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European Law Monitor NewsEuropean Neighbourhood Policy: visa facilitation, conditionality and supporting civil society are key, say MEPs

The European Parliament adopted a report in plenary today assessing the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). The House noted that although some common threads such as visa facilitation and the encouragement of civil society and people-to-people contacts existed, the Eastern, potentially candidate, countries and the Southern Mediterranean Neighbourhood countries needed to be dealt with in quite different ways.

The report "expresses doubt about the meaningfulness of the ENP's geographic scope, as it involves countries which geographically are European together with Mediterranean non-European countries." For this reason, it advocates that "the unified implementation of the policy take as much account as possible of the differing identities of all the countries covered by the ENP." The report was drafted by two rapporteurs, with Charles Tannock (EPP-ED, Conservative, London, UK) dealing with Eastern European Neighbourhood, and Raimon Obiols i Germa (PES, ES) responsible for the Southern Mediterranean Neighbourhood.
Speaking in the debate on 14 November in Strasbourg, Mr Tannock said: "It is self-evident that everybody needs good neighbours. In an uncertain and ever-changing world, the EU needs to develop good and enhanced relationships with countries on its periphery that are based on security, stability and mutual benefit to all. So far the European Neighbourhood Policy is proving to be a valuable tool in this process, in creating a ring of friends aimed at improved trade, travel and political cooperation, particularly against terrorism and people trafficking. But, of course, of utmost importance are the shared values and in particular reinforcing democracy, the rule of law and human rights as our main priority."

Eastern European Neighbourhood

On the former, the report notes that "democratic neighbours who are clearly identifiable as European countries and who respect the rule of law may in principle [...] apply for membership of the Union." It believes that the gradual integration of the EU's Eastern neighbours into the European Energy Community should be pursued, and also suggests the setting-up of an "EU-Neighbourhood-East Parliamentary Assembly (EURO-NEST)" to strengthen parliamentary cooperation. The report also underlines the need for stronger EU involvement in the resolution of so-called frozen conflicts, and condemns the continued human rights violations and the use of the death penalty in Belarus.

Southern Mediterranean Neighbourhood

On the latter, the committee says human rights clauses' implementation mechanisms need to be included in the next-generation accords that will be signed between the EU and countries in the region, and regrets that so far, no substantial progress has been made in terms of democracy or human rights since the beginning of the European-Mediterranean Partnership. The report also notes that any new initiatives for the region need to involve a relaunch of the Euro-Mediterranean Parliamentary Assembly (EMPA), with a serious look at its difficulties of the past few years.

General framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy

For both regions, the Parliament stresses that "conditionality can constitute an appropriate incentive for acceleration of reform processes in the ENP countries towards their convergence with the EU if conceived positively, and differentiated according to the country's specific needs and capacities." MEPs also underline that "respect for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms is the core principle of EU policy," and say that civil society and a free media must be supported everywhere, "regardless of the degree of willingness of partner countries' governments to cooperate and to share in these values."
Members welcome the longer-term aim of establishing a neighbourhood-wide free trade area and advocate that visa facilitation and readmission agreements be negotiated with all ENP countries. The report emphasises the importance of people-to-people contacts, for instance, by involving ENP countries in the Erasmus Mundus student exchange programme and by encouraging the Commission to set up city and region-twinning programmes.

Further information:

Strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy
Text, as adopted by the EP on 15 November, will shortly be available here