Book Review: EU Neighborhood Policy in the Maghreb

Iole Fontana, EU Neighborhood Policy in the Maghreb. Implementing the ENP in Tunisia and Morocco Before and After the Arab Uprising (London; New York: Routledge, 2017). 198 pp., £90.00 (hardback), ISBN: 9781138237179.

An overwhelming majority of analysts agree that the EU’s Mediterranean policy, carried out since the 1990s, has not been terribly successful, to put it mildly. None of the goals set in the Barcelona Declaration, adopted in November 1995 as a cornerstone of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership (EMP), has been truly implemented. The European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) introduced in 2003, the Union for the Mediterranean that relaunched the Barcelona Process in 2008 as well as other instruments that followed did not improve the situation, either.

Nowadays, the European Union southern neighborhood is deeply destabilized, and it generates numerous challenges and threats for the European countries, among which illegal immigration and terrorism stand out. Faced with a daily influx of thousands of refugees and illegal immigrants arriving from Africa and the Middle East at the northern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and recurrent terrorist attacks, just like the one in Barcelona’s La Rambla in August 2017 that resulted in the death of at least fourteen and more than 140 injured, the European Union seems at a loss as to how to respond.

Why has not the EU policy in the Mediterranean region succeeded? Why hasn’t the EU Mediterranean policy lived up to its original expectations? Why has there been so little progress made in accomplishing the EU Mediterranean policy aims? Those questions, which have baffled analysts for several years, produced a significant amount of scholarship with oft-convincing explanations. Thus far, however, none of these explanations took into account the role of local actors in implementing the ENP goals, and none of them focused on the willingness and the capacity of the southern neighborhood countries to implement the ENP reforms. This research gap was successfully filled by Iole Fontana.

In her book EU Neighborhood Policy in the Maghreb. Implementing the ENP in Tunisia and Morocco Before and After the Arab Uprising, Fontana concentrates on the greatest challenge in the EU external policy, which she calls “the struggle for implementation” (p. 1). Noting that the subject literature “does not take into account conditions and actors on the ground” (p. 15), Fontana elects not to present the issue through the EU lenses. Instead, she chooses to explain “how EU’s external policies are implemented in the domestic context of the recipient countries” (p. 2). By adopting a local, home-grown perspective, she sets her eyes on explaining “the obstacles and facilitating conditions that affect implementation on the ground” (p. 3).

Analysis of the implementation of bilateral reform programs financed through the European Neighborhood Partnership Instrument (ENPI) in Morocco and Tunisia is the main subject of Fontana’s comparative study. Fontana’s argues that the implementation of the ENP reform programs in Morocco and Tunisia has been affected by a triad of domestic political actors, administration, and civil society. As a result, she concludes, a country where there is a high “degree of misfit between the goals of domestic political actors and those promoted by the ENP” and where “administrative capacity” as well as “autonomous and independent civil society” are weak, such country is more likely to experience an implementation gap (pp. 179-182).

Fontana’s comparative study of Morocco and Tunisia reads like a fine confirmation of this statement. Moreover, her research reveals, among other things, that although in 2007-2010 both countries had a good absorption capacity of EU funds, after the Arab uprising in 2011 the EU’s evaluation of two countries participation in the ENP changed: Morocco has been losing its positive reputation of a poster child of the ENP whereas Tunisia has improved its reputation by progressing its absorption capacity and policy dialogue (p. 185). Fontana explains this divergence by pointing out that, in terms of domestic political actors, administration, and civil society, changes that have taken place in both countries since 2011 worked in favor of Tunisia. In her detailed analysis, the author shows that Ennahdha, which emerged as a new Tunisian political domestic actor after the Ben Ali regime’s collapse, was much more open and well-disposed toward cooperating with the EU than the Moroccan Parti de la Justice et du Développement (PJD).

Political actors in Tunisia “were eager and committed to implement the ENP programs, which fully respected post-revolutionary goals as redefined by people needs”, while in case of Morocco “even if the PJD approach matched with the one promoted by the EU, the goals of the Moroccan relative stronger actor prevailed, with the royal establishment opposing the reform and in turn hampering the implementation of the corresponding ENP programs” (p. 181). Moreover, after 2011, the Tunisian administration recovered more quickly than the Moroccan, which allowed the former to implement the ENP reforms more effectively and capably. Last but not least, in the aftermath of the Arab uprising, civil society gained a high degree of autonomy and independence vis-à-vis the state whereas in Morocco state-civil society relations worsened and the divide between the state and the civil-society actors widened.

The logical division of the book allows the reader to follow author’s ideas and presentation seamlessly. Fontana divides her study into seven chapters. The first, introductory chapter outlines the book’s themes, objectives, structure and author’s expected contribution to the research field. The second chapter introduces Fontana’s analytical tools and methods, and it explains the author’s reasons for selecting a governance approach as a main theoretical framework of her analysis. The core chapters of the book deal with the empirical dimension of her study. Here, the author presents the role of local Tunisian and Moroccan actors in implementing the ENP programs: chapters three and four concentrate on role of domestic political actors before and after the Arab uprisings, chapter five presents the role of administration and its capacity, and chapter six highlights the role of civil society. The closing chapter provides conclusions, recommendations concerning applications of her study to the Eastern dimension of the ENP (e.g., Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia) and suggestions for further research.

Fontana has made an original and valuable contribution to our understanding of the EU policy in the Mediterranean region. Not only does the book provide comprehensive and detailed information on implementation of ENP reforms in Tunisia and Morocco; it pays attention to the role of local actors in implementing the EU programs on the domestic level. Undoubtedly, this fresh perspective helps to further understand the determinants of the ENP’s success and failures. Fontana’s book should be highly recommended to anyone interested in the EU’s Mediterranean policy, including ENP, the EU’s external policy in general as well as oft-unexpected outcomes of transformations in Tunisia and Morocco.

Justyna Zając, University of Warsaw

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