IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2021



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The Externalization of EU Policies in the Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood: The Potential Impact of the New Mediterranean Agenda

Erwan Lannon

Ghent University

In September 2020, in her Letter of Intent, Ursula von der Leyen introduced the Joint Communication on a renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood as a “major initiative” of her European Commission. The initiative was then framed by the leaders of the European Union (EU) during the December 2020 European Council. The Southern Neighbourhood is the third issue addressed in its conclusions. To divide the Mediterranean into different geographical administrative silos is not new. In this context, the “Southern Neighbourhood” terminology allows for the differentiation of specific objectives, priorities and provisional financial allocations for the “eastern” and “southern” neighbourhoods that share the same earmarked financial envelope of the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) – “Global Europe.” The “New Agenda for the Mediterranean” aims to revive the “spirit of partnership” of the founding act of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP): the 1995 Barcelona Declaration. However, the ownership of the new initiative is limited, as the main objective is to identify, for the 2021-2027 Multiannual financial framework (MFF), the priorities and ventilation of the financial envelopes of the NDICI. Only two financial envelopes, for geographic programmes, have been guaranteed a minimum: the ENP and Sub-Saharan Africa. This is not the case for Asia and the Pacific and the Americas and the Caribbean.

The externalization of EU policies is at the core of the 2021 “New Mediterranean Agenda.” In order to evaluate how it will further develop this externalization, a first part of this article will analyze its genesis and main characteristics. The second will concentrate on the issue of the externalization of EU policies in the Mediterranean at large.

The Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood – A New Agenda for the Mediterranean: Another EU-Centric Initiative?

In the December 2020 European Council conclusions, the “Mediterranean” and the Barcelona process rhetoric was used to legitimize an EU initiative based on the above-mentioned proposal and official position and the provisions of the financial regulation adopted in June 2021 by the EU Council and European Parliament.

The EU leaders carefully framed the approach, insisting that the “work will be guided” by its own “Strategic Agenda 2019-2024” as well as the “key principles of our neighbourhood policy, and supported by effective use of all our instruments,” adding that they “will develop a new Agenda for the Mediterranean based on shared priorities and a focus on specific Mediterranean responses and close cooperation.” Shared priorities do not mean necessarily mutually agreed priorities. One of the issues of the ENP was precisely that the ownership of the policy by the partners was limited, and the ENP’s 2015 evaluation was quite negative in this regard.

The “strategic agenda 2019-2024,” adopted by the European Council on 20 June 2019, sets out the four priorities, providing “guidance for the work programmes of other EU institutions”: i) protecting citizens and freedoms; ii) developing a strong and vibrant economic base; iii) building a climate-neutral, green, fair and social Europe; iv) promoting European interests and values on the global stage. So, when the same leaders stated, in December 2020, that: a “democratic, more stable, greener and more prosperous Southern Neighborhood is a strategic priority for the EU,” this was actually an amalgamation of the three general objectives of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP): prosperity, stability and security, reinforced by the 2011 and the 2015 ENP reviews that focused on the consequences of first, the so-called Arab Spring and second, the migration crisis and the impact of the war in Syria and Iraq. In fact, from 2021 on, the EU leaders want to continue to “strengthen the resilience” of economies and societies and preserve “collective security,” while addressing the “mobility and migration” challenge.

What is new then? First of all, the context of course. The need to “jointly fight the COVID-19 pandemic” is obvious. The EU leaders are promoting an “Agenda for the Mediterranean” with a “focus on specific Mediterranean responses and close cooperation in areas such as environment, connectivity, education and culture, and natural resources.” The leaders, while referring to the upcoming Joint Communication, stressed that it should be “based on an upgraded and intensified political dialogue” and lead to “reinforced cooperation” to tackle “common challenges” and “take advantage of shared opportunities.” Upgraded means generally more summits, but in this case, it is also about sectoral ministerial meetings. The use of partnership vocabulary contrasts with the next item devoted to Libya, which clearly reflects the principled pragmatism approach. Here the leaders wrote that the “EU recalls the offer to support the Libyan Coast Guard through training and monitoring, as well as the provision of equipment and vessels.” All in all, an approach based on EU interests, something normal at the level of the consensus-based European Council guidelines.

