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: (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:,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:,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.