The future of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and enlargement

The Netherlands considers it important to itself and the EU to be surrounded by a ring of prosperous and democratic neighbours.[1] In a national context, it promotes this goal through initiatives such as the Matra Social Transformation Programme and the Ministry of Economic Affairs’ PSI programme.[2] Stabilisation of the eastern neighbourhood is relatively high on the Dutch policy agenda. Needless to say, this cannot be explained by geographical reasons. Instead, considerations about eastern countries being potential trading partners, as well as energy transporters, provide the incentive to engage with this region.

The Netherlands is of the strong opinion though that stabilisation does not require a membership perspective, and considers the ENP not to be about enlargement. Rather, it provides an alternative. It believes that both the eastern ENP countries and the EU are not ready for enlargement.[3] The government is especially concerned about the public opinion. Fear for more countries joining the ‘club’ was one of the reasons why the Dutch population voted ‘No’ in the referendum on the Constitutional Treaty.[4]

The government has given thought to other forms of partnerships for the six eastern countries, which in theory are eligible for membership but currently lack such a perspective. It supports the idea of a so-called ”partenariat”; an intensive, tailor-made relationship with the EU within which the ENP ”reaches its full potential”.[5] In the eyes of the government, the future of the ENP lies in constituting a framework for these kinds of partnerships. Conveniently they, at the same time, keep attention away from enlargement.

The Netherlands considers the newly proposed Eastern Partnership to be an actual example of what a ”partenariat” might entail, and has consequently shown support for the initiative. It believes the policy to be an effective catalyst for reform with regard to the eastern neighbours. It is happy though that a membership perspective has been excluded from the European Commission’s proposal.[6]

The government has witnessed a trend in the ENP towards differentiation which it very much welcomes, and of which it hopes to see more in the future. For those countries that have shown significant progress, there is now a broad range of options to further strengthen their ties with Europe. Where in the beginning, the ENP involved mainly the action plans, now there is the possibility of incorporating (parts of) the acquis, establishing deep and comprehensive free trade agreements, as well as participating in European agencies and cooperation in the field of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.[7]

For the Netherlands, the conflict in Georgia of last August has reaffirmed the need for profound relations with the eastern neighbourhood. Modernisation of Georgia is considered to be vital for the security of the region as a whole and Europe. Although hesitantly, it has been indicated by the government that Russian opposition to eastern countries becoming EU members, contributes to the Dutch opposition to eastern enlargement. Foreign Minister Verhagen has stated that partnership rather than membership is more desirable as “this is more acceptable to Russia (less emphasis on incorporation into the EU and spheres of influence)”.[8]

Even though the future of the ENP is of relatively high salience to the Dutch government, the issue is not often dealt with in the Dutch media. What is covered more extensively, is enlargement outside the context of the ENP, namely with regard to the (potential) candidate countries.

The government’s approach towards membership for the (potential) candidate countries is cautious. This can again be explained by public opposition to further enlargement. A national opinion poll conducted in 2007 showed that 59 percent disagrees with the statement that ‘the EU should let more countries join’ and that 49 percent believes that ‘the EU has become too big’.[9]

Even though the government ”sticks to agreements already made with candidate countries”, it puts strong emphasis on the requirement that all conditions should be met before these countries can become members. It identifies this policy as “strict but fair”.[10] It specifically attaches importance to the fulfilment of the political Copenhagen criteria.

The Netherlands considers ‘the pace of approximation to the EU’ to be dependent on the extent to which the necessary reforms are implemented by the (potential) candidate countries. In this light, it is opposed to naming specific dates for (steps towards) membership. The fact that the Commission, in its ”Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2008-2009”[11], indicates 2009 as the year for new steps in the enlargement process of Serbia and Croatia, was very critically received by the government.[12] It was satisfied that this objection was later reflected in the conclusions of the General Affairs and External Relations Council of 8 and 9 December 2008, in which the date was no longer mentioned.

The Netherlands also strongly believes that the EU itself should be institutionally ready, before any new members join. The government has indicated to have a strong political preference for the Lisbon Treaty to be adopted first, before further enlargement takes place.[13]

The country that has been covered by the Dutch media most is Serbia. The Netherlands, together with Belgium, blocks the entering into force of the (already signed) Stabilisation and Association Agreement. It is willing only to lift this block when Serbia cooperates fully with the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague. The Netherlands believes this not to be the case at the moment. Foreign Minister Verhagen has indicated that Serbia needs to better protect witnesses of the ICTY as well as cooperate in the arrest of suspected war criminals Mladić and Hadžić.[14]

Media attention has also been given to Croatia’s membership process. At present, the Netherlands considers the country not ready to join the EU. Minister for European Affairs, Timmermans, has stressed that Croatia has to cooperate with the ICTY with regard to getting access to documents that the Tribunal needs in the case against ex-general Gotovina.[15] It also needs to undertake reforms in the field of the judiciary and competition, according to the Netherlands.