The Joint Communication: “Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood, A new Agenda for the Mediterranean,” published in February 2021 proposed achieving, in the framework of the ENP, a “new, ambitious and innovative Agenda for the Mediterranean.” This agenda will draw “for the first time on the full EU toolbox and the ground-breaking opportunities of the twin green and digital transitions.” The aim is to “realize the untapped potential of our shared region.” The beneficiaries are clearly identified: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia. In other words, the southern Mediterranean region excludes Turkey, which is not covered by the ENP and does not benefit from the NDICI. Nevertheless, Turkey remains in a customs union with the EU and on the pre-accession track. This means a permanent update of its regulations and legislation at a limited cost. To be part of the EU Customs Union generates economic gains that are crucial for Turkey and other Mediterranean Partner Countries (MPCs) that concluded Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Turkey; pre-accession being of course the strongest vehicle for the “internalization” of EU policies.

Oliver Varhelyi, the Commissioner for Neighbourhood and Enlargement, while introducing the Agenda, stated that, in order to “mitigate the dire impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” there was a need to “support resilient, inclusive, sustainable and connected economies.” He insisted on the need to “creatively develop our priorities and match them with the tools that can make a difference on the ground to promote prosperity and stability on both sides of the Mediterranean.” This reflects the fact that the EU budgetary financial envelope remains limited. The green and digital transformation, the importance of “diversified, shorter value chains and the focus on inclusive sustainable growth,” but also the need to promote “private investment and advance economic and governance reforms,” were also put forward. Regarding Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) one should recall the problem of the Barcelona method: the EU can only help to create better conditions for potential FDI that does not necessarily come from EU investors.

The February 2021 Joint Communication defined more precisely the main characteristics and priorities of the new agenda as it:
i) offers “opportunities for new partnerships on the strategic priorities of green and digital transition”;
iii) is “based on the conviction that sustainable prosperity and resilience can only be built in strong partnership across the Mediterranean”;
iv) “proposes a range of actions” along five “key policy areas: 1) Human development, good governance and the rule of law; 2) Strengthen resilience, build prosperity and seize the digital transition; 3) Peace and security; 4) Migration and mobility; 5) Green transition: climate resilience, energy and environment”;
v) is supported by an “Economic and Investment Plan (EIP) for the Southern neighbours,” that includes a series of “preliminary flagship investments and projects” financed under the NDICI; the plan’s objective being to help partners in their “recovery efforts, contribute to increase competitiveness and support sustainable and inclusive growth”;
vi) is based on “common values and dialogue, and progress on our shared socio-economic and political agenda, including on reforms in areas such as governance and the rule of law, and macroeconomic stability and the business environment” and aims for a “green, digital, resilient” and “just recovery.”

In sum, what is new in this Mediterranean Agenda is mainly that, with the implementation of the NDICI, the focus will be on the EU’s “strategic priorities of green and digital transition” with an emphasis on reforms related to “governance and the rule of law,” and “macroeconomic stability” to reinforce “sustainable prosperity and resilience,” as well as the “business environment.” The agenda will be perceived as EU-centric, so the reinforcement of the social dimension of the partnership and of the role of (and support to) civil society is key. However, until now, the participation of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) has led to mixed results.

