Franz Pfluegl / Fotolia.com

Trilogue Salzburg 2016: Dealing with Neighbors:

Fighting a Ring of Fire or Building a Ring of Friends?

The 15th Trilogue Salzburg, hosted by the Bertelsmann Stiftung, will focus on different approaches to neighborhood policy and region-building as an increasingly important part of external relations.

Changing political and economic realities as well as instability and armed conflicts have prompted countries worldwide to reassess their approach toward their neighboring states. Due to their geographic proximity neighborhoods are a special sphere of international relations, where the resolution of disputes and conflicts is a pressing concern and where diverging interests of a variety of stakeholders need to be taken into account. Consequently, greater dialogue and coordination at national, regional and sub-regional levels are needed to find coherent and effective solutions to the pressing challenges.

The European Union (EU) first developed its European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in 2004. Modelled after the enlargement process, the ENP was supposed to achieve the EU’s strategic goal of promoting “a ring of well governed countries” or – as Romano Prodi put it – “a ring of friends” by gradually exporting the EU’s legal and economic acquis beyond the union’s borders. Access to the EU’s single market and visa liberalization schemes enabling stronger intercultural exchange were regarded the ENP’s major selling points. However, the massive convulsions in Europe’s southern neighborhood and the destabilization of Ukraine went beyond the ENP’s ability of influence confronting Europe with a new status quo. As a result, the EU conducted a thorough review of its neighborhood policy making stabilization its new number one priority.

In contrast, states in other parts of the world seem to have less enthusiastic perceptions of their neighborhood. There is a long-standing rivalry between China and India, which has been further exacerbated by Beijing’s territorial disputes with its Southeast Asian neighbors over islands in the South China Sea. Trust between India and Pakistan remains low, not to mention Iran and Saudi-Arabia, the latter of the two fearing a Shiite “ring of fire”. With regard to Israel, a critical assessment of its predominantly Arab neighborhood is firmly rooted in the history of its nation.

This year’s Trilogue seeks to address the question as to how states should rethink and reform their policies toward neighboring countries: “Fighting a ring of fire or building a ring of friends”? There are at least two ways to think about this notion. On the one hand, both terms – “ring of fire” and “ring of friends” – can describe a country’s own strategic outlook on its neighborhood defining its policies and actions. On the other hand, both terms can describe a geopolitical status quo, a phenomenon, which states need to react to accordingly. Evidently neighborhoods form a challenging environment all over the world. Therefore a number of questions need to be addressed:

·         Which lessons can be drawn from neighborhood policies and region-building projects worldwide?

·         How should neighborhood policies be designed to deal with current and future challenges as well as to unlock the potential of good neighborly relations?

·         What impact do economic relations have and can they foster regional cooperation?

·         Cross-border cultural activities might support better relations on a grass-roots level. Is neighborhood policy without considering cultural ties or differences actually possible?

·         Given the large impact of developments in the “near abroad”, should neighborhood policy be understood in terms of domestic rather than foreign policy?

The questions above will be addressed from various perspectives in a series of background papers in order to promote a lively discussion at the Trilogue Salzburg.

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