According to the European security document adopted in 2003, "It is in the interest of the European Union to promote a ring of well-governed countries on its borders with whom it can enjoy close and cooperative relations." The European Commission is now elaborating this principle in the form of a "Wider Europe Initiative."
But the initiative cannot fulfill its great promise as long as it stays within the Brussels bureaucracy. It needs to become a political initiative. The EU needs to reach out to its less developed neighbors. This is of vital interest to Europe but it cannot succeed without adequate political and financial support.
The most powerful tool that the EU has for influencing political and economic developments in neighboring countries is the prospect of membership. Unfortunately, the problems created by the current enlargement make it unrealistic to hold out membership to additional countries beyond the ones now under consideration - Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, and possibly the Balkan countries.
In the past, the road to membership was paved with Association Agreements. The defining characteristic of the countries on the Eastern and Southern borders of Europe is that they lack many attributes needed for membership. The Wider Europe Initiative is meant to help develop those attributes. Association Agreements, although desirable, may not be adequate, as the EU's Balkan experiences indicate.