Brussels, 9 December 2004 -- The European Commission today raised the stakes in its evolving "neighborhood policy" by issuing "action plans" for seven partners.
They are Ukraine and Moldova as well as EU Mediterranean neighbors Tunisia, Israel, Morocco, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority.
The EU's 25 members must now approve the action plans, which were presented today by commissioner Ferrero-Waldner. She said the plans would be a key policy aim over the next five years as Brussels seeks to extend the zone of "peace, stability, and prosperity" to countries around the EU: "The European Union gains the benefits of a stable neighborhood. Our assistance will support countries with their own economic and policy reforms, to spread...the benefits of prosperity and democracy."
Today's report also says the European Commission will consider in February whether to issue "action plans" for the three South Caucasus countries.
However, Ferrero-Waldner stressed that no EU neighbor is being offered the prospect of membership in the bloc: "Let me be clear about what the ENP is and what it is not. It is not an enlargement policy. It does not prejudge prospects for European countries that may at some future point wish to apply for membership, but it does not provide for a specific accession prospect either. What is it [then]? It is an offer. It's a substantial offer, it's a real concrete offer: the offer of much deeper cooperation, and a progressive integration -- this is important -- a progressive integration into certain EU policies and programs, depending, of course, on the fulfillment of commitments."
"The European Union gains the benefits of a stable neighborhood. Our assistance will support countries with their own economic and policy reforms, to spread...the benefits of prosperity and democracy."
The action plans are tailored for each country and guided by priorities set by the nations themselves -- within an overall framework approved by the EU.
The EU has in the past ruled out membership for its Mediterranean neighbors. Ukraine and Moldova are the only countries among the current crop picked out for action plans with a theoretical chance of accession.
A document accompanying the individual "action plans" underscores the significance of democratic developments in Ukraine.
Ferrero-Waldner said she would personally travel to Kyiv to present Ukraine's "action plan" as soon as a rerun of the contested presidential elections is held in accordance with rules set by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Ferrero-Waldner also addressed what she called the "difficult" situation in Moldova: "Moldova is in a difficult situation with the persistence of the conflict over Transdniester. Now, the neighborhood policy provides an incentive for it to persist with political and economic reforms, and to cooperate with the European Union over a whole range of issues, including justice and home affairs where our interests are at stake or for instance at cross-border cooperation, which is very important there."
The Ukraine "action plan" draws particular attention to Kyiv's role in aiding efforts to find a viable solution to the Transdniester conflict.
Ferrero-Waldner reiterated the EU's standard that the bloc does not think its neighborhood policy will cause a split with Russia. Moscow, which has refused to become a beneficiary of the neighborhood policy, has warned the EU not to meddle in former Soviet republics.
Ferrero-Waldner noted that Belarus, seen as the closest country in the region to Russia, is too undemocratic to qualify for an "action plan."
Illegal immigration and organized crime are key EU concerns in its relations with eastern and southern neighbors. Ferrero-Waldner said the plans would improve cooperation on those issues.
Partners in the "action plans" will have to enter into commitments to bring their laws to EU standards, fight terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and agree to strive to peacefully resolve all regional conflicts.
Other conditions include democratic reforms, respect for the rule of law and human rights, and fundamental liberties, including freedom of the media: "And our partners gain what? Closer cooperation, as I said, financial assistance, and this will be stronger in the future, the chance to participate in EU programs, and indeed a stake in the biggest single market in the world."
Ferrero-Waldner said EU neighbors in the future could also participate in EU policies on education, research, the environment, and enjoy improved energy, transport, and communication links with the bloc.