As the conflict in Ukraine continues, the European Union (EU) has revised its European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) in 2015. This policy does not recognize Russia as an equal political entity on the European continent, and creates an unstable and challenging situation on the Eastern border of the European Union.

The European Union is facing many challenges that are impacting the security and stability of Europe as a continent. The refugee crisis and the ongoing economic stability in the European Union are among these challenges. The most pressing issue, however, might be the failure of the EU’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). This policy governs the international relations between the EU’s Member States and sixteen of their Eastern and Southern neighbours. The policy has been launched in 2003 and reviewed in 2011 after the uprisings which were then seen as the ‘Arab Spring’ in many of the neighbouring countries participating in the ENP. Last year, another revision took place, which recognized that the attempts to create a ‘ring of friends’ around the European Union had failed thus far. Instead of becoming a stable, secure environment around it, many of the neighbouring countries developed in the opposite way. Libya, Syria and Ukraine are cases in point.

It was about time that the European Union recognized the shortcomings of the ENP. But the question remains whether the ENP also did not actively cause a more unstable environment around the EU’s Member States. The case of Ukraine, in particular, is interesting to view in this light.

It can be argued that the conflict in Ukraine, the bloodiest conflict on the European continent since the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990s, is a direct consequence of the ENP. With this policy, the European Union has been attempting for Ukraine to grow closer to it and by doing this it has challenged Ukraine’s Soviet legacy in several ways. This did not go unnoticed by Russia, a country that also has devoted considerable efforts to bringing parts of the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, under its influence. Russia has pressured Ukraine to become a member of the Common Economic Space (CES) and tried to control the gas pipeline to the West, while the EU has tried to liberalize and democratize Ukraine and to modernize it to Western standards. This escalated when Ukraine was about to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2013, and the pro Russian president refused to sign this. This lead to the Maidan protests and to the annexing of Crimea by Russia in 2014 in response.

Instead of averting violence and instability in and around the EU, the ENP has caused a stand off with Russia in Eastern Europe. The EU is often seen as a ‘normative’ and ‘soft’ power, while Russia under Putin is seen as a ‘dictatorial’ and ‘hard’ power. However, both Russia and the EU act as imperial powers in Eastern Europe, creating an instable border zone between them. This understanding is absent in the newly revised ENP, but it is very important that the EU realizes what it is doing with this policy in Eastern Europe. Otherwise the neighbouring countries that participate in the ENP will grow more unstable, and insecurity in the EU will increase as a consequence.

What the EU needs is to step away from high sounding strategies such as the ENP contains. Instead it should aim for an effective common defense and foreign policy with concrete measures aimed at a stable European region. It is time for a more realist policy, with more financial aids. The newly revised ENP has stabilisation as its main aim. However, without including a considerable role for Russia in the foreign policy plans for Ukraine, a stable border zone will not be the outcome.

Thus far, Russia has refused to participate in the ENP, because it sees itself as a second powerpole on the European continent. It does not perceive itself as merely a neighbour of the EU, and it is showing this in power in Ukraine. The first step to a stable Eastern EU border is recognizing that Russia is indeed an equal partner the EU needs to deal with, whether the EU likes it or not.

Image source: Steve Evans