The Joint Communication on a Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood

Photo by Shai Pal, Unsplash


Catherine Purkiss, 89 Belgium

Executive summary

In November last year, the EU reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining its relationship with the Southern Neighbourhood, which includes the Mediterranean countries in the MENA Region: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia. The new Joint Communication on a Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood comprises social, financial, environmental, and political programmes which fall under 6 overarching themes: an economic and investment plan for the Southern Neighbours; human development, good governance and the Rule of Law; resilience, prosperity and the digital transition; peace and security; migration and mobility; the green transition, especially climate resilience, energy and the environment. An overview of the key components of the EU’s relationship with its Southern Neighbourhood will be carried out, followed by a discussion of recent developments, areas of contention, main beneficiaries, and forward-facing concluding remarks.



The Heart of the Partnership

In November last year, the EU reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining its relationship with the Southern Neighbourhood [1], which includes the countries on the southern shore of the Mediterranean: Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia [2]. These commitments materialised in the Joint Communication on a Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood, which comprises social, financial, environmental and political programmes which fall under 6 overarching aims [3]: an economic and investment plan for the Southern Neighbours; human development, good governance and the Rule of Law; resilience, prosperity and the digital transition; peace and security; migration and mobility and the green transition, especially climate resilience, energy and the environment.

Figure 1 – Through the EU Neighbourhood Policy, the European Union (dark blue) maintains special relations with the Southern Neighbourhood (blue), which is part of the MENA Region (alongside the countries in light blue).

The Communication on a Renewed Partnership precedes the reviews of both the Eastern Partnership Initiative and the European Neighbourhood Policy – the framework under which the EU’s collaboration with the Southern Neighbourhood takes place [4]. With the European Security Order ( based on respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, territorial integrity and sovereign equality) [5]  being violated in these countries included in the Southern Neighbourhood [6], the Commission aims to address increased geopolitical tensions through the implementation of forward-facing programmes focused on democracy building, climate change, economic growth and migration [7].

The Communication on the Renewed Partnership with the Southern Mediterranean neighbours was finalised in the 1st quarter of this year, and provided a strong outline of the aims of an improved relationship, as demonstrated below [8]. There are six key components to the Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood [9]:  

  1. An Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours– including flagship priority sector initiatives and trade and investment for inclusive growth and competition by seizing the digital transition
  2. Human Development, Good Governance and the Rule of Law– to increase resiliency and capacity of healthcare systems, build institutional trust, transparency and accountability and foster gender equality and innovation
  3. Resilience, Prosperity and the Digital Transition– supporting sustainable interconnectivity, financial access for small and medium enterprises, economic diversification and female economic empowerment 
  4. Peace and Security– reaffirming the EU’s position as a peacebuilding body with a multilateral system with the United Nations at its centre and cross-border cooperation to tackle hybrid threats and transnational organised crime
  5. Migration and Mobility– establishing mutually beneficial partnerships in line with the New Pact on Migration and Asylum, providing economic opportunities for young people, determining the root causes of irregular migration and tackling forced displacement through conflict resolution
  6. Green Transition: Climate Resilience, Energy and Environment– enabling countries to meet their climate commitments, drive energy transition and security, value biodiversity and resource efficiency and create sustainable food systems

Using these actions focused on today’s key global challenges like democracy building, climate change, sustainable economic growth and migration, the Commission intends to strengthen its commitment to the region in light of enduring challenges, especially ten years after the Arab Spring.

1. A New Agenda for the Mediterranean

In February this year, a New Agenda for the Mediterranean was adopted as part of the Communication, which includes an Economic and Investment Plan to promote post Covid-19 socio-economic recovery in the Southern Neighbourhood and has five policy areas: human development, digital transition, peace and security, migration and a green transition- mirroring the objectives of the wider neighbourhood communication [10].

The justification is that a Mediterranean partnership is of strategic importance for the EU as, like the Arab Spring and the Barcelona Declaration (which launched the Euro-Mediterranean partnership in 1995) demonstrate, challenges in this region resulting from global trends remain a key issue [11]. For example, in late March 2021, Egypt’s Suez Canal was blocked by a container ship, causing oil prices to rise on international markets and halting marine traffic- a novel problem that highlights the wider global trends of containerisation, reliance on non-renewable energy, global trade and increased flow of goods instigated by globalisation that have knock-on effects on the EU’s goals related to improved mobility, environment and trade [12]. Similarly, the international risk of disinformation threatens France’s Covid-19 vaccine uptake and could have a negative ripple effect on perceptions in the Southern Neighbourhood too- posing a challenge to the Commission’s attempts to increase resiliency and capacity of healthcare systems under their Human Development, Good Governance and the Rule of Law aims [13].

