Journal Essay

EU Policies in the Mashreq: Between Integration and Security Partnership

Peter Seeberg

Winter 2016, Volume XXIII, Number 4

Dr. Seeberg is associate professor at the Centre for Contemporary Middle East Studies, University of Southern Denmark. He is also director of the DJUCO-project, an academic cooperation effort with universities in Jordan funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This paper was first discussed in an author workshop, organized by the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University and the Center for Contemporary Middle East Studies at the University of Southern Denmark — in the framework of the DJUCO-initiative, funded by the Danish Arab Partnership Programme, Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday, but also recent attacks in Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, show once more that we are confronted with threats that are global. …We have to build together a safer environment. …This is precisely the purpose of the current review of the ENP.

— Federica Mogherini, European Commission press release, November 18, 20151

The launching of the review of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) took place only a few days after the terror attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015. In her press release, the EU High Representative Federica Mogherini added that "the new ENP will take stabilization as its main political priority."2 Furthermore, it was said that "differentiation and greater mutual ownership will be the hallmark of the new ENP."3 This article discusses to what degree the EU's foreign and security policies towards the regimes in the Mashreq are capable of contributing to the stabilization of this highly differentiated Middle Eastern subregion. The article analyzes how important foreign- and security-policy dimensions emphasized in the ENP review are dealt with in the context of the Arab regimes in the Mashreq: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria.

The ENP, when presented in 2004, was an attempt at building bilateral cooperation with states south and east of the EU. Based on positive conditionality, this was supposed to be more efficient and sustainable than the regionalist setup formed in 1995, the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP).4 The ENP agreements, taking their point of departure in Association Agreements (AA), were based on general Strategy Papers by the EU and Action Plans (AP) signed by the EU and the partner states. The developments in 2011 following the Arab uprisings led the EU to review the ENP and present an updated version, "A New Response to a Changing Neighborhood," with "more for more" as the central concept.5 Furthermore, the EU presented the so-called SPRING program, aiming at responding "to the pressing socioeconomic challenges that partner countries of the southern Mediterranean are facing and to support them in their transition to democracy."6 The program was funded, according to ENPI, by grants of €65 million in 2011 and €285 million in 2012.7

As the initially promising uprisings gradually developed into problematic scenarios, a need for yet another review of the ENP became obvious, not least as a result of the crisis in Syria and the emergence of the Islamic State (Daesh) — a reality reflected in the consultations leading to a review of the ENP.8 The consultations had taken place with stakeholders and academia in Europe and the partner states discussing a redesign of the ENP. The review pointed to the recent challenges and mentioned the ongoing conflicts, rising extremism and the high migration pressure as the most significant recent tasks for the EU to confront. Seen from an overall regional perspective, the situation before the Arab uprisings was different from the recent reality. As mentioned by Fawaz Gerges, there is hardly any doubt that the developments in the states of the Mashreq over the last five years have led to an increased differentiation among them.9 This obviously has consequences for the analysis of this subregion; the recent conditions influence not only the ENP, but a wide range of EU policies, in particular their lack of coherence.

It is the purpose of this article to develop an analytical framework to help explain the change in EU policies from regionalism to bilateralism and, further on, to differentiated local agreements. The analysis takes as its point of departure the claim that the foreign and security cooperation between the EU and the Mashreq regimes tends to develop security partnerships on different levels. The ambitions of the EU to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in its southern neighborhood were based on the assumption that positive changes in the regimes in the Arab Mediterranean would lead to stability, founded in economic, political and social progress.


As mentioned by Stephan Roll, the Egyptian military might be preoccupied with its autonomy within the state and with maintaining its economic interests, but in order to be able to pursue these agendas, stability is an urgent necessity.10 Half a decade after the uprisings against the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt has ended up with a new and more repressive power configuration and more autonomous state institutions than during the reign of Mubarak. The question in the context of this article is, then: What does this reality mean for the cooperation between the EU and the Egyptian state?

For obvious demographic and geostrategic reasons, Egypt is a significant actor in the Mediterranean, which the EU therefore has had to approach and make agreements with. It is relatively easy to identify common interests, not least within the realm of security. The dramatic developments following the uprisings in early 2011 became something of a test case for the EU's Lisbon-Treaty-based foreign-policy institutions. The unexpected and tumultuous developments since the fall of Mubarak have challenged EU leaders and spawned discussions about how to deal with an Islamist government.11 The recent EU "team" (Federica Mogherini, Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker) have had to try to manage cooperation with the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

This cooperation, seen from the side of the EU, can be described as based on a pragmatic policy approach. Egypt has received significant financial assistance from the EU through the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) — from 2014, the European Neighborhood Instrument (ENI) — the latest allocation focused on poverty alleviation, local socioeconomic development and social programs of various kinds. At the more official level, we find significant examples of cooperation, as when Mubarak became appointed co-president of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) in 2008. However, when it comes to norms and standards regarding democracy, human rights and the rule of law, Egypt has been unwilling to adapt to these EU political ideals. This was true for the three decades under Mubarak and, in particular, during the last five years.

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