European Neighbourhood Policy
One of the key factors behind the development by the Directorate General for regional policy of relations with non EU countries is the solid contribution that the knowledge and experience we have acquired over more than 30 years can make to EU external policy. This has been recognised by the External Action service and by the Directorate Generals for Enlargement and Development Co-operation and takes a particularly positive form in the EU's relations with its closest neighbours.
With its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) for example, the EU is seeking to reinforce relations with neighbouring countries to the east and south in order to promote prosperity, stability and security at its borders.
At present, 16 partners are addressed by the ENP: Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, the Republic of Moldova, Morocco, the occupied Palestinian territory, Syria, Tunisia and Ukraine.
The ENP provides the EU with the means to deepen bilateral relations with these countries. The policy is based upon a mutual commitment to common values: democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development.
But the ENP also takes relations beyond standard cooperation or trade agreements to offer political association and deeper economic integration, increased mobility and increased people-to-people contacts.
The ENP is further supported by regional forms of cooperation such as the Eastern Partnership, the Union for the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea Synergy.
The Eastern Partnership
Successive EU enlargements have brought the countries of Eastern Europe and the southern Caucasus, particularly Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, closer to the EU. Their security, stability and prosperity increasingly impact on those of the EU. (The potential some of them offer for diversifying the EU’s energy supplies is just one example.)
All the countries, to varying degrees, are carrying out political, social and economic reforms, and have stated their wish to come closer to the EU. The conflict in Georgia in August 2008 confirmed how vulnerable they can be, and how the EU’s security begins outside our borders.
The European Commission's reaction was to develop the concept of an Eastern Partnership (EaP) with these countries to include deep and comprehensive free trade agreements where possible and visa liberalisation to accompany measures to counter illegal immigration. The EU agreed a number of priorities including the promotion of democracy and good governance, the strengthening of energy security, the promotion of sector reform and environmental protection, the encouragement of people to people contacts, support for economic and social development and additional funding for projects to reduce socio-economic imbalances and increase stability.
In its Communication on the EaP published in December 2008 the Commission referred specifically to cohesion policy, saying: "Some partners have structural problems stemming from sharp economic and social disparities between their regions”. The Communication stated that the EU proposed to conduct a regional policy dialogue with the partners and to cooperate with them on Pilot Regional Development Programmes (PRDP) modelled on EU cohesion policy.
The Joint Declaration of the Prague EaP Summit on 7 May 2009 confirmed this approach, undertaking to provide additional impetus to the economic, social and regional development of the partner countries. The declaration emphasised good governance, including in the financial sector, the promotion of regional development and social cohesion and help in reducing partner countries’ socio-economic disparities. Following the third Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, last 28-29 November 2013, EU's association agreements (including deep and comprehensive free trade areas) have been initialed with Moldova and Georgia and other important cooperation agreements between the European Union and Eastern Partnership countries were signed.
Regional Policy Dialogue and PRDPs in the Eastern Partnership
The regional policy dialogues which are mentioned in the EaP communication call for the establishment of Memoranda of Understanding with each partner. The related PRDP process calls for the initial preparation of Regional Development Strategies (RDS) and the submission of pilot projects based upon them.
EU-European Neighbourhood-Russia: cross-border cooperation in the framework of regional policy
In 2013, as part of the regional policy dialogues taking place with the Eastern Partnership and with Russia, a technical assistance project was carried out, including a number of training and information sessions, study visits and workshops for participants from Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine, with the overall aim of strengthening bilateral co-operation by offering participants a source of reference when further developing their policy strategies and actions in order to promote better cross-border cooperation.