To help develop the new Communication on the Southern Neighbourhood further, a consultation assessing the views of partner countries, civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders will be undertaken [14]. Although this will give people and organisations the chance to play a part in its creation, kickstarting important discussions on global challenges, the effectiveness of consultations is questionable – particularly if those consulted do not reflect the diversity of European citizens. 

2. Economic and Investment Plan

These five policy areas and a Covid-19 recovery strategy will be financed by an Economic and Investment Plan dedicated specifically to the partnership, the 6th, financial, component of the relationship to practically enable the implementation of the proposed actions under these themes [15]. This Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument, NDICI, will provide up to 7 billion Euros between 2021 and 2027 to be used to achieve the objectives [16]. It is estimated that this could mobilise up to 30 billion Euros in private and public investment, significantly financially benefiting the region [17], enabling it to harbour human development, climate action and peace in the upcoming ‘decade of action’ [18].


Recent Developments in the Southern Neighbourhood Impacting the Partnership: Coronavirus, Democratization & Renewable Energy

Notable recent developments include the fact that 2.3 billion Euros mobilised so far in the Coronavirus pandemic is attributable to cooperation and communication with partners [19]. In Libya, a roadmap for holding national elections at the end of this year has been established, the energy sector has reopened, a nationwide ceasefire agreement was agreed at the end of 2020 and most recently, Libya has seen the selection of a transitional unified executive authority – a precondition for peace, possibly enabling it in the future to show other nations how the process of democratization can be initiated [20]. This is a welcome development since a worsening security situation in Libya previously contributed to the international challenge of irregular migration and reflected badly on the EU in terms of its aims to be a peaceful body advancing conflict resolution and democracy [21].

2,000km away, Morocco, with its rapidly expanding green energy sector, and world-famous desert solar panel farm, could play a key role in supporting the EU and its Southern neighbours by facilitating innovative solutions and trans-national communication to enhance climate resilience23] addressing UN SDG 13- climate action [23]. This progress could help support the Commission’s goals under the New Agenda for the Mediterranean- in particular the ‘Human Development, Good Governance and the Rule of Law’ goal and the ‘Green Transition: Climate Resilience, Energy and Environment’ goal- providing clear utilitarian reasoning for the EU to invest socially and economically in its Southern Neighbourhood.


Potential areas of contention in the Communication

However, contentious elements of the communication include the currently suspended cooperation with Syrian authorities and the recognition, or lack thereof, of Palestine as an autonomous State [24]. Indeed, the European Commission states that ‘this designation shall not be construed as recognition of a State of Palestine and is without prejudice to the individual positions of Member States on this issue’ [25]. This could conflict with the USA’s history of support for Israel and President Trump’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, although the EU does, alongside the UK and US support the idea of a two-state solution [26].

Interestingly, the EU has provided almost 153 million Euros to Palestine and its refugees but nothing (in monetary terms) to Israel to provide support during the Coronavirus Pandemic [27]. Regardless, with the inauguration of President Biden, US-EU relations may have brighter prospects and tension surrounding the recognition of an autonomous Palestinian State may fade.

Additionally, this communication incorporating Israel, Tunisia, Morocco and Palestine, could signify improved Arab-Israeli relations and an increasing alignment of goals [28] a situation which would enable progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals 16 and 17 – peace and partnerships [29]. Undoubtedly though, the area of contention relating to Palestinian state recoginition, or lack thereof, threatens to jeopardise progress due to differing southern neighbour’s perspectives on the issue that could cause the Commission to take action focused on quieting disputes rather than resolving the real issues at hand (such as human rights abuses at the Gaza Strip and West Bank). This demonstrates just one problem resulting from the European Union being an ‘unidentified political object’ that has to act in a fairly neutral, apolitical way for diplomatic reasons [30].


Key Beneficiaries of a Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhoodal partners

While the Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood will likely have a myriad of benefits for many, Palestinian refugees are particularly likely to benefit from the awareness raising the EU’s involvement in their affairs will enable and also the Commission’s action on supporting their movement to safety, particularly during the Coronavirus crisis. This comes at a time when the UK government is being criticised for its reduction of foreign aid to countries like Yemen, meaning the EU’s support of vulnerable nations could initiate valuable positive press for the union [31].

