The EU's Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), launched in 2004 to strengthen prosperity, stability and security at EU borders, must be radically reformed, said Parliament on in a resolution passed on Thursday. MEPs argue that the EU should give "more for more", by stepping up political and financial support for neighbourhood countries provided that they undertake domestic reforms and move towards democracy.

Parliament acknowledges that the ENP has in the past failed to promote human rights in third countries. It urges EU governments to strengthen their ability to promote democracy and human rights by creating an "implementation mechanism" that makes it easier to suspend agreements with third countries in the event of serious violations of human rights.

The resolution, approved by a show of hands, also calls for more transparency about how the Commission gets its brief for negotiating "advanced status" with individual partner countries, and stresses the need for clear criteria for granting this status. Parliament must be involved in this process, it adds. EU "advanced status" deals have been signed with Morocco (2008) and Jordan (2010). Another was being negotiated with the Tunisian regime led by President Ben Ali before the uprising.

Eastern partners

Although world attention has recently focused on the southern Mediterranean, Parliament also approved a resolution on the ENP's "eastern dimension". MEPs believe that ENP reform should help the EU to differentiate between countries that put democratic reforms and those that do not, and reward those that do with European "perspectives.

In practice, this means that the EU should define criteria for assessing the countries' overall performance in carrying out democratic reforms. The resolution advocates a system "where ambition and commitments are followed by implementation and where real progress is followed by concrete steps towards a European perspective". This European "perspective" could constitute a driving force for reforms in these countries, it adds.

A question of perspective

The precise nature of this European "perspective", however, was subject to some dispute. Rapporteur Marek Siwiec (S&D, PL), tabled an amendment that would have explicitly mentioned the prospect of EU accession for the eastern neighbourhood countries. This was narrowly rejected by the plenary (247 votes in favour, 295 against and 25 abstentions), so the final text now only mentions "a European perspective including Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union."

The European Commission is to table ENP reform proposals on 20 April. The ENP covers 16 countries in eastern Europe, the Caucasus, North Africa and the Middle East. The southern neighbours are Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Syria and Tunisia. The eastern ones are Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus (although ENP co-operation is not yet operational there), Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Procedure: Commission statements + resolutions