May 12 2004
EU sets out how new neighbours can become good friends
Ian Black in Brussels
Thursday May 13, 2004
The expanded EU is offering its new neighbours greater cooperation
and assistance – but also keeping them at arm’s length.
“We want to give them a real stake in the enlarged EU so that they,
too, can develop and prosper,” Günter Verheugen, the commissioner for
enlargement, said yesterday. “A ring of well-governed countries
around the EU offering new perspectives for democracy and economic
growth is in the interests of Europe as a whole.”
However, Mr Verheugen made it clear that EU membership was not on
This month’s historic “big bang” enlargement, taking in eight east
European countries and Cyprus and Malta into a club of 25, has
extended the EU’s borders to the former Soviet Union and the Middle
East and north Africa.
The EU’s new neighbours range from Ukraine and Moldova to Tunisia and
Later this year, the union will make a hugely significant and
controversial decision on whether to go ahead with long-awaited
membership talks with Turkey, whose 70 million people would make it
the largest member state after Germany.
The EU already has a formal “strategic partnership” with Russia, but
the new policy is also intended to apply to Ukraine, Belarus and
Moldova – as long as they meet standards on human rights and
Mr Verheugen acknowledged that Belarus, often described as Europe’s
last dictatorship, was especially problematic. Relations between
Brussels and Minsk have been frozen for seven years.
The commission said it also wanted to forge links with Armenia,
Azerbaijan and Georgia in the Caucasus.
In the south, the policy will apply to Algeria, Egypt, Israel,
Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and the Palestinian
Authority – all partners in the Barcelona process of
Participants will be offered tailor-made neighbourhood policy “action
plans” promoting good governance, human rights and economic and
social development. But the biggest carrot is likely to be the offer
of a stake in the EU’s internal market if local laws and regulations
are brought into line with Brussels’ requirements, as well as
participation in EU training and research programmes.
There would also be benefits from open borders for trade and free
movement for capital and people.
Migration, crime, terrorism and people-trafficking are other areas
where the EU wants to boost cooperation.
Romano Prodi, the commis sion president, has talked of a “ring of
friends” which could share everything but the EU’s institutions.
The new plan does not include countries that have applied to join the
EU or are already negotiating. Romania and Bulgaria are expected to
enter in 2007, with Croatia not far behind.
Other Balkan countries are expected to follow, raising the prospect
of an EU of 30 or more members and 500 million people by the end of
The commission says it expects to make €255m (£172m) available to the
neighbourhood programmes in 2004-06, and will propose a substantial
rise for 2007-13.