Young people that are facing an intergenerational injustice due to climate change and that work or live in areas climatically vulnerable to changes will be positively impacted by more shared scientific research, innovation and expertise helping to mitigate global warming. Equally, the EU’s new Agenda for the Mediterranean- the key element of the Joint Communication on the Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood is particularly aimed at securing a prosperous future for young people and women [32], helping to deliver progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 5 for gender equality [33]. 

Figure 2 – The myriad flows of benefits resulting from a renewed partnership to key beneficiaries and the wider positive impacts.

Concluding Remarks

Further partnerships, multilateralism alongside bilateralism, or more mutually beneficial, as opposed to one way, aid could occur in the future. The threat of terrorism remains high in neighbouring nations as do human rights violations committed by both state and non-state actors, although in the future, the line between the two is likely to become increasingly blurred, increasing the difficulty facing the Commission in terms of conflict resolution and diplomacy [34]. A mid-term review of the Joint Communication is expected in 2024 [35], but with the Covid-19 pandemic exacerbating socio-economic, environmental, security and governance issues, agendas may need to be implemented with greater urgency and more proactiveness.


Further Readings

European Think Tanks Group 2021. “The 2021 ENP South Communication: A ‘renewed partnership’ but ‘old issues’ remain” February 23rd 2021. https://ettg.eu/2021/02/23/the-2021-enp-south-communication-a-renewed-partnership-but-old-issues-remain/

European Commission 2020. “STATE OF THE UNION 2020: Letter of Intent to President David Maria Sassoli and to Chancellor Angela Merkel” 2020. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/state_of_the_union_2020_letter_of_intent_en.pdf

European Commission 2021. “JOINT STAFF WORKING DOCUMENT: Renewed Partnership with the Southern Neighbourhood Economic and Investment Plan for the Southern Neighbours” February 9th 2021. https://eeas.europa.eu//sites/default/files/joint_staff_working_document_renewed_partnership_southern_neighbourhood.pdf

Moran, James 2021. “How new is the EU’s new agenda for the Mediterranean?” March 3rd 2021. https://www.ceps.eu/how-new-is-the-eus-new-agenda-for-the-mediterranean/




[1] European Parliament 2021. “Legislative Train Schedule” 2021. Accessed 04/02/2021. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-stronger-europe-in-the-world/file-renewed-partnership-with-the-southern-neighbourhood.

[2] European Commission 2016. “Cooperation with the Southern Neighbourhood” 2016. Accessed 15/01/2021.  https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/neighbourhood/southern-neighbourhood_en.

[3] European Commission 2021. “Towards a New Partnership With the Southern Neighbourhood” February 2021. Accessed 22/02/2021. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/default/files/renewed_partnership_southern_neighbourhood_en.pdf

[4] European Commission 2016. “Cooperation with the Southern Neighbourhood” 2016. Accessed 15/01/2021.  https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/neighbourhood/southern-neighbourhood_en.

[5] European Commission 2016. “Cooperation with the Southern Neighbourhood” 2016. Accessed 15/01/2021.  https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/neighbourhood/southern-neighbourhood_en. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975 states that the European Security Order is based on respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, territorial integrity and sovereign equality. Nations of Europe, the UK, the US, Canada and the Soviet Union signed the declaration, in recognition that conflict resolution should be peaceful and that all people have equal rights and the freedom to determine the political status of their country.

[6] European Parliament 2021. “Legislative Train Schedule” 2021. Accessed 04/02/2021. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-stronger-europe-in-the-world/file-renewed-partnership-with-the-southern-neighbourhood.

[7] European Commission 2015. “Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2014” 2015. Accessed 10/01/2021. https://documentcloud.adobe.com/gsuiteintegration/index.html?state=%7B%22ids%22%3A%5B%221m49T41YQWjjP8uf8rtlM6Ds6lA6Zf-OO%22%5D%2C%22action%22%3A%22open%22%2C%22userId%22%3A%22101730966930926550049%22%2C%22resourceKeys%22%3A%7B%7D%7D.

[8] European Parliament 2021. “Legislative Train Schedule” 2021. Accessed 04/02/2021. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/legislative-train/theme-a-stronger-europe-in-the-world/file-renewed-partnership-with-the-southern-neighbourhood.

[9] European Commission 2021. “Towards a New Partnership With the Southern Neighbourhood” February 2021. Accessed 22/02/2021. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/default/files/renewed_partnership_southern_neighbourhood_en.pdf

[10] Press Corner 2021. “Southern Neighbourhood: EU Proposes New Agenda for the Mediterranean” 2021. Accessed 15/03/2021. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_426.

