European Union : External Relations


Neighbourhood Policy

The European Union has a strategic interest to support the stability, security and prosperity of neighbouring States. It is with this in mind that it developed a specific policy called the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).

Since 2009, it has focused on two pillars :

  1. In the East, the Eastern Partnership, which was created in 2009 and includes six States of Eastern Europe and the Caucasus (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) ;
  2. In the South, ten States all belonging to the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), which was created in 2008 (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria and Tunisia).

European Neighbourhood Policy is a bilateral policy between the Union and each partner country, which includes regional cooperation initiatives :

  • The Eastern Partnership, which concerns Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine and Belarus ;
  • The Union for the Mediterranean, which aims to stabilize the Mediterranean region by enhancing relations between countries in the region.

Relations with most partner countries are governed by cooperation agreements. Under the framework defined by Member States, the European Union holds regular dialogue with its neighbouring States in all areas : policy, economy, trade, security, migration, cooperation, human rights, health, agriculture and humanitarian assistance. The European Union also provides partner countries with significant support in various sectors for cooperation. For example, Tunisia, a special partner of the European Union in the Maghreb, receives €300 million a year.

France attaches great importance to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which aims to enhance the prosperity and stability of the European Union’s neighbours. France is particularly committed to this unique policy, which covers both Southern and Eastern partners of the European Union. It supports dealing with this policy in a unique framework covering the Eastern and Southern neighbourhoods, with two Southern and Eastern components.

Relations between the European Union and the Maghreb and Mashreq area

The European Union is involved in resolving conflicts in Libya and the Middle East. Its action can include :

  • Participating in political dialogue on these conflicts, with international organizations (UN, League of Arab States, African Union, etc.) ;
  • Playing a role of guarantor of parameters of international law, for example, regarding the Middle East peace process ;
  • Being a principal humanitarian donor in the region ;
  • Using different levers of negotiation including financing for reconstruction and development assistance, sanctions, or even military operations and civilian missions of the Common Security and Defence Policy.

Relations between the European Union and Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia

With Eastern European neighbouring countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova) and the three Caucasus countries (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan), cooperation is growing in the Eastern Partnership, an initiative launched in 2009 to frame the Eastern component of European Union Neighbourhood Policy.

The Eastern Partnership Ministerial Meeting of 13 May 2019 celebrated the tenth anniversary of this policy. This ministerial meeting highlighted accomplishments, reiterated States’ commitment to pursuing their cooperation with partner countries under the Eastern Partnership and launched new cooperation projects, especially regarding young people.

The Eastern Partnership Summit on 18 June 2020, which brought together via videoconference the Heads of State and Government of the 27 Member States and the six Eastern partners, strongly reaffirmed the European Union’s commitment to the Eastern neighbourhood policy. The participants expressed their shared determination to continue to develop concrete cooperation in priority areas including the climate, connectivity and civil society. On this occasion, the European Union committed to continue to support partners in the post-COVID-19 context. The European Union has already mobilized considerable funds to help its Eastern neighbours deal with the public health crisis in spring 2020 (Team Europe initiative earmarking €963 million for the Eastern neighbouring countries). Partner countries receive financial and technical support from the European Union in order to build their capacity in several areas and especially good governance, the rule of law, media and jobs. For the period 2014-2020, support for the Eastern neighbourhood amounted to somewhere between €741 million and €906 million.

Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements were signed with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia and visas were liberalized. A Comprehensive and Enhanced Partnership Agreement was signed with Armenia in November 2017. A cooperation agreement is being negotiated with Azerbaijan.

France is also fully invested in Eastern Europe, especially when it comes to conflict resolution. Since 2014, it has taken part with Germany, Ukraine and Russia in Normandy Format negotiations to resolve the crisis in Eastern Ukraine. In the Caucasus, France is highly committed to resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as the co-chair of the Minsk Group.

Relations between the European Union and Russia

Since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in spring 2014, the European Union has applied several sanction regimes to Russia. As there are no signs of progress in implementing the Minsk Agreements on which their possible easing depends, European sector-based sanctions on Russia have been renewed every six months since July 2016.