The Impact of the Externalization of EU Policies in the Mediterranean

The externalization of EU policies is far from new in the Mediterranean. One must recall for instance that when the EEC Treaty was signed in Rome in 1957, Algeria was still “French Algeria” and a specific article (227) was inserted in the Treaty to apply its provisions to Algeria with regard to agriculture, competition rules or the liberalization of services. Declarations of intent were also inserted for Libya, Morocco and Tunisia with the aim of concluding future Economic Association Conventions. The two next generations of association agreements in the 1960s and 1970s, plus the 1975 trade agreement with Israel, consolidated the approach. The “traditional flows” of trade and the “sensitivity” of some agricultural products were taken into consideration to preserve the interests of the Member States through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), launched at the beginning of the 1960s. This was reinforced in the Mediterranean with the successive enlargement waves of 1973 and especially the Mediterranean waves in 1981 (Greece) and 1986 (Portugal and Spain) and by the single market in December 1992. Also to be noted, is that at the end of the 1980s, the EEC became food self-sufficient. The trade relations with the “Mediterranean Third Countries” followed the same trade patterns from the 1970s until the 1990s. The creation of the WTO in 1994, and the fact that the Uruguay Round negotiations ended with the creation of a new worldwide Dispute Settlement Mechanism with compulsory jurisdiction, changed the rules of the game. The incompatibility of the 1970s agreements with GATT/WTO multilateral rules promoted the negotiation of free trade areas within the framework of new Euro-Mediterranean Association Agreements (EMAAs), which were compatible with the multilateral rules.

Developing the external dimension of relatively new EU policies will definitively impact the “Euro-Mediterranean dimension,” which is supposed to be revived, being an EU initiative and not a Euro-Mediterranean one, even if some UfM meetings were held in Barcelona at the end of 2020. The external dimension of the EU’s internal policies was already largely extended by the ENP. The first sketch of the ENP in 2002 already referred to “approximation and/or harmonization of legislation and progressive extension of relevant EU policies.” The Commission then proposed in 2004 the “prospect of a stake in the EU’s internal market and further integration and liberalization to promote the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital (four freedoms),” which created confusion. What is in fact more an extension of the EU’s internal market does not include the four freedoms as such, even for the eastern neighbours. This is also the case at the level of the non-EU members of the European Economic Area. In other words, for example, the externalization of the area of freedom, security and justice (AFSJ) would exclude freedom and perhaps justice if we took into consideration the sometimes dramatic consequences of the externalization of border controls. After the “stake in the internal market,” the 2006 Commission’s Communication defined the programme for an “economic integration” that “should go beyond free trade in goods and services” to also include “behind the border” issues: “addressing non-tariff barriers.” The goal is to achieve: “comprehensive convergence in trade and regulatory areas (such as technical norms and standards, sanitary and phytosanitary rules, competition policy, enterprise competitiveness, innovation and industrial policy, research cooperation, intellectual property rights, trade facilitation customs measures and administrative capacity in the area of rules of origin, good governance in the tax area, company law, public procurement and financial services).”

Of course, this “stake in the internal market” means, in fact, an extension of the internal market, using the single market methodology. With the ENP, the programme’s priorities were included at bilateral level in the Action Plans, which were progressively replaced by association agendas and other Partnership priorities. The implementation of the Action Plans “particularly on regulatory areas,” was designed to prepare the ground for a “new generation of deep and comprehensive free trade agreements” (DCFTAs) and this with “all ENP partners.”

However, the legal design is in fact quite different for the eastern partners. Their old partnership and cooperation agreements, which were not preferential trade agreements, were replaced by new association agreements (AAs) including DCFTAs (AA-DCFTAs). These agreements are of a new generation and include detailed provisions in many policy areas, including Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP). For the MPCs it is the sectoral agreements approach that has been followed, as it is the “existing Mediterranean FTAs” that had to be “expanded accordingly, to other regulatory areas.” The “longer-term vision of an economic community” between the EU and its partners was then put forward and named: “Neighbourhood Economic Community” (NEC). The NEC would include the “application of shared regulatory frameworks and improved market access for goods and services among ENP partners,” but also “appropriate institutional arrangements such as dispute settlement mechanisms.” While Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine all concluded AA-DCFTAs, this is not the case for Morocco and Tunisia, which never finalized the negotiations, or Egypt and Jordan, where negotiations never even got off the ground.

The impact of the of EU’s internal policies is limited within the EMAAs for one main reason: contrary to the three DCFTAs with the eastern partners, the EMAAs were concluded quite a long time ago – some time before the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty – and designed for the EMP, not the ENP. Before the pandemic, the freezing of the DFCTA negotiations with Morocco and then Tunisia was due to a number of reasons, mainly of a political nature. But one must remember that this reluctance to go further in terms of economic integration is due to the cost of the reforms, which is not compensated by an EU accession and therefore implies a loss of sovereignty.

