Good Neighbourliness: If Borders Were To Become Bonds

Article published on April 30, 2004
community published
Article published on April 30, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Transforming an area of instability into a ‘a ring of friends’. Brussels wants to make the proximity policy an instrument of foreign policy.

Europe’s new borders are the most visible effect of enlargement of the European Union. To the East, the new Union’s territorial borders will touch Russia and the recently independent states of Ukraine, Belarus and Moldavia. To the South, following the entry of Cyprus and Malta, the new EU will find itself opposite all the countries along the south and south-east Mediterranean coast.

Morocco in the single market?

But first and foremost, new borders mean new neighbours and the Union does not want to find itself unprepared for relations with the states which from May 1st will be overlooking its territory. On the contrary, it appears to be well intentioned with regard to arranging a new series of bilateral agreements with them, a range of agreements which will not simply be deepened but will involve understanding a new concept of neighbourly relations. The intention is to guarantee the structural stability of the area close to the new EU border. According to a statement by the Commission on March 11th 2003, it will offer to neighbouring countries nothing less than ‘the prospect of participation in the European single market and subsequent liberalisation and integration to promote the free movement of people, goods, services and capital’.

Don’t forget the role of Arab public opinion

Involving nearby interested countries on a level of parity guarantees greater realism – and therefore efficiency – regarding the conditions of alignment to community legislation laid down by the EU to enjoy the effects of opening up the single market. But the unbroken solicitation of the national legislation of these neighbouring countries could give rise to a significant amount of cultural resistance, especially in the Mediterranean countries. The Union’s action risks being perceived as an ‘invasion’ by public opinion in these countries. It is therefore becoming increasingly vital to draw up a moderate and progressive strategy, in terms of timing as much as scope, which avoids this possibility. In terms of timing, the Commission foresees a gradual application of the proximity policy, in two phases (2004-2006 and from 2007 onwards), which first works alongside already existing programmes and then replaces them, drawing up a single neighbourliness tool on an ad hoc legal and financial basis. Turning then to the scope of this policy, this tool needs to be provided with a maximum of flexibility in view of its differing use in neighbouring countries on political, legal and cultural levels.

Prodi: we will share ‘everything except the institutions’

The strategy of the new proximity policy is therefore trying to see to it that, as the President of the European Commission Romano Prodi has suggested, in the long term an EU of 25 and its neighbouring countries will share ‘everything except the institutions’.

But beyond its specific value, the new proximity policy presents different important changes. Firstly, the Commission’s aim with its proximity policy to unify the EU’s foreign relations in a single strategic plan is to be viewed positively. Systemising means defining the contours of action by the EU abroad with a maximum of clarity, and, in this respect, the proximity policy would make these contours more visible, helping to develop the CFSP which too often swings from one direction to another. But above all, the proximity policy reinforces the idea that the EU represents a historic new development model. In this respect, it is interesting to note how the European Parliament has considered it necessary to split the proximity policy proposed by the Commission in three areas: one of political, human, civil and cultural character; a second relating to internal and external security; and a third to the insignia of sustainable economic and social ‘co-development’.

The construction of the ‘ring of friends’ (Prodi) around the EU of 25 thus corresponds to a project which is not merely about a patron-client relationship between a cohesive block of technologically developed states and a series of poor and dependent one. Rather, it points to the creation of an area of commercial integration and of extremely close institutional co-operation on a level that really does make the old concept of borders as mere boundaries obsolete, and lays the foundations of a new concept of borders as bonds.