The European Union’s External Relations Policy

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Last updated: April 12, 2019

The European Union has emerged as a ‘super-power,’ especially in the past decade. As a result its external policies, from those relating to trade to a simple project for the construction of a school in a poor country have a direct impact on the livelihoods of people around the globe. The EU did not set out to become a world power.[1] Born in the aftermath of World War II, its first concern was brining together the nations of Europe. However since it evolved as the world’s biggest trader and generates one quarter of the global wealth, it had to start defining its relationships with the rest of the world, admitting its commitment in the Maastricht Treaty to tackle global challenges such as environmental concerns, migration issues and the serious deprivation of human rights in certain countries.

Today, the EU is the primary donor to poor countries.[2]This study will start by identifying the major initiatives that the EU has undertaken to tackle global environmental and migration concerns. A deeper analysis will follow which deals with the EU’s action planning on democratization and human rights, primarily in its neighbourhood Agreements and Central Asia, in order to get a better insight on the EU’s stand on democratic issues. Very often academics have instigated a fire of criticism towards the EU for failing to adhere with its commitments to Human Rights in Association Agreements or Action Plans. Consequently, the EU has often been accused of having vested economic interests, like any other supranational institution, that seriously undermine its commitment towards other important global issues.

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Environmental ConcernsToday one of the major challenges in international relations is the environmental concern particularly that which relates to the energy policy. The EU’s energy policy cooperation with its neighbours is included in various political and economic cooperation frameworks. This can be pursued mostly with those countries that are undergoing accession negotiations. Accession negotiations (currently with Iceland, Croatia and Turkey) remain the most important instrument with which the EU can apply its legal order to partner countries.

[3]The European Neighbourhood Policy also represents an important framework to the energy policy in the EU’s external relations. Through its bilateral agreements with Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean, the EU seeks to establish joint projects like the ‘Eastern Partnership.’ This is an association agreement between the EU and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus, launched in 2008. These countries hold a strong dependence to Russian energy imports and the agreements reflect the wish for a greater environmental integration between the CEECs countries and the EU. [4]The Union for the Mediterranean, proposed in 2007 by French President Nicholas Sarkozy, featured the environment as a priority in its agenda.

Although it is already largely considered as a failure, six priority projects were stated in the Paris Declaration of the Union, which included the plan for a Mediterranean Solar Plan alternative energy project, encompassing solar-thermal power, deployment of wind power and photovoltaic technology.[5]Furthermore, another priority established in the UFM is that to de-pollute the Mediterranean, through tackling the sources by 2020 that account for 80% of pollution loading. These are mainly municipal solid and liquid waster and industrial emissions. The Strategy tackles four main priorities namely: water governance, water and climate change adaptation, water demand management and water financing. These are to be complimented by an Action Plan that is to be developed by 2012.[6]Refugee and Migration IssuesAll EU countries are signed up to the UN Geneva Convention, in which they committed to protect refuges by ensuring that they will not expel or extradite migrants to their native state where they can be subject to torture, death penalty or other inhuman treatment.[7]The Treaty of Amsterdam along with the Tampere European Council gave the EU responsibility for the setting up of a Common Immigration and Asylum Policy that had the principal aim of making migration safe and legally controlled. [8]Along with initiatives such as the Stockholm Programme for 2009-2014 and Frontex, which facilitate cooperation in migration issues, the Lisbon Treaty strengthened the ability of EU authorities to determine states’ immigration and asylum policies.

The EU’s jurisdiction in immigration has increased mostly since 2004 when most aspects of asylum and immigration policy under the Justice and Home Affairs were shifted from unanimous to majority voting. [9]Nevertheless immigration policy still faces a great challenge at EU level. With the recent political upheavals taking place in North Africa, some EU Member States, especially Malta and Italy suffered a direct impact of a huge flow of immigration. Until now, the EU has not mastered a decent plan of burden sharing. On 3 June 2011, Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg called for Malta to move away from ‘reactive’ migration policy and keep its detention centre up to human rights standards. In its reply, Malta agreed that there is much more to be done, nevertheless it stated that the country is dedicating a substantial amount of its GDP to illegal immigration and given its small size, it is being treated unfairly.[10] Given that immigration policy constitutes one of the pillars of the EU’s external relations, it is logical that the EU should come up with a sufficient plan to develop a policy that takes into account how many migrants any country can accept, the economic need for migrant labour and the capacity for immigrants to be integrated into the culture of their host country.

