Structural weakness of the European Neighbourhood Policy, strong and balanced relationship with Russia needed

In Italy, the issue of the future of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the enlargement of the EU is not of high salience as other European matters and therefore it has been debated much more at the level of think tanks and political elites than at the public opinion one.

Antonio Missiroli, director of studies at the “European Policy Centre”, believes that, after the Georgian crisis, the current ENP rationale is probably not adequate to meet the new challenges in this region.[1] In his opinion, this is due to the fact that the ENP still suffers from three “structural weaknesses”: “it is neither enlargement nor foreign policy proper, and cannot therefore bring to bear all the tools of either; it is seriously under-resourced and over-reflective of the EU self-interest, so that there is too little in it for the neighbours; and it continues to constitute a catalyst for the different geopolitical priorities of the 27, thus generating permanent internal tensions and, occasionally, even paralysis”[2].

Moreover, according to some analysts, the conflict in the Caucasus, notwithstanding the key role played by Nicolas Sarkozy and the EU, had the effect of weakening the European Union’s links with Georgia.[3] According to Andrea Carteny, Italian executive director of the “Italy-Rumanian Institute of Historical Studies” of the Babeş-Bolyai University, the Georgian government now seems much more oriented towards a ‘privileged axes’ with Washington and membership in NATO than in the European Union.[4] Other Italian observers have suggested that Georgia’s inclusion in NATO should be neither accelerated nor slowed down by the events of the last summer, but should still be based instead on objective criteria, which should never be put into question by contingent circumstances.[5]

It is a widely shared opinion that, in order to better define the future of the ENP and enlargement, a top priority for the EU should be to establish a balanced relationship with Russia. As Ettore Greco, director of the “International Affairs Institute”, stated in a speech held during a meeting of the Italy-Russia committee of the Italian parliament’s “Camera dei deputati”, “one of the most important lessons learnt from the last summer crisis is that it is necessary to work for a joint solution of the political and security problems which affect EU and Russia’s common neighbourhood”[6]. In fact, according to some Italian analysts, the conflict in the Caucasus revealed “how much the European neighbourhood is insecure”[7] and therefore showed the importance of an open policy towards Russia, instead of an antagonistic approach that would only be armful.

As some Italian observers underlined, the conflict in Georgia also had the effect of accelerating the project of Eastern Partnership promoted by Sweden and Poland to strengthen the relationship with the EU’s Eastern neighbours.[8] From the Italian point of view, this is a positive and ambitious project that nonetheless, needs to be balanced by the promotion of other European partnerships; for this reason, Italy still supports the Union for the Mediterranean. According to Michele Comelli of the “International Affairs Institute”, “it is important for the European Neighbourhood Policy framework to keep together at a level of principles both the Eastern and Southern neighbours, even if the policies towards the two different regions are necessarily differentiated”[9]. Italy is very interested in the development of the ENP, but it is important to guarantee “consistency between the ENP and the other strategies that the EU is undertaking in the same region (energy, migrations, EU/Africa)”[10].

When discussing the European Union’s enlargement after the Georgian crisis, another important element taken into account by Italian think tanks is the link that connects the region of the Caucasus to Turkey.[11] The Turkish government has played an important role in the post-conflict phase in this region, by proposing a platform for stability and cooperation in the Caucasus, open to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Russia.[12]

Turkey itself is now the other big question mark in the Italian approach towards the enlargement of the EU. As a recent study by the “International Affairs Institute” underlined, “Italy’s traditionally positive attitude towards Turkey’s entry into the European Union is unlikely to reverse in the foreseeable future”[13]. However, even if the prospect of Turkey’s membership has received wide bipartisan support at the political and business community level, the Italian public opinion has usually been less favourable toward it, due to its cultural and religious background.[14] Moreover, in the last few months, even the perspective of the political elite has changed as a consequence of the outcome of the 2008 Italian general elections. In fact, the Lega Nord, which is a eurosceptical and regionalist party, obtained a remarkable success and now controls key Ministries, including the Ministry of the Interior.[15] In June 2008, the recently appointed Minister of the Interior, Roberto Maroni, presented a resolution to the Italian parliament’s “Camera dei deputate” asking the government to call for an interruption of the negotiations on Turkish membership and to support, instead, Turkey’s inclusion in the Union for the Mediterranean.[16] This attitude will probably have an impact on the overall Italian perception of Turkey’s entry in the European Union.

It may be noted from this overview that in Italy the debate on the future of the European Union’s enlargement is still confined to the intellectual and political level, while the Italian public opinion does not seem to be very informed about it. For this reason, Italians’ opinions on this issue are sometimes influenced by prejudices and misperceptions. According to the last Eurobarometer 47 percent of Italians are in favour of further enlargement of the EU. When asked to give their opinion on single possible new candidate states, they were more sceptical: 58 percent are against the inclusion of Turkey and more or less the same percentage are opposed to the accession of the Balkan countries.[17]




[1] A. Missiroli: The guns of August, EPC Commentary, 4 September 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[2] Ibid.
[3] A. Carteny: Verso la Nato, ma a che prezzo?, Affari Internazionali, 24 August 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[4] Ibid.
[5] E. Alessandri: La partita a scacchi con mosca e i principi dell’ Occidente, Affari Internazionali 21 August 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[6] E. Greco: Il rapporto tra la Russia e l’Unione Europea: come rilanciare la cooperazione in vista del rinnovo dell’accordo di partenariato, Discorso tenuto in occasione della IX riunione della grande commissione Italia-Russia, in: camera dei Deputati, Documenti IAI 0830, Roma, 24/25 November 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[7] M. Comelli: Il nuovo orizzonte orientale dell’Unione Europea, Affari Internazionali, 5 December 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] G. Bochicchio: Stabilità e sicurezza ai confini dell’UE: la Politica Europea di Vicinato, in: Italianieuropei, 3/2008, p.66.
[11] N. Michelidze: Russia e Turchia nel labirinto del Caucaso meridionale, Affari Internazionali, 6 December 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009); C. Frappi: La Turchia e la Piattaforma per la Stabilità e la Cooperazione nel Caucaso, ISPI Policy Brief 106/2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[12] Ibid.
[13] E. Alessandri/E. Canan: “Mamma li turchi!”: just an old Italian saying, in: N. Tocci (ed.): Talking Turkey in Europe: towards a differentiated communication strategy, Quaderni IAI English Series, 13/2008, p.11.
[14] Ibid., pp. 11, 28.
[15] Ibid, p.12.
[16] See: Atto Camera: Risoluzione, in: Assemblea 6/00017, Seduta di annuncio 174, 21 June 2007, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[17] Standard Eurobarometer 69, Spring 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).