A modernization of the old EMAAs is thus an important medium-term objective. For the time being and in the short term, the priorities are at trade level: food security and the resilience of supply chains, linked to fears of a resurgence of protectionism. As argued by Sebastien Miroudot, on the one hand, the “overlap between the debate on the resilience of supply chains and the debate on protectionism and economic nationalism” is an opportunity to propose “new ways of addressing concerns about globalization.” On the other hand, the “reshoring debate focuses on resilient value chains for developed countries and does not take into account developing and emerging economies.” In the statement of the UfM Trade Conference of November 2020, the ministers “supported the views of the WTO, WHO, FAO and G20,” calling on the “need to ensure a continued flow of vital medical supplies and equipment, critical agri-food products, and other goods and services across borders” for the “health and well-being of their people and the viabilities of their economies,” and to ensure the “availability and accessibility of essential medical supplies and pharmaceuticals at affordable prices, on an equitable basis.” However, they also clearly stated that “emergency trade measures” have to be “targeted, proportionate, transparent and temporary.” These measures “should not create unnecessary barriers to trade or disruption to global supply chains, and must be consistent with WTO rules.”

As far as the eight EMAAs are concerned, the ministers highlighted the need to:
i) better “utilize the available opportunities” and increase “trade and regional connectivity”;
ii) conclude and make operational the “protocols on dispute settlement mechanisms”;
iii) modernize the EMAAs to “enhance integration with the EU market, through mutual market access opportunities,” and the “alignment of standards” and strengthen “environment-related provisions” considering a “dedicated chapter on trade and sustainable development, as well as to deepen the commitments on key rules governing trade policy”;
iv) take “better advantage of the 21st-century trade in services”;
v) foster “new trade linkages between the Euro-Mediterranean region and African countries,” to “attract more trade and investment and further develop regional value chains” ;
vi) reinforce cooperation to integrate the “Euro-Mediterranean market for industrial products,” by continuing “regulatory approximation, including the modernization of quality infrastructure” and developing support for “capacity building”;
vii) strengthen “quality infrastructures” and “export potential”;
viii) develop “capacity building” for “sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) requirements” as this is “paramount in view of achieving deeper standards alignment”;
ix) protect “Intellectual Property Rights” against piracy and counterfeiting as “powerful tools for trade and development,” and because their protection encourages “research and development, innovation, culture” and FDI;
x) modernize “rules of origin in the context of the Regional Convention on Pan-Euro-Mediterranean Preferential Rules (PEM Convention)” to “facilitate trade among participating countries and enable their companies to further integrate within regional value chains.”

The themes are not new but the articulation with the current objectives of recovery and the way the EU intends to react to the pandemic, using its networks of external agreements and its internal and external policies, is the main objective. Also of interest, is that the Joint Communication mentioned that countries who do not want to conclude an “agreement on conformity assessment and acceptance (ACAAs),” whose goal is “full alignment,” could implement “domestic regulatory reforms, including elements of legislative alignment between different regulatory systems in the region.” This sort of flexibility is indeed necessary.

Beyond those mainly economic and trade aspects linked to the developments of the EU’s internal market, other policies are to be taken into consideration. It is not possible in this article to detail each and every one of them, but the most important are the following EU policies: environmental, energy, immigration (at large: the external dimension of the Freedom, Security & Justice area), cultural, research and health policies. Neither should one forget the external dimension of the CFSP (including the European Security and Defence Policy, ESDP), which promotes the alignment of ENP partners on CFSP declarations, and participation in the EU’s ESDP operations and missions.

EU Regional Policy is also very important, and programmes like INTERREG are now exported to the MPCs after the development of a cross-border cooperation programme under the ENP. All of this contributes, together with capacity-building assistance and programmes like SIGMA or the TAIEX instrument, to exporting EU norms, standards, regulations, procedures, programmes and modes of governance.


