The EU and it’s neighborhood: a ‘ring of friends’

The ques­tion of the EU’s enlarge­ment and neigh­bour­hood pol­i­cy has been one of the cen­tral fea­tures of the Union since it began. Since the last EU–Watch Croa­t­ia suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed its acces­sion process and became the 28th Euro­pean Union (EU) mem­ber state. Cur­rent­ly Turkey, along with Mon­tene­gro and Ser­bia, is in acces­sion pro­ceed­ings. While the lat­ter have their own hur­dles in the acces­sion process, Turkey’s case is inter­est­ing how­ev­er, as the coun­try con­tin­ues to be plagued by a demo­c­ra­t­ic deficit, which hin­ders the acces­sion process. The Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood pol­i­cy was put in place in 2004 and has played a sig­nif­i­cant role in cre­at­ing part­ner­ships with the EU’s neigh­bours and dis­sem­i­nat­ing the val­ues of democ­ra­cy, rule of law and the impor­tance of human rights. In 2014 the main focus of the ENP has been on the East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries and the aggres­sions of Rus­sia in the Ukraine. Rus­sia rela­tions have been soured by the gov­ern­men­t’s annex­a­tion of the Crimean penin­su­la. Part­ner authors were asked about the per­cep­tion of Rus­sia in their coun­try, the role of the East­ern Part­ner­ship in light of the Ukrain­ian cri­sis and how Turkey’s acces­sion prospects are viewed.

Russia: between condemnations and vital interests

Since the annex­a­tion of the Crimean Penin­su­la by Rus­sia in ear­ly 2014, much of Europe’s atten­tion has been on its largest east­ern neigh­bour. The ques­tion of how to deal with Rus­si­a’s actions has been hot­ly debat­ed through­out the rest of 2014. The EU showed an unusu­al amount of uni­ty in con­demn­ing Rus­si­a’s actions. Speak­ing with one voice for almost the first time in regards to a major inter­na­tion­al con­flict the 28 EU mem­ber states con­demned Russia’s annex­a­tion of the Crimean penin­su­la and refused to rec­og­nize the penin­su­la as Russ­ian. The Crimean cri­sis, as it has been called, has put the rela­tion­ship between all EU mem­ber states and Rus­sia to an impor­tant test.

Cur­rent­ly the EU and oth­er major coun­tries includ­ing the Unit­ed States have agreed to sanc­tions against key play­ers in the Russ­ian econ­o­my. These sanc­tions are seen as pun­ish­ing the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment for its con­tin­ued role in the Ukrain­ian cri­sis. While in coun­tries far removed from the Russ­ian bor­der such as the Unit­ed King­dom and Por­tu­gal Rus­sia is almost a non-top­ic, oth­er coun­tries clos­er to the bor­der such as the Baltic coun­tries and some of the Nordic coun­tries clear­ly per­ceive Rus­sia as a threat. Dis­cus­sion of the sanc­tions is found in almost all EU mem­ber states. While most coun­tries sup­port the sanc­tions they are con­cerned about the impact on their domes­tic economies. Almost all East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries and most of the cen­tral Euro­pean coun­tries are con­cerned about their bilat­er­al rela­tions with Rus­sia. This is due to the fact that Rus­sia is the biggest investor in many EU coun­tries, espe­cial­ly the more East­ern ones where Russ­ian invest­ment far out­weighs that of oth­er neigh­bour­ing states. The gen­er­al con­sen­sus is that, while a solu­tion must be found to the Russ­ian prob­lem, it should be nego­ti­at­ed peace­ful­ly and with “zero conflict”.

A zero con­flict solu­tion is also impor­tant in terms of the ener­gy trade with Rus­sia. The EU’s ener­gy depen­dence on Rus­sia only com­pli­cates the mat­ter fur­ther. Gas from Rus­sia pow­ers the EU espe­cial­ly in the East­ern states where in some coun­tries as much as 100 per­cent of nat­ur­al gas is import­ed from Rus­sia. Due to this depen­dence it is nec­es­sary to nego­ti­ate peace­ful­ly so as not to affect the flow of ener­gy. The EU mem­ber states are also active­ly work­ing towards diver­si­fy­ing ener­gy sources to reduce this depen­den­cy and to reduce the impact of poten­tial­ly more effec­tive sanc­tions. In short, the EU mem­ber states are in accor­dance that the rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia must remain good.

