European Union: External Relations


Latest news

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).
It has 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 and Azerbaijan ;
2. In the South, ten States all belonging to the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), created in 2008 (Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Tunisia).

The 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, including policy, the 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, 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 dedicated considerable funds to supporting its neighbours in the East to help tackle the public health crisis of spring 2020 (the Team Europe initiative which earmarks €963 million for the Eastern Neighbourhood).

Partner countries receive financial and technical support from the European Union in order to build their capabilities in several areas and especially good governance, the rule of law, media and jobs. For the 2014-2020 period, 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 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 very 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 imposed several sanction regimes on 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 be centred on two major 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.
    * As of 1 February 2020, after the effective withdrawal of the United Kingdom, the European Union has 27 members.

At the Helsinki European Council on 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).

What are 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 Union ;
An institutional criterion : have the ability to take on and implement the EU 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 EU 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 and its 27 Member States provide approximately 46% in overall official development assistance (ODA). The European Union is hence the world’s leading donor, contributing €66.8 billion in 2020, up 15% compared with 2019. This accounts for 0.50% of the gross national income (GNI) of the European Union and its Member States (0.41% in 2019), which brings them significantly closer to the objective of devoting 0.70% of collective GNI to ODA by 2030.

European Development Policy

Resulting from a European Commission proposal in 2018, the regulation relating to the new single instrument of EU external action, the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument-Global Europe (NDICI-Global Europe), entered into force in 2021. With €79.5 billion from the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) (2021-2027), this new instrument unifies most European instruments, including the European Development Fund (EDF).
The NDICI-Global Europe is an instrument used to implement EU development policy (with a target of 93% of development assistance) while also merging former instruments of international cooperation with industrialized countries.

In addition to streamlining and unifying European development instruments, the creation of the NDICI-Global Europe marks a major change in European development policy in several respects :

  • It is mainly based on a geographic pillar (75% of financing) and will finance in priority programmes in sub-Saharan Africa (a minimum of €29.2 billion) and in the neighbourhood (a minimum of €19.3 billion). Two other budgets are devoted to Asia and the Pacific.
  • It establishes this increasing effectiveness of financial instruments (guarantees, loans, loan-donation mixes) through the European Fund for Sustainable Development Plus (EFSD+), and support for the private sector and investments. The EFSD+ takes the form of an open platform for all the European financial instruments. The EFSD+ is endowed with €53.4 billion, financed by NDICI-Global Europe geographic contributions.
  • It is part of the momentum for the Agenda 2030, the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal with new targets of cross-cutting expenditure applied for the first time to all geographic areas :
  • 30% of NDICI-Global Europe finance should have a climate objective. It also provides for the application of the cross-cutting “do not harm” principle, prohibiting in particular the financing of actions that are not compatible with the Paris Agreement, and having damaging effects on the climate and the environment ;
  • 85% of actions financed by the NDICI-Global Europe are required to have a gender marker, and 5% of actions must have equality as a main objective ;
  • Regarding the official development assistance (ODA) component, 93% of NDICI-Global Europe funds are required to comply with the ODA criteria defined by the OECD ;
  • 20% of ODA granted by the NDICI-Global Europe will be devoted to social inclusion and human development ;
  • 10% of NDICI-Global Europe financing will be devoted to the management and governance of migration ;
  • Lastly, NDICI-Global Europe regulation makes a portion of its financing conditional upon the respect of human rights and democracy.
Feedback on International Cooperation and the European Development Policy (EDP)

The EDP dates back to the beginning of European integration, with the implementation of the European Development Fund provided for by the Treaty of Rome of 1957, and the conclusion in 1963 of the Yaoundé Convention, which bound the 6 States of the European Community with 17 African States.
Enshrined in Article 208 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the EDP is now a shared competence with the primary objective of reducing and eradicating poverty.
In 2005, the European Consensus on Development stipulates its values, objectives and principles to be implemented by the Union and its Member States in their development policies.
A New European Consensus on Development was signed in 2017, in connection with the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. European development assistance thus contributes to achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which have replaced the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), focusing its action on the “five Ps” : Peoples, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership.
In the 2014-2020 period, ODA of European institutions was divided into several instruments :
Geographic instruments :

  • The European Development Fund (EDF), benefits 79 countries in African, the Caribbean and the Pacific.
  • The geographic programmes of the Development Cooperation Instrument (DCI) supported development cooperation with developing countries which were on the list of ODA beneficiaries established by the OECD Development Assistance Committee.

Thematic instruments including :

  • The two DCI thematic programmes, concerning global public goods and civil society organizations and local authorities.
  • The Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP)
  • The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) devoted to supporting human rights defenders and associations.
    Partly financed by European funds for development cooperation and by contributions from Member States, trust funds have also been used to deal with regional crises.
    The European Union has also had financial instruments available, implemented by regional banks such as the EIB and the ERBD and agencies of Member States, such as the Agence Française de Développement.

Updated : January 2022