Report Influence

  • Following publication, EU foreign policy chief Baroness Catherine Ashton unveiled a number of proposals for a revamp of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), included recommendations made by Open Europe.
€66 bn

Maximize impact of Neighbourhood Aid

Between 1990-2013, the EU pledged €66bn in aid to neighbouring countries in the Middle East and North Africa with mixed results. If the EU is more realistic about the limits of its influence in the region, targeting specific areas and dropping its ‘one size fits all’ approach, its aid will be more effective.Source: European Commission

8 May 2011

European Neighbourhood policy: support to North Africa and the Middle East

The home-grown revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East, known as the ‘Arab Spring’, raised questions about the EU’s record in promoting reform and stability in these areas – and, more importantly, about how Europe can best support these regions in future.

Between 1995 and 2013, the EU allocated €13.3 billion to countries in North Africa and the Middle East via three consecutive funding programmes. The European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), launched in 2004, is the latest stage of the EU’s engagement with countries on its external borders.

Limited impact

Despite the European Commission claiming that the EU Neighbourhood Policy has been “a success story”, the impact of the EU in the Middle East and North Africa has been very limited. In 2009, the EU distributed 35% of its ENP funding directly to governments, in the form of so-called ‘budget support’. The European Commission claims that this type of funding is limited to governments that meet strict criteria on good governance and administration. However, the now toppled regimes in Egypt and Tunisia received a combined total of €169 million in budget support in 2009, representing 77% and 80% respectively of their overall funding commitments from the EU. In other words, the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes were able to pass the European Commission’s democracy and anti-corruption tests for direct aid funding, while people living under those regimes took to the streets in protest over their autocratic rule.

The EU also increased funding to the region by 21% over the 2007-2013 budget period compared with the previous 2000-2006 multi-annual budget. This included more money going to the now toppled regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, despite the European Commission itself noting limited progress regarding these countries’ governments’ records on human rights and democratic reform.

Furthermore, while countries in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus have benefited from a trade boost as a result of closer cooperation with the EU, almost every single Mediterranean partner state saw its exports to the EU drop as a percentage share between 2000 and 2007 (before the economic crisis). Too many barriers to trade still remain in place, including EU tariff quotas on agricultural products that are vital to the incomes of farmers in North Africa and Middle East countries.

Open Europe also found that the EU’s selection of projects to be funded with European Neighbourhood Policy money was sometimes questionable. For example, under €200,000 was granted to a Belgian travel company for the organisation of the Tenth European Cultural Festival in Algeria, while €80,000 was spent on the ‘European Movie Week’ in Morocco. In 2009, the EU even awarded €3,600 to a Tunisian company for the purchase of ties with the EU logo.


Open Europe sets out ten recommendations to improve the European Neighbourhood Policy, including: making EU member states’ contributions voluntary to improve targeting; stronger links between the amount of funding and government reforms; more focus on civil society; better access to EU markets for ENP countries; and policies better tailored to individual countries’ needs.

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