The EU's strategy of offering neighbouring nations financial aid and other incentives to embrace reform is paying off.
A review of the European neighbourhood policy says it has strengthened trade and other ties between the EU and countries to the east and south. However the policy has been more successful in driving economic reform than in bringing about democratic change.
“What is essential for the future is to go up a gear on democratic and political reforms where progress has been real but generally slower,” said commissioner Štefan Füle.
The policy was introduced in 2004, the same year 10 countries – mostly in Central Europe - joined the union, shifting the border almost 1 000 kilometres to the east and reunifying Europe after decades of Cold War division. In reaching out to its new neighbours, the EU sought to prevent the emergence of new dividing lines in Europe and to foster security and stability on its borders.
The policy holds out the prospect of free-trade pacts, financial aid, help with energy security and visa-free travel to the EU. It applies to all the EU's nearest neighbours to the east and south except those covered by enlargement policy.
Today, the carrot approach is credited with forging cooperation in areas like trade, transport, energy, the environment, research and education. EU exports to the border countries rose 63% and imports nearly doubled over 2004-08, before the global economy soured.
Increasingly border countries are taking advantage of EU financial aid to help with reform. Assistance has increased 32% since the effort began, with €12bn earmarked for the policy over 2007-12.
Contacts between people on both sides of the border have increased, and travel to the EU is now easier from some countries, including Ukraine and Moldova. More than 2 million people from neighbouring countries were issued EU visas in 2008.
Concerning democracy and the rule of law, the EU is encouraged by elections in Ukraine, Moldova, Morocco and Lebanon. But the report says much remains to be done, with corruption still a major problem in many countries.