Recently, there has been some media coverage of the possible interest of Iceland to join the EU.[16] The country, and its deploring economic situation, is followed closely by Dutch press after the bankruptcy of its banking sector. This also negatively affected Dutch consumers and local authority who put their savings on Icelandic banks, such as through the popular “Icesave” branch, which entered the market only recently, whilst promising high interest rates. Enlargement with Iceland does not provoke questions with regard to a negative public opinion, neither is it expected to be difficult since the country through the European Economic Area agreement, has already incorporated the vast majority of the acquis communautaire.

NATO – Georgia and Ukraine not ready for membership

As became clear during the NATO meeting in December last year, the Netherlands is opposed to offering Membership Action Plans (MAPs) to Georgia and Ukraine. It believes that at this stage, it is premature to take such a step. In the Dutch view, far-reaching reforms are needed before the countries are ready to receive a membership perspective. Georgia still needs to push through major reforms in the areas of foreign and security policy, press freedom and the independence of the judiciary.[17] With regards to Ukraine, the Netherlands is worried about the internal political situation and the lack of support for membership amongst a big part of the population.[18]

Foreign Minister Verhagen has indicated that if a country joins NATO while it is not ready, the alliance could be undermined. He does not support the argument of some countries that a MAP-status is the key to stimulating the necessary reforms. He believes this to work the other way around.[19] The government was satisfied with the agreement of the NATO meeting in December to intensify support for reforms in the framework of the NATO-Georgia and NATO-Ukraine Commissions.

NATO enlargement receives more attention in the media than the future of the ENP. Opinion makers generally agree with the position of the Dutch government on the matter, but are often more outspoken about the need to take into careful consideration the role of Russia in the eastern neighbourhood.[20]

 

 

 

[1] Staat van de Europese Unie 2008-2009, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2008-2009, 31 702, nrs. 1-2, 16 September 2008; Raad Algemene Zaken en Externe Betrekkingen, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2008-2009, 21 501-02, nr. 859.
[2] PSI stands for Private Sector Investment.
[3] Kamerbrief betreffende notitie inzake het Europees Nabuurschapsbeleid, 28 July 2008; BNC-fiche 10: Mededeling inzake het Oostelijk Partnerschap, 7 January 2009.
[4] See e.g.: Kees Aarts and Henk van der Kolk (eds.): Nederlanders en Europa; het referendum over de Europese grondwet, Amsterdam 2005.
[5] Kamerbrief betreffende notitie inzake het Europees Nabuurschapsbeleid, 28 July 2008; see also: Kamerbrief over de notitie inzake het partenariaat, 14 May 2008.
[6] BNC-fiche 10: Mededeling inzake het Oostelijk Partnerschap, 7 January 2009.
[7] Staat van de Europese Unie 2008-2009, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2008-2009, 31 702, nrs. 1-2; Staat van de Europese Unie 2007-2008, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2007-2008, 31 202, nr. 29.
[8] Raad Algemene Zaken en Externe Betrekkingen, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2008-2009, 21 501-02, nr. 859.
[9] Europese Verkenning 6, Europa’s buren, Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau, Den Haag 2008.
[10] Staat van de Europese Unie 2008-2009, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2008-2009, 31 702.
[11] European Commission: Enlargement Strategy and Main Challenges 2008-2009, COM(2008) 674 final, 5 November 2008, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/enlargement/pdf/press_corner/key-documents/reports_nov_2008/strategy_paper_incl_country_conclu_en.pdf (last access: 26 February 2009).
[12] Kamerbrief inzake de geannoteerde agenda RAZEB van 8 en 9 december 2008, 28 November 2008.
[13] Appreciatie Uitbreidingspakket Europese Unie, Brief van de Minister en de Staatssecretaris van Buitenlandse Zaken, Tweede Kamer, vergaderjaar 2008-2009, 23 987, nr. 93.
[14] NRC Handelsblad: Servië vraagt lidmaatschap EU aan (Serbia applies for EU membership), 2 January 2009.
[15] NRC Handelsblad: Timmermans: Kroatië niet rijp voor EU-lidmaatschap (Timmermans: Croatia not ready for EU membership), 4 December 2008.
[16] NRC Handelsblad: IJsland kan in 2011 bij EU (Iceland may join the EU in 2011), 30 January.
[17] Press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 28 November 2008, available at: http://www.minbuza.nl/en/news/newsflashes,2008/11/Verhagen-says-NATO-enlargement-premature.html (last access: 22 January 2009).
[18] Trouw: Verhagen: ‘Oekraïne en Georgiё niet klaar voor NAVO’ (Verhagen: Ukraine and Georgia not ready for NATO), 27 November 2008.
[19] Press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 28 November 2008, available at: http://www.minbuza.nl/en/news/newsflashes,2008/12/Ukraine-and-Georgia-not-ready-for-new-step-to-NATO.html (last access: 22 January 2009).
[20] See e.g.: Jaap de Zwaan: Europa moet relatie met Rusland koesteren (Europe needs to cherish relationship with Russia), De Volkskrant, 20 August 2008; Thomas von der Dunk: Saakasjvili maakt NAVO-uitbreiding onmogelijk (Saakasjvili makes NATO enlargement impossible), De Volkskrant, 19 September 2008.