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Arab Spring Highlights EU Turf War

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (right) with EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (right) with EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele

The European Union’s new, revised Neighborhood Policy was supposed to be presented on April 20. It was then put back to May 10. Now, it seems like the document may not see the light of day until May 24. But even that date is not set in stone just yet.

This delay is not all down to the revolutionary events in several of the EU’s southern Mediterranean neighbors. A turf war between the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and the EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fuele has also slowed down the presentation of the paper.

The neighborhood policy consists of a range of instruments such as economic aid, tariff reduction and general political know-how, which Brussels offers to its southern and eastern neighbors. The policy used to live a life in the shadow of the much-more potent EU enlargement policy until the events of the "Arab Spring."

Suddenly, it has become a major tool in anchoring democracy in places such as Tunisia and Egypt under the slogan “more for more.” The more you reform, the more EU goodies you are expected to get.

Enter Catherine Ashton. Or “the lady” as an EU Commission source mockingly calls her. Believing that the revised neighborhood policy is of great importance to the EU’s foreign policy in the region, she has delayed its publication on numerous occasions after being dissatisfied with its less-than-revolutionary content.

The demarcation lines between the EU’s foreign and neighborhood policies have always been fuzzy and this situation has been exacerbated even further since the creation of the EU’s new foreign policy service at the start of this year.

An EU diplomat told RFE/RL that Ashton was not happy with simply representing the EU on the world stage, but had also expressed an interest in presenting the EU enlargement package.

This yearly update on how candidate and potential candidate countries are faring in their quest for EU membership has been the big chance for every enlargement commissioner to grab some headlines Apparently, her request was kindly, but firmly, turned down by Fuele.

Curiously enough, neither commissioner was present when the Euronest Parliamentary Assembly was inaugurated in Brussels earlier this week. The event, which brought together members of the European Parliament with elected representatives of five former Soviet republics and neighbors of the EU, was only witnessed by an official from the EU’s new diplomatic cops, the External Action Service.

It emerged that both commissioners were instead promoting the interests of the EU abroad. Fuele was on an official visit to Egypt and Ashton attended a vote at the United Nations in New York -- a pretty safe distance away from each other.

-- Rikard Jozwiak

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