South Caucasus Needs More Pro-Active EU Engagement
The European Parliament, or EP, approved a report on May 20 on the need for a European Union strategy for the South Caucasus, which stresses the need for the union to be proactive with respect to stabilization and encourage the development of the three South Caucasus states.
The most important element of this resolution is that the EP adopts a resolution for the first time which calls on Armenia to withdraw its forces from all occupied territories of Azerbaijan and allow displaced persons to return to their homes while also preventing further conflicts caused by homelessness.
Even though the EP has no formal role in the EU’s foreign and security policy, it is a significant indicator of debates and concerns on what exactly the EU should be doing and why a more effective EU diplomacy is often impossible.
Hence, the Southern Caucasus is located at the intersecting zones of EU-regional projects and initiatives like the European Neighborhood Policy, or ENP, the Black Sea Synergy, and the most recent initiative of the Eastern Partnership.
Currently, energy security is gaining prominence on the EU agenda and it is most likely to guide the EU’s relations with South Caucasus states, especially with Azerbaijan in the coming years. In spite of the importance of the South Caucasus, significant numbers of European politicians and bureaucrats continue to underestimate the dangers stemming from local conflicts in the South Caucasus for the European Union. These threats posed by these conflicts to the energy security of Europe were demonstrated recently and fully by the Russian-Georgian war in August 2008.
Unresolved conflicts in the region are not the only challenge that the EU has to confront, but they are without doubt the key obstacles to implementing successfully any EU “strategy to assist the transformation of the South Caucasus into a region of sustainable peace, stability and prosperity and to fully use its potential to contribute to the peaceful solution of the conflicts in the region by