional cooperation among the ENP countries in order to find sustainable solutions.
On ENP reform more broadly, Germany promotes a stronger politicization of the policy, linking Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and ENP more closely and making ENP Action Plans more strategic and flexible. This position also acknowledges the current prioritization of security and stability compared to democratic transformation in Europe’s neighborhood. At the same time, German policymakers emphasize that Germany still supports the idea of comprehensive political and economic partnerships. Stricter adherence to conditionality and the “more for more” principle should be achieved in the allocation of financial resources from the European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI). This focus on soft power very much complies with the German conviction that stability and democracy can be enhanced by strengthening people-to-people contacts, trade, and political cooperation, and resonates with German public opinion. Finally, Germany calls for a stronger differentiation of the policy, with tailor-made approaches toward individual countries seen as a means to accommodate both the different levels of ambition and willingness to reform, and the geopolitical and security context of each country.
Anna-Lena Kirch is a Research Assistant in GMF’s Europe Program in Berlin. Dr. Daniela Schwarzer is GMF’s Senior Director for Research and Director of the Europe Program.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.