Rethinking the Eastern Partnership

In light of the cri­sis in Ukraine, not only the rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia has been dis­cussed but also that with the East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. The East­ern Part­ner­ship is a project embed­ded in the Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy but focused on the East­ern neigh­bours. The Ukrain­ian cri­sis has put the East­ern Part­ner­ship to a test and sparked dis­cus­sion about its ben­e­fits and draw­backs. Espe­cial­ly Cen­tral and East­ern Euro­pean mem­ber states call for a stronger East­ern Part­ner­ship. Although the East­ern Part­ner­ship does not imply enlarge­ment some of the small­er West­ern mem­ber states are opposed to any enlarge­ment as they see it as a threat to their already low lev­el of pow­er as a small state. In con­trast to this most of the East­ern mem­ber states are in favour of the expan­sion of the East­ern Part­ner­ship in order to pro­vide the cur­rent part­ner coun­tries with long-term Euro­pean prospects.

While the East­ern Part­ner­ship is still seen as a means of pro­mot­ing democ­ra­cy in the East with­out hav­ing to offer EU acces­sion, the mem­ber states agree that the East­ern Part­ner­ship should in no way become an anti-Russ­ian project. In order to avoid crises such as the one in Ukraine Rus­sia must be involved in the Union’s rela­tions with East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries. Through dia­logu­ing with Rus­sia and try­ing to make the require­ments of the asso­ci­a­tion agree­ments com­pat­i­ble with pos­si­ble treaties already in place with Rus­sia the Part­ner­ship can be more effective.

Turkish EU membership: no immediate priority

The issue of Turk­ish acces­sion is also most­ly agreed upon. For most mem­ber states it is easy to fol­low the gen­er­al EU wide accep­tance due to stalling nego­ti­a­tions and a gen­er­al enlarge­ment fatigue.  Some of the larg­er West­ern coun­tries are not com­plete­ly for Turk­ish acces­sion and the remain­ing road­blocks allow them to remain as such with­out con­se­quence. Fur­ther­more, all mem­ber states are in agree­ment that there needs to be broad reform in Turkey’s polit­i­cal prob­lem zones of democ­ra­cy, free­dom of speech, and the rule of law. At this stage, the on-going acces­sion nego­ti­a­tions are seen as the key dri­ving force behind the coun­try’s nec­es­sary demo­c­ra­t­ic reforms.

The neighbourhood: between conflict and partnership

The cur­rent sta­tus of EU enlarge­ment and neigh­bour­hood pol­i­cy is large­ly coloured by the events in the Ukraine and the rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia. The EU and oth­er devel­oped nations have con­tin­ued to impose sanc­tions on Rus­sia and will con­tin­ue to do so until the Ukraine cri­sis is resolved. Due to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment elec­tions in May 2014 the roles of High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Euro­pean Com­mis­sion­er for Enlarge­ment and Euro­pean Neigh­bour­hood Pol­i­cy must be filled which will have an impact on the future direc­tion of the ENP and enlarge­ment pol­i­cy. The EU has recent­ly signed Asso­ci­a­tion Agree­ments and Deep and Com­pre­hen­sive Free Trade Agree­ments with Ukraine, Moldo­va and Geor­gia while the oth­er East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries are still nego­ti­at­ing. Mean­while, Turkey’s acces­sion plans are stag­nat­ing until the gov­ern­ment deals with its cit­i­zens’ basic rights. Cur­rent­ly, with the trou­bled neigh­bour­hood and the EU’s rela­tion­ship with Rus­sia steal­ing much of the spot­light, work on the ENP and the acces­sion prospects of East­ern Part­ner­ship coun­tries are tak­ing more minor roles in Euro­pean pol­i­tics through­out the EU.


Joris von Moltke: The EU and it’s neigh­bor­hood: a ‘ring of friends’, in: EU-28 Watch, Issue No. 10, July 2014. Accessed 05 Aug 2021

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2014. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2014. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 10 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.