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EU Announces Plans To Strengthen Neighborly Relations

Today's enlarged, 27-member EU (file) (epa) September 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The European Union announced plans today to strengthen its relationship with its neighbors through its European Neighborhood Policy (ENP).

Key to the EU's efforts will be improving economic integration, energy security, mobility of labor, and technical and financial assistance.

EU representatives discussed the initiative during a conference that for the first time gathered ministers from all 16 members of the ENP.

"There are as many variations of the European Neighborhood Policy as there are partners." -- Barroso

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso stressed during opening remarks that the individuality of ENP members will be respected.

"The fundamental principle of the European Neighborhood Policy is, precisely, differentiation. The ENP is not and never has been a 'one-size-fits-all' policy," Barroso said. "There are as many variations of the European Neighborhood Policy as there are partners. We cannot and do not wish to ignore the differences between our partners."

Economy, Energy, Immigration

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner outlined the EU's vision of an "economically integrated area that spans the whole of the EU and its closest European and Mediterranean partners."

To reach this goal, she said, the EU seeks to lay the groundwork for comprehensive free-trade agreements.

Ferrero-Waldner also said the EU wants "simpler, cheaper, and faster" visa procedures within the neighborhood, and proposed a new system for ENP member to jointly address labor-migration issues.

The European Commission "has proposed a new system of 'mobility partnerships,' which we hope we can pilot with ENP countries," Ferrero-Waldner said. "The idea, as the name suggests, is to focus on the joint responsibility of all countries to tackle the challenges posed by migration. So, it will cover both steps -- to combat, of course, illegal migration and to find more opportunities for legal migration from third countries to the European Union."

Addressing energy security, the commissioner announced the EU's plans to launch a feasibility study to identify shortfalls in its energy contracts with neighboring states.

Lastly, Ferrero-Waldner unveiled two new mechanisms for providing ENP members with EU financial assistance. One, dubbed the Neighborhood Infrastructure Facility, will help offset transition costs and is expected to go into effect by the end of this year.

The second project, called the Governance Facility, will award money to those states that make the greatest progress in meeting their governance objectives. The first awards are expected to be handed out this fall.

The ENP is composed of Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Egypt, Georgia, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Moldova, Morocco, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia, and Ukraine.

The ENP promotes economic and social reform in participating states by offering closer ties, but not necessarily membership in the EU.

EU Expands Eastward

EU Expands Eastward

To view RFE/RL's archive of coverage related to EU expansion, click here .

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