As NATO and the EU have shelved enlargement – the juiciest “carrot” motivating reform in aspirant countries – it is even more crucial for the transatlantic community to refine existing institutional frameworks for engagement in order to prevent reform inertia – or worse – backsliding.
The EU’s European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) has long aspired to be more than a set of bilateral contractual agreements, becoming rather a trans-regional system of governance, defined by shared commitments and organized around common institutions and instruments. But interestingly, Russia, as a strategic partner, and Turkey, as a candidate country, hold practically no formal role, presence or stake in the ENP architecture.
Both regional powers have attempted to wield influence – or flex their muscles, if you wish – in the neighborhood, even if their motivations and aspirations differ. The contrast is especially visible in the south. While Turkey has been using its ‘soft power’ to support emerging democracies like Tunisia, Russia – as we have been able to observe during the Syrian crisis – is more interested in traditional balancing, acting as a counterweight to the US. Regardless, both Russia and Turkey have long-term vested interests in the stability and prosperity of the ENP area and they possess unrivalled reservoirs of knowledge of and influence to that avail.
The European Parliament has also recently echoed with valuable yet isolated calls on the Commission and the European External Action Service for institutionalized trilateral cooperation under the ENP framework, which could yield significant gains in terms of both credibility of the assistance rendered, positive effect on the dynamics of bilateral ties with Russia and Turkey, and benefits inherent in the coordination of piecemeal – and often contradictory – efforts of the three major players in the field of the Eastern and Southern neighborhood.
Yet few further steps have been made. Observers point out with some disbelief that the US seems to have a better understanding of the urgent need to cooperate with Russia and Turkey at a time of sweeping geopolitical changes in the transatlantic community’s neighborhood, than does the EU. While Washington has repeatedly praised Turkey`s credibility and influence, Brussels has not really reflected upon Turkey’s exceedingly potent role in the region. This is likely to have a detrimental impact on the EU’s attractiveness for transition or swing states in the neighborhood in the long run.
The wave of regime change in the South, as well as the return to power of Russia’s Vladimir Putin in the East should make the revamp of a largely ineffective and institutionally outdated neighborhood policy a top priority for the transatlantic community. In tandem, Brussels and Washington should seriously consider Russia’s and Turkey’s potential institutionalized role in the ENP architecture. Policy-makers should also seek to review existing joint assistance schemes carried out by cross-national networks of NGOs or deployed on an “ad hoc basis” at an inter-state level.
In so doing, they could identify and highlight principles, goals and tools that the US, the EU, Russia and Turkey could agree on in terms of promoting peace, prosperity and good governance in the post-Soviet East and the Arab South. However modest at their inception, joint efforts – not necessarily focused on “promoting democracy” – be they related to developing infrastructure or building state capacity, may well represent important baby steps toward a common vision for a shared neighborhood.
Kristina Mikulova, a member of the Young Atlanticist NATO Working Group, is a PhD Candidate at Oxford University.