The reinforcement of the externalization of EU policies in the southern Mediterranean is not necessarily a bad thing in the current context. On the contrary, it is obvious that the EU is in fact much better equipped to face all the consequences of the pandemic. The problem is that the MPCs do not necessarily have the capabilities to use this potential. Capacity building and temporary legal/regulatory flexibilities are, therefore, absolutely essential. The stake in the Internal Market means an extension of the latter, without access to decision making and only limited access to decision shaping via the participation in EU programmes and agencies. Until now this participation has been limited and should be facilitated and adapted to the MPCs.
Above all, in the short term, it is essential that focus be placed on the emergencies: food security and health, poverty and human rights. Resilience is the only way. The Secretary General of the United Nations, in the 2021 Global Report on Food Crises, stressed that the “number of people facing acute food insecurity and requiring urgent food, nutrition and livelihoods assistance is on the rise. Conflict is the main reason, combined with climate disruption and economic shocks, aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Conflict and hunger are mutually reinforcing.” And he added that “addressing hunger is a foundation for stability and peace.” Exporting elements of the CAP that led to the EU’s food self-sufficiency today, and to butter mountains and milk lakes in the 1980s, should be food for thought for the next Euromed gatherings.

A credible new Mediterranean Agenda must seek solidarity and mutual understanding, not just the externalization of border controls or the stabilization of regimes that torture and kill human rights defenders. The EU must not lose its moral compass and prepare a long-term and inclusive pan-Euro-Mediterranean integration strategy.


1. European Council Conclusions, 11 December 2020 Brussels,

2. The conclusions of 11 December included a point devoted to the “eastern Mediterranean,” where the leaders invited the Council of Ministers to adopt new “restrictive measures in view of Turkey’s unauthorized drilling activities in the eastern Mediterranean.” They also asked the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the Commission to “take forward the proposal of a multilateral conference on the eastern Mediterranean.” Ibid.

3. The “northern Mediterranean” has been used since the 1960s in the EEC and then the EU to distinguish northern Mediterranean (European) countries (Cyprus, Greece, Malta, Turkey and former Yugoslavia), and therefore potential EU Member States, from the “southern and eastern Mediterranean countries”. Turkey was considered as a northern Mediterranean “Candidate” (and then “negotiating”) Country, as well as one of the founders of the EMP.

4. See: LANNON,Erwan “La déclaration interministérielle de Barcelone, acte fondateur du partenariat euro – méditerranéen.” Revue du Marché commun et de l’Union européenne, n° 398, May 1996, p. 358-368.

5. Council of the EU, Regulation (EU, Euratom) 2020/2093 of 17 December 2020 laying down the multiannual financial framework for the years 2021 to 2027, OJ EU n° L 433I, 22 December 2020, pp. 11–22. See Article 6.

6. “Twenty-five years after the launching of the Barcelona Process, we are determined to relaunch, reinforce and further develop this strategic partnership built on a shared geography and history.” Point 33.

7. Regulation (EU) 2021/947 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 June 2021, establishing the Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument – Global Europe, amending and repealing Decision No 466/2014/EU and repealing Regulation (EU) 2017/1601 and Council Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 480/2009, EU OJ L 209, 14 June 2021, p. 1-78.

8. Emphasis added.

9. European Commission, High representative Joint consultation Paper, Towards a new European Neighbourhood Policy, Brussels, 4 March 2015 JOIN(2015) 6 final.


11. See our contributions in previous editions of this yearbook.

12. European Commission and HRVP Joint Communication “Renewed partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood, A new Agenda for the Mediterranean.” 9 February 2021, Brussels, JOIN(2021) 2 final.

13. Ibid., p. 1.

14. European Commission, “The EU reaffirms its commitment to strengthen relations with its partners in the Southern Neighbourhood,” Barcelona, 26 November 2020, Press releases, 201126_78.

15. European Commission and HR/VP, joint Staff working document on the “Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours.” Brussels, 9 February 2021 SWD(2021) 23 final.

