Towards a new European Neighboring Policy and child protection reforms

Photography credits: Roxana Todea

On the 4th of March, the European Commission together with the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy have launched a Joint Consultation Paper called “Towards a new European Neighboring Policy” aiming to gather the inputs of every interested stakeholder regarding the future of the EU Neighboring Area. The consultation proposes several questions aiming to engage productive discussions and ideas in order to trace EU’s further steps in its mandate towards the neighboring partner countries. 

The consultation is centered on four priorities: (1) differentiation; (2) focus; (3) flexibility; (4) ownership and visibility. Furthermore, five policy areas are being proposed while there is an open space for other suggestions: trade and economic development, connectivity, security, governance, migration and mobility. The deadline for contribution is the end of June, and a final Communication is planned to set out the proposals for the future direction of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) by October 2015. In parallel, the Commission is refining its Enlargement policy, distinctively from the ENP.

The ENP was designed in 2003 aiming to develop closer relations between the EU and its neighboring countries including by giving the opportunity of closer economic integration with the EU and the prospect of increased access to the EU’s Internal Market. The plan was for integration to be progressive, through the implementation of challenging political, economic and institutional reforms, and a commitment to common values. However, over the past ten years, there have been significant political developments in the neighborhood, although partner countries have demonstrated differences in terms of their engagement with the EU as a whole and in relation to different policy sectors. Even more, today’s neighborhood is less stable than it was ten years ago. The need to review the current ENP has been the manifest expression of a wide range of stakeholders, including civil society organisations.

The Joint Consultation Paper proposes an examination of several essential elements of the ENP: (1) the differentiation in terms of policy between the East and the South; (2) the ENP instruments such as the Country Action Plans and the ENP Progress Reports; (3) the policy sectors and to which the ENP should apply; (4) tackling issues such as migration, visa liberation, security and regional cooperation; (5) EU’s role in fostering the role of civil society in partner countries. The Consultation Paper also suggests that deeper focus might be needed to specific country issues such as partner’s governance challenges, or migration and mobility, or gender equality, or youth and child issues, or climate changes, and many others. Overall, the new ENP is envisaged to be more flexible in comparison to the current one, aiming to be more suitable to the partner’s needs, including to the needs of partners who do not wish to foster closer integration with the EU.

When analyzing the impact of the current ENP on the child care policies in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova, one can conclude that the child focused dimension is scarce in the Country Action Plans and consequently in the Progress Reports. Despite of some progressive steps taken in the child care field, further focus needs to be paid by the Armenian, Azeri, Georgian and Moldavian governments in addressing child liabilities. Children remain the most vulnerable category of citizens, facing abuse, trafficking, discrimination and predominantly, poverty. Furthermore, it is also important to note that for those ENP countries, such as Moldova (where the EU has highlighted child protection as an important policy priority), greater improvements have been made for the benefit of children.