The effects of the Arab Spring on the European Union: Neighbourhood Policy and Solidarity between Member States in the light of Article 80 TFEU
Since the first demonstrations in Tunisia in December 2010, the so-called Arab Spring rapidly spread throughout several Northern African and Arab countries having immediate effects not only for the people and countries of the region but for the rest of the world also.
In this paper, in particular, I will focus on the effects of the Arab Spring on the European Union and its frontline Mediterranean countries by developing the following aspects:
1. EU institutions’ engagement to challenge the political, economic and social transition from autocratic regimes to democracy with a specific consideration on the need for EU to rethink its Neighbourhood Policy;
2. EU’s support to its frontline Member States, in particular Italy (Lampedusa emergency), facing an unexpected and massive influx of people coming from North Africa;
3. The concept of solidarity and burden sharing of responsibility between Member States.
Finally, I will try to draw some conclusions, proposing a few reflections in the light of my analysis.
I. The European Union and its renewed approach on the Neighbourhood Policy: the principle of “more for more”
From the outset, it must be said that the first EU institutions’ strategic response to the Arab Spring was quick and immediate. Otherwise, I will not go into detail by examining every single action of the European Union but focus on how the Arab Spring has forced the EU to rapidly rethink its Neighbourhood Policy.
This significant change clearly emerges by analyzing the first two acts adopted by European institutions in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
On 8th March 2011, the first Joint Communication of the EU Commission and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy was adopted. It was entitled “A partnership for democracy and shared prosperity with the Southern Mediterranean”  and built on the following three main elements:
1) democracy and building institutions with a specific support on fundamental freedoms, constitutional and judicial reforms, enhanced transparency and fight against corruption;
2) a stronger partnership with people, particularly focusing on dedicated support to civil society (Civil Society Neighbourhood Facility and Social Dialogue Forum), enhanced opportunities for mobility especially for students, researchers and business people;
3) sustainable and inclusive growth and economic development by promoting small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), seeking agreement of Member States in order to increase European Investment Bank lending, working with the other shareholders to extend the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development mandate to countries of the region, promoting job creation and training.
In a single word, this communication highlights the will of the EU to support the demand for political participation, dignity, freedom and employment opportunities coming from the Northern African and Arab countries and, what is most interesting, sets out a new approach based on the “more for more principle”.
This is an incentive based approach under which increased support in terms of financial assistance and access to the EU Single Market have to be made available, on the basis of mutual accountability, to the countries most advanced in the consolidation of the reforms. In other terms, it is based on a sort of competition between countries: the one which goes further and faster in the institutional reforms, will have greater support from the European Union. Increased EU support to its neighbours’ is, thus, conditional.
This principle was further elaborated two months later by a second Joint Communication which initiated the launch of this new approach of the entire European Neighbourhood Policy. In particular, this approach bases on mutual accountability, greater degree of alignment with EU policies and rules leading progressively to economic integration in the EU Internal Market and a shared commitment to the universal values of human rights, democracy and the rule of law.
Hence, it has become clear how significant, and immediate, the events of the Arab Spring were for the EU institutional think-tank. In fact, it is evident that, due to the unexpected social and political magnitude of these uprisings in the Northern African countries, European institutions had rapidly to rethink its Neighbourhood Policy approach, recognizing the need to adopt a new perspective for relations with its Southern neighbours.
II. The frontline countries: the ongoing Lampedusa emergency situation
As underlined above, the Arab Spring had an important impact on European Neighbourhood Policy but a second significant consequence, which involved both the entire European Union and its frontline countries (Italy, Malta, Cyprus, Greece and Spain), should be highlighted. In fact, these countries had to handle an exceptional flow of people coming from the Northern African countries involved in the political upheavals occurred in early 2011. These events had put the national migration and asylum system under heavy pressure, giving also rise to diplomatic disputes between Member States.
In 2011, Italy, in particular the tiny island of Lampedusa, had to cope with 50.000 migrants coming from North Africa, particularly from Tunisia and Libya. An unexpected and exceptional influx of people which forced the Italian government to send a letter to European Commission in February 2011 requesting immediate support both from EU institutions and Member States.
2. The European Commission actively worked on boosting the number of Erasmus Mundus Scholarship for South Mediterranean students. In 2012, it has opened applications for scholarships for Syrian students (see: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-12-1150_en.htm). ↑
4. The European Neighbourhood includes not only Northern African and Arab Countries as Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Syria, Tunisia but also Eastern countries like Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine. ↑