The ENP and its Political Conditionality Instrument: is it ineffective?

, by Momin Badarna

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The ENP and its Political Conditionality Instrument: is it ineffective?
EEAS // Flickr. Press conference after the Libya Quartet meeting: UN envoy to Libya Martin Kobler, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abul-Gheit and African Union special envoy to Libya Jakaya Kikwete.

Neighbours of Europe

The former president of the European Commission (EC) Romano Prodi had his ambitions to create what he called “a ring of friends surrounding the Union, from Morocco to Russia and the Black Sea”. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was launched in 2004 in order to foster the security and the stability of the European Unions’ (EU) closest neighbours.

The programme started to be implemented in 2005, and there have been major political, economic and regime changes in the Southern Neighbourhood countries. Also since then, the ENP has had two major reviews, which occurred in 2011 and 2015. In both these years, the situation of those countries could not have been worse - changing in regimes, governments lost the trust of the people and new terrorist groups appeared, which led to several civil wars that opened many questions criticizing the EU and its ENP.

However, before advancing, we have to acknowledge that the ENP was not created as a policy of crisis management. It was only meant to manage the EU’s general approach to its neighbours. Nonetheless, what happened during and after the Arab Spring was a total crisis, thousands of irregular migrants fleeing to Europe, terrorist groups appeared on the radar, all of which caused the EU to review the ENP in 2015 and to shift its spotlight to one critical aspect - the stabilization of the region during the next three to five years.

The dark side of conditionality

Since the launch of the ENP in 2004, and its subsequent implementation in 2005, the element of conditionality was intended to be used in order to shape the economic priorities and the action plan. Moreover, it was meant to ensure that partner countries have enough incentives to commit and carry out political and economic reforms. However, following the ENP review of 2011, the EU introduced the ‘more for more’ and ‘less for less’ approach in order to pressure partner countries to commit to the EU values and political reforms, as it was stated in the 2011 revision: “Increased EU support to its neighbours is conditional. It will depend on progress in building and consolidating democracy and respect for the rule of law.”

Conditionality, one of the ENP instruments, is defined according to R. Balfour as:

A complex set of issues including the ability to attach strings to demands, the linkages between political demands and economic incentives, the attraction and credibility of these incentives for them to be effective; the ability of the EU system, including its member states, to coordinate and deliver such incentives by offering assistance and more financial support for progress and sanctions for the lack thereof. Then, theoretically, political conditionality of the ENP was meant to pressure dictators in order to create a political reform.

Nonetheless, Libya clearly had its bargaining power, which was enough to prevent the EU from imposing its conditionality instruments. What was special about Libya that the EU could not encourage a political reform and enhance the rule of law and democracy before and after the Arab spring? When looking at the EU-Libya relations, one can notice two very important factors: oil and migration. Libya is the 3rd largest oil producer in Africa and an important supplier for Europe.

EU imports from the north-African country are dominated by petroleum and petroleum products, amounting to be 11.4 billion EUR. Therefore, Libya still maintains its value for the EU as a fundamental energy exporter. As the EU maintains a dependency on Libyan natural resources, the bargaining power of Libya in negotiations with the EU is increased.

In this case, the EU is left with few options - shall they increase their dependency on Russia’s energy and natural resources? Or will the EU reduce the level of conditionality with Libya in order to decrease its dependency on Russia? Both these options transfer more power to the Libyan government, enabling Libya to refrain from engaging in any agreement that requires political reform.

With respect to the second factor, migration, Libya is considered as a major source for irregular migrants fleeing to Europe. Libya’s cooperation is needed for the EU to tackle migration and prevent irregular migrants from arriving in Europe through Libya.

This makes up the second dimension in which Libya has an increased bargaining power in relation to the EU. Both of these aforementioned factors mean that the Libyan government has more bargaining power than other ENP members, which enables it to drift away from the ENP’s conditionality. As a result, the EU has few opportunities to push Libya on the path of stability, political reform or democracy.

Political conditionality represented in the ‘3 Ms’ (more money, market access and mobility) is a positive side of the ENP, which functions well with those countries interested in reform and which have the political will to enhance democracy, protection of Human Rights and the rule of law, countries such as Tunisia and Morocco.

However, conditionality is less effective when the EU is dealing with a country which is neither interested in strengthening its ties to the Union nor willing to commit to a reform, such as Libya. In order for political conditionality to work and lead to positive results, the EU should have influence and leverage over the partner country, two factors which are missing in the case of Libya, as it has been shown.

The EU’s role

Overall, the EU lacks meaningful tools to act in the case of a partner country which is not willing to cooperate or commit to reform. However, the Union should try to offer more attractive incentives to those partners who show even a little interest. Furthermore, this has to be combined with flexibility, which means that each partner should be offered different incentives and rewards depending on their needs and interests. Only in this way, the conditionality instrument can function more effectively and thus, those partners will be more likely to co-operate with the EU.

In conclusion, the conditionality element can be ineffective when dealing with a country which does not view the EU’s incentives as rewarding enough. However, in order to overcome this difficulty, the EU should try to strengthen its leverage and influence over the partner countries through its trade incentives, something which countries such as Libya lack the most.

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