Change and Continuity in the European Neighbourhood Policy: The Ukraine Crisis as a Critical Juncture

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The Ukraine crisis presented a severe geopolitical challenge to European Union (EU) policies in the neighbourhood. This is because during the course of the crisis, Russia openly challenged the EU’s economic and political integration initiatives in the region using economic, informational and eventually military means. As such, the crisis and its escalation has had ramifications across the EU in the fields of security, trade, energy security and regional cooperation. In the wake of the crisis, a clear rhetorical break with previous EU policy was announced by various key actors to respond to these challenges. Yet both the rhetoric and declared ambition for reform in response to the events is not matched by a major revision of actual policy objectives or policy tools. The question at the core of this article is how to explain the changes made to the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) following the Ukraine crisis. In order to provide an answer this article will build on historical institutionalism, exploring how two key historical institutionalist insights improve our understanding of the policy changes made to the ENP after the Ukraine crisis: (i) the institutional ‘effects’ and plasticity of the ENP institutions and (ii) temporal contingency. In doing so, this article takes issue with two tendencies in the current literature on policy change in the ENP. First, the lack of analytical engagement with the very notion of policy change, which throughout the literature is rarely defined or conceptualized. Second, the prevailing assumption that one should not be surprised that in the case of ENP reform after the Ukraine crisis there has been little change, due to the prevalence of policy inertia. It is argued that this oversimplifies both policy continuity and policy change. By paying particular attention to the decision-making process preceding change, this article thus aims to shed new light on the issue of EU foreign policy change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-50
Number of pages31
Issue number1
Early online date8 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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