Strengthening the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) is one of my key tasks as EU Commissioner. The purpose of this policy is clear: the EU must be better at defending the interests and values of its citizens through its relations with partners in its East and South.
New challenges, from violent conflicts in our neighbourhood to uncontrolled migration, from organized crime and terrorism to energy stoppages, all demand a robust European answer. We have to become smarter at exporting stability. If not, Europe will keep importing instability. As one observer has remarked, the "ring of friends" the EU originally aimed for, has become a "ring of fire".
Just a few weeks ago we launched a consultation on the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The necessity for this reform is obvious. We must make this policy stronger and more focused to give Europe a bigger impact; more differentiated and flexible to respond to the needs of our partners. Finally, with a new sense of shared ownership of this project with our partners, from Ukraine to Azerbaijan, from Lebanon to Morocco. The ENP must be a true partnership, not an exercise in Eurocentric preaching.
The ENP has sometimes been described as overly optimistic, even naïve. I disagree. Helping our neighbours in their democratic transition to more open societies, supporting tough economic reforms and opening shared markets is in our hard-headed EU self-interest. Every effort made to strengthen stability in our Neighbourhood will pay off in more stability for Europe. Every cent spent on developing the economies of our neighbours, on fighting corruption and strengthening the rule of law, will produce a tangible "return on investment" in form of new markets and less migration. And finally and most fundamentally: helping our neighbours to make their own, free democratic choices is also a projection of our values, of what the European success story stands for.
In my view, "neighbourhood" is more than a merely geographical definition. It is, above all, an innovative strategy for shared security and prosperity, based on a true partnership of equals and the clear definition of joint interests. I am now actively consulting European stakeholders on ENP reform, above all our friends to the East and South, and will revert with reform proposals in the autumn. I am confident that a "reloaded" ENP has the potential to become exactly the connecting and bridging factor desperately needed in this increasingly polarised and fragmented part of the world.