16. See LANNON, Erwan “L’appui de l’Union européenne aux Organisations de la société civile dans le cadre de la stratégie de pré-adhésion et de la Politique européenne de voisinage.” in Anne MILLET-
DEVALLE (dir.) Union européenne et société civile organisée, at press, 2021, éditions Pedone, Paris .
And this until the 1962 Evian agreements that led to its independence.

17. For the technical elements of the old and recent agreements see LANNON, Erwan “Politique européenne de voisinage.” in Encyclopédie Jurisclasseur – Europe Traité, fascicule 2230, LexisNexis, 2017, Paris, 49 p.

19. See PETERSMANN, Ernst-Ulrich, The GATT/WTO Dispute Settlement System, Kluwer Law, The Hague 1997, 345 p. According to the WTO it is one of the “most active international dispute settlement mechanisms in the world. Since 1995, 603 disputes have been brought to the WTO and over 350 rulings have been issued,” WTO General Secretariat, Dispute Settlement, Geneva, July 2021,

20. Secretariat of the EU Council, Javier Solana-Chris Patten, Joint letter on a “Wider Europe,” 7 August 2002.

21. European Commission, Wider Europe – Neighbourhood: A New Framework for Relations with our Eastern and Southern Neighbours,” 11 March 2003, Brussels, COM(2003) 104 final.

22. Communication from the Commission on Strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy, Brussels, 4 December 2006, COM(2006) 726 final.

23. In 1985, the white paper on “Completing the Internal Market” included a programme of hundreds of legislative measures with a timetable for the unification of the markets of the Member States. The objective was to abolish, by the end of 1992, all remaining Non-Tariff Barriers to trade. Interestingly, the white paper provided the foundations for the Single European Act (SEA), which first introduced an environmental dimension into the EEC Treaty. See: Completing the Internal Market: White Paper from the Commission to the European Council (Milan, 28-29 June 1985), June 1985, COM(85) 310.

24. For the mandate, see: 3136th EU Council meeting, Foreign Affairs – Trade, Geneva, 14 December 2011, p. 8.

25. Adding that: “These countries would not only lose some economic activity if reshoring was the new normal, but would also face a more difficult access to essential goods when they are produced by Multinational Enterprises from developed countries.” MIROUDOT, Sébastien “Reshaping the policy debate on the implications of COVID-19 for global supply chains,” Journal of International Business Policy, October 2020, Vol. 3, pp. 430-442.

26. Call to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on agriculture trade and food security made on 31 March by the Director Generals of the WTO, FAO and WHO; Joint statement from several WTO Members, adopted on 22 April, on the need to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with an open and predictable trade in agriculture and food products);; G20 Trade Ministerial statement adopted on 30 March,; G20 Agriculture Ministerial declaration adopted on 22 April,

27. Also “Ministers welcomed the EU and its partners’ strategy to tackle the impact of COVID-19, acting as ‘Team Europe,’ as well as the EC financial support package of over €4.88 billion which provides immediate support for health systems at the bilateral and the regional levels, as well as medium to long-term assistance for the region’s socio-economic recovery, especially for the most vulnerable.”

28. The Ministers also “welcomed the entry into force of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).”

29. The Ministers noted that “the UfM Secretariat and the German development agency GIZ, supported by the German Federal Government, organized trainings and technical assistance for ministries, customs authorities and businesses on the PEM rules of origin, in order to enhance the capacities of those actors and thereby increase the benefits of the respective trade agreements.”

30. The Interreg Euro-MED Programme 2021-2027 “gathers 13 European countries from the northern shore of the Mediterranean” and it “supports projects developing innovative concepts and practices and promoting a reasonable use of resources,” see:
SIGMA TAIEX instrument:
European Commission, Communication of the Commission on the general approach to enable ENP partner countries to participate in Community agencies and Community programmes, Brussels, 4 December 2006,COM(2006) 724 final.

31. FSIN and Global Network Against Food Crises. 2021. Global Report on Food Crises, Rome, 2021, files/GRFC2021.pdf