[11]Democracy and Human RightsUntil the first years of the 1990s, the general attitude of the EC in its relation with the Mediterranean countries has been directed towards trade. Therefore, the basis of its external relations has been development cooperation. However, human rights in agreements with third countries had already been emerging as an issue, as early as 1978, when the Commission published a memorandum proposing the inclusion of human rights in the Lomé II, following the notorious human rights abuses in Uganda.[12]Since the early 1990s, the EU has started to include human rights clauses in its bilateral trade and cooperation agreements with third countries.

The historical evolution of the clauses was from the basis clause to the essential element and non-compliance clauses, which differ from the former since they make more use of political conditionality. Hence, they are a witness to the growing importance that the EU is assigning to human rights and democratization issues.[13]This importance is clearly reflected in the Lomé Conventions that have been replaced with the Cotonou Agreements, signed on June 23 2000. The Lomé Conventions demonstrate that along with trade, democracy and the rule of law in third countries have become critical to the external agreements of the Union. The clauses on human rights started to become more explicit in an agreement with Argentina that was signed on April 2 1990. They indeed gave birth to the ‘basis clause,’[14] which was employed in agreements with Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay.

However, this type of clause suffered from the lack of a suspension or termination mechanism in case of human rights violations. Consequently, in the agreements that followed, a tougher clause was included known as the essential element clause, making human rights an essential element of the agreements.[15] This is still used up to the present day in agreements with third countries, including the various Association Agreements and the Action Plans under the ENP.

In the agreements with Central and Eastern European Countries following the fall of Communism, two different types of essential element clauses were used. One was known as the Baltic clause, which contained a clear non-compliance clause that allows for immediate suspension of the agreement under certain conditions. Nevertheless, the EU feared that this might scare other third countries that were interested in an agreement. As a result, the Baltic clause was replaced with the Bulgarian clause that contained more proportionality when compared to the ‘suspension with immediate effect’ contained in the previous clause.

[16] There are scholars who insist that the re-introduction of a clause similar to the ‘Baltic’ one is the only gateway to witnessing a positive change in democratization processes in third countries.The EU Annual Report on Human Rights for 2009 summarizes the use of the human rights clause and explained that it has been resorted to on a number of occasions since 1996 “as the basis for consultations, suspension of aid or other measures.” The clause has been used in Niger, Guinea Bissau, Sierra Leone, Togo, Cameroon, Haiti, Comoros, Côte D’Ivoire, Fiji, Liberia and Zimbabwe.[17]When it comes to agreements within the Mediterranean, the Barcelona Process was the first Euro-Mediterranean Partnership of a significant effect. The declaration called for a ‘Political and Security Partnership,[18] This partnership is given legal effect through bilateral Association Agreements. Regional integration has taken place and in May 2001 four members of the Barcelona Process, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Jordan signed the Agadir Declaration, which created the possibility of a free trade area between the Southern Mediterranean region and the Middle East.

[19]The MEDA Regulation has been more specific where political conditionality is concerned, since it comes with a conditionality clause. Under Article 3 of the MEDA Regulation, democratic principles, the rule of law and human rights constitute an essential element “the violation of which … will justify the adoption of appropriate measures,” the procedures for which are set out in Article 16.[20] Although the Regulation still fails to state what the “appropriate measures” are, the article gives power to the Council to decide upon penalties in case the Mediterranean partner violates human rights.Democracy Promotion in Central AsiaThe EU’s seventeen years of relationship building with Central Asia has not significantly contributed to any measurable spread of democracy to these countries either. Although almost 1.

