Two years into a new EU policy towards its neighbouring countries, the results are encouraging – but progress towards reforms and democracy remains uneven.
The European neighbourhood policy offers closer relations with the EU for 16 countries to its east and south. The countries benefit from greater trade, easier travel to and from the EU, and assistance in implementing reforms.
The goal is to promote prosperity, stability and security in the Mediterranean and in eastern Europe.
In 2011 the policy was re-launched with an increased focus on supporting both democracy and economic growth. The first report since then – ENP: Working towards a stronger partnership – highlights encouraging achievements in areas including trade and travel, but points out uneven progress towards political and democratic reforms.
The EU’s neighbours to the south are at different stages of democratic reform:
Neighbours to the east continue to follow very different routes. Some have continued reforms and held elections that generally complied with international standards. Elsewhere elections fell short of such standards.
Progress has been seen in trade, with new agreements under discussion with Moldova, Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Preparations are also underway for negotiations with Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan.
2012 saw significant progress towards visa-free travel between the EU and eastern Europe. Action plans are underway in several countries, while Armenia began waiving visas for EU citizens on 10 January 2013.
A total of €12 billion is available for the EU’s neighbourhood policy between 2007 and 2013. And despite the current economic crisis, grants and loans to the regions increased in 2012.
In addition to supporting political reforms, the money helps to better lives in practical ways. Projects have improved road safety and public transport, supported water management, financed studies abroad and introduced renewable energy.
Despite this, the latest EU Neighbourhood Barometer survey found that many people in these countries are unaware of the EU’s activities there – although they are generally positive about their country’s relations with the EU.