The European Union’s relationship with Russia has five main thrusts :

  • Implementing the Minsk agreements ;
  • Deepening relationships with Eastern partners, but also with Central Asian countries ;
  • Strengthening resilience of the European Union (energy security, hybrid threats, strategic communication) ;
  • Ensuring case-by-case engagement with Russia on foreign policy issues among other things ;
  • Providing support for Russian civil society.

Relations between the European Union and Central Asian countries

A new EU strategy for Central Asia was adopted in 2019 and presented to the Central-Asian partners at the 15th EU-Central Asia Foreign Ministers’ Meeting, which was held on 7 July 2019 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The EU’s engagement in Central Asia will focus on two main themes : “Partnering for resilience and prosperity” and “investing in regional cooperation in Central Asia”, also with a strong focus on regional cooperation, sustainable connectivity, youth and education.

European Union Enlargement

Since 1957, the European Communities followed by the European Union have undergone six waves of enlargement :

  • In 1973, going from 6 founding members (France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Italy) to 9 members, with the accession of the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark,
  • In 1981, to 10 with the accession of Greece,
  • In 1986, to 12 with the accession of Spain and Portugal,
  • In 1995, to 15 with the accession of Austria, Finland and Sweden,
  • In 2004, to 25 with the accession of Cyprus, Malta, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia,
  • In 2007, to 27 with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria,
  • In 2013, to 28 with the accession of Croatia.
    * On 1 February 2020, after the effective withdrawal of the United Kingdom, the European Union has 27 members.

At the Helsinki Summit of the European Council in December 1999, Turkey was officially recognized as a candidate country : negotiations were formally opened in October 2005. In its most recent conclusions on enlargement of 18 June 2019, the Council noted, however, that “Turkey continues to move further away from the European Union” and “that accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing”.
Since the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, the European Union has recognized the possible integration of the six Western Balkans countries (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia).

The rules for States wishing to join the European Union

Accession procedures are provided for in Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, which stipulates that : “Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. […] The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.”

According to the enlargement process, candidate countries must meet specific criteria, known as the “Copenhagen criteria” :

  • A political criterion : have stable institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities ;
  • An economic criterion : have a functioning market economy and the ability to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the EU ;
  • An institutional criterion : have the ability to take on and implement the Community acquis.

France defends the demanding vision of the enlargement process, based on the effective and sustainable implementation of reforms by candidate States to take on the Community acquis and consolidate the rule of law. It is also important for the European Union to be developed and its functioning improved before starting or completing any process for further enlargement. Moreover, the French Constitution provides that the ratification of the accession treaty by any new State wishing to join the European Union is subject to a referendum or a vote by Parliament meeting in Congress passed by a three-fifths majority.

European development policy

The European Union is the biggest contributor of official development assistance in the world with nearly 57% of the overall amount of development assistance (from Member States and European Union institutions combined).

In 2017, the 28 countries of the European Union contributed a total of €75.7 billion in development assistance. The European Union (not including contributions from Member States) pledged €16 billion in external development assistance. Its main beneficiaries are low-income, least developed countries. The European Union therefore devotes 0.5% of its gross national income to official development assistance.

It is one of the main pillars of the European Union’s relations with the rest of the world. Covering 150 partner countries, this assistance focuses on the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda and those of the Paris Agreement on the climate as a priority. The main aim of the EU’s development policy thus remains poverty eradication but also includes economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

In 2017, 21% of French official development assistance went through the European Union. France’s contribution accounts for 17.81% of the European Development Fund, which makes it its second largest contributor. Through its contribution to the Community budget of €9 billion accounting for about 16% for the period 2014-2020, it also participates in the financing of other European instruments for development, including :

  • The Development Cooperation Instrument,
  • The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights,
  • The European Neighbourhood Instrument.

When it comes to the 2021-2027 Multiannual Financial Framework focusing mainly on the modernization of the EU’s external action instruments, France promotes the adoption of ambitious objectives for the environment and climate in addition to gender equality. It advocates the idea of making Africa and least developed countries a priority.

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Updated : June 2020