7 billion Euros have been injected by the EU in Central Asia on programmes conditionally linked to democracy development in Central Asia, the region has shown no improvements. [21]The latest initiative directed towards the region is ‘The New Partnership in Action.’ This aims to contribute actively to dialogue between civilizations, which is to be achieved by regular political dialogue between the Foreign Ministers of the countries. This strategy also commits itself to a European Education initiative, which will build an ‘e-silk’ highway, ‘EU rule of law initiative’ and a regular result oriented ‘Human Rights dialogue.’[22]The inclusion of the rule of law initiatives and ‘result’ oriented Human Rights dialogue are expressions of the salience that the EU is placing upon human rights standards in the region. Prior to this initiative, the EU’s relations with central Asia have been subject to scrutiny by various NGOs such as FRIDE,[23] which claimed that the EU should interfere more in numerous human rights violations in Turkmenistan.

[24] The EU’s engagement with Central Asia was initially technical in nature providing support for infrastructure development and regional cooperation.The tools the EU had at its disposal were tools that were used successfully in tackling major concerns in Eastern Europe such as agreements subject to the conditionality clause. These are the Partnership and Co-operation Agreements between the EU and Central Asian countries, ratified in the late 90s. Nevertheless, the withholding of aid and access to the EU’s internal market have not been employed nor implemented with vigor and commitment. The EU’s interaction with Central Asia until now has been more that of a stabilizing force, promoting investment necessary to ensure energy security while unconditionally providing aid and technical assistance to improve limited aspects of Central Asian infrastructure and society. Academics have criticized the EU for its lack of interference in high profiled negative events such as the Andijan massacre in 2005 and flawed elections.

[25]ConclusionThe intergovernmental nature of the EU led to the development of a supranational foreign policy that in theory amounts to the common foreign policy articulation of its 27 member states. EU Member states have continued to pursue their own self-interested foreign policies. In the lead up to the Iraq war, European Council statements claimed that the EU was committed to the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political stability of Iraq. Nevertheless, countries such as UK, Spain, Poland and Italy interpreted these council statements differently from the rest of the Member States and this led to a divergence in EU’s stated foreign policy.[26] This vast interpretation has undermined and weakened EU democracy promotion efforts within Central Asia, the Middle East and the Mediterranean.[27]Furthermore, one needs also to consider factors that admittedly operate against the EU in its promotion of rule of law in third countries. The EU may be subject to a ‘zero-sum game’ in situations that arise, contrary to its political will.

An example is the Parliamentary Resolution adopted in the case of Egypt in 2008, which highlighted several faults, relating to democratization and human rights.[28] The Egyptian authorities did not think twice to issue very strong statements that condemned foreign interference in domestic affairs. For example, the statement issued by the Egyptian Foreign Minister, Aboul Gheit clearly shows a very negative reaction saying that: “Egypt totally rejects attempts by any party to appoint himself as an inspector of human rights in the country or a guardian for the Egyptian people.”[29] Hence, on the one hand the EU claims its role as a major human rights promoter, while on the other hand, if it applies strict conditions on political reform, it may loose all the negotiations with its partners.Although this argument that the EU tends to prefer realist norms over normative ones is prevalent in various literature, this does not stop critics from arguing that the EU is losing its credibility and legitimacy as an external actor. Evidently, the ENP Action Plans are characterized by a distinct vagueness and although they are signed by the national presidents committing to “promote the protection of human rights in all its aspects,” they takes a more, as Karen Smith terms it, laissez-faire approach.

[30]North African countries have also reached the end of a political era. History is changing before our eyes and the European Union will thus be entering on new political territory. Evidently, the EU needs to act more as a single bloc, consulting and investing more in civil society.

Assuming that North Africa accepts Europe’s help, these emerging democratic governments will provide the EU with a good window of opportunity to put into practice its largely unsuccessful Mediterranean policy, possibly creating a chain reaction in the rest of its External Policy Agreements.

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