The EU’s southern neighbourhood

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations

Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Johannes Hahn, EU Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, © picture alliance / Wiktor Dabkowski


The countries of North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean are a priority area for EU external relations. Since 2004, EU support for this region has been pooled under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP).

Following the onset of political upheavals in the Arab world in 2011, the EU decided to intensify its cooperation with this region and to pursue more differentiated policies with the individual countries. Accordingly, closer relations with the EU are to be offered especially to those partners that make progress towards democracy and the rule of law.

  • European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP): The ENP was developed in connection with the EU’s eastward enlargement in 2004. It is designed to strengthen prosperity, stability and security in the EU’s neighbouring countries.
  • The ENP is geared towards the EU’s neighbours in the east (Eastern Partnership: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine) and in the south (Southern Neighbourhood: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Syria, Tunisia). Primarily a policy to promote reform processes, the ENP offers the EU’s neighbours a privileged relationship that is based on a mutual commitment to shared values (democracy and human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development). The ENP does not offer any prospect of accession to the EU.
  • The ENP is implemented on the basis of action plans agreed between the EU and the individual partner countries. These action plans are the ENP’s primary operative instrument. They are comprised of an agenda setting out political and economic reforms covering a period of three to five years. The European Commission publishes annual progress reports evaluating the implementation of the action plans.
  • Bilateral cooperation with the EU’s southern neighbours within the framework of the ENP was enhanced in July 2008 through the creation of a multilateral forum called the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). The UfM encompasses a total of 43 countries, including all EU member states, the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea (except Libya), Jordan and Mauritania. It further develops the EU’s existing Mediterranean policy and aims to promote economic integration and sector-specific cooperation. Despite various challenges, the UfM plays a key role as a forum for regional cooperation that includes Israel and Turkey.
  • Financial support under the ENP is provided by the European Neighbourhood Instrument (ENI). As part of the EU’s multiannual financial framework for the 2014 – 2020 period, 15.4 billion euros have been allocated to the ENP, of which around two-thirds are earmarked for the Southern Neighbourhood.

Partnership for democracy and prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean

After the onset of the Arab Spring in 2011, the EU undertook a review of the European Neighbourhood Policy’s instruments and its cooperation with southern neighbours in particular. In spring 2011, Catherine Ashton, the then High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, unveiled a blueprint for a “Partnership for democracy and prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean”. The partnership involves expanded cooperation in the areas of trade and mobility, as well as additional financial support for those partners undergoing processes of democratic transformation. The EU member states support this new orientation in the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy and decided in June 2011 to strengthen the linkage between progress on reforms and financial support (the “more for more” principle).

Mobility and trade

The issues of mobility and migration are among the key priorities of the EU’s cooperation with its southern neighbours. Large numbers of migrants come from or transit through the countries of North Africa. Mobility partnerships have been agreed with a number of countries. These pursue four priorities: strengthening legal migration, combating irregular migration, expanding refugee

In addition to existing trade liberalisation on the basis of Association Agreements, the EU is poised to offer Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and Jordan greater access to the EU internal market within the framework of Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (DCFTA).

Ongoing efforts to advance cooperation

The EU’s southern neighbourhood is a dynamic region with major challenges. The EU is engaged in a continuous process of fine-tuning its neighbourhood policy, in order to offer attractive programmes that aim to strengthen its neighbours’ bonds to the EU and its values.

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