[11] BBC News 2021. “Egypt’s Suez Canal Blocked by Huge Container Ship” March 24, 2021. Accessed 27/03/2021.  https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-56505413

[12] BBC Trending 2021. “The Vaccine Misinformation Battle Raging in France.” March 27, 2021. Accessed 27/03/2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-trending-56526265.

[13] EU Neighbours 2020. “EU Reaffirms Commitment to Strengthen Relations with Southern Neighbourhood Partners” 2020. Accessed 25/03/2021. https://www.euneighbours.eu/en/south/stay-informed/news/eu-reaffirms-commitment-strengthen-relations-southern-neighbourhood.

[14] EU Neighbours 2021. “Southern Neighbourhood: EU Proposes New Agenda for the Mediterranean” 2021. Accessed 10/03/2021. https://www.euneighbours.eu/en/south/stay-informed/news/southern-neighbourhood-eu-proposes-new-agenda-mediterranean.

[15] Ibidem.

[16] Ibidem.

[17] Ibidem.

[18] UN 2020. “Decade of Action – United Nations Sustainable Development” 2020. Accessed 27/03/2021. https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/decade-of-action/.

[19] European Commission 2021. “Overview of EU Support” n.d. Accessed 07/03/2021. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/default/files/coronavirus_support_south.pdf.

[20] Council of the EU 2021. “Libya: Declaration by the High Representative Josep Borrell on Behalf of the EU on the Formation of the Transitional Unified Executive Authority” 2021. Accessed 15/03/2021. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2021/02/07/libya-formation-of-the-transitional-unified-executive-authority/.

[21] European Commission 2015. “Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions: Implementation of the European Neighbourhood Policy in 2014” 2015, p.8. Accessed 10/01/2021. https://documentcloud.adobe.com/gsuiteintegration/index.html?state=%7B%22ids%22%3A%5B%221m49T41YQWjjP8uf8rtlM6Ds6lA6Zf-OO%22%5D%2C%22action%22%3A%22open%22%2C%22userId%22%3A%22101730966930926550049%22%2C%22resourceKeys%22%3A%7B%7D%7D.

[22] Ivi, p. 10.

[23] UN 2013. “THE 17 GOALS: Sustainable Development” 2013. Accessed 21/01/2021. https://sdgs.un.org/goals.

[24] European Commission 2016. “Cooperation with the Southern Neighbourhood” 2016. Accessed 15/01/2021.  https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/neighbourhood/southern-neighbourhood_en.

[25] Ibidem.

[26] Plett Usher, Barbara 2018. “Jerusalem Embassy: Why Trump’s Move Was Not about Peace” May 15, 2018. Accessed 28/02/2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-44120428.

[27] European Commission 2021. “Overview of EU Support” n.d. Accessed 07/03/2021. https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/default/files/coronavirus_support_south.pdf.

[28] Council on Foreign Relations 2020. “What Morocco’s Agreement with Israel Means for the Wider Middle East” 2020. Accessed 12/02/2021. https://www.cfr.org/in-brief/what-moroccos-agreement-israel-means-wider-middle-east.

[29] UN 2013. “THE 17 GOALS: Sustainable Development” 2013. Accessed 21/01/2021. https://sdgs.un.org/goals.

[30] Marrs, Tom 2020. “An Unidentified Political Object: A Brief Reflection on the European Union – Cambridge Globalist” Cambridge Globalist. December 9, 2020. Accessed 28/01/2021. https://cambridgeglobalist.org/?p=2292.

[31] BBC News 2021. “UK Foreign Aid: Yemen Cut Condemned by Charities” March 6, 2021. Accessed 27/03/2021. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-56301743.

[32] Press Corner 2021. “Southern Neighbourhood: EU Proposes New Agenda for the Mediterranean” 2021. Accessed 15/03/2021. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_426.

[33] UN 2013. “THE 17 GOALS: Sustainable Development” 2013. Accessed 21/01/2021. https://sdgs.un.org/goals.

[34] Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office 2013. “Terrorism – Israel Travel Advice” GOV.UK. March 8, 2013. Accessed 13/03/2021. https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/israel/terrorism.

[35] Press Corner 2021. “Southern Neighbourhood: EU Proposes New Agenda for the Mediterranean” 2021. Accessed 15/03/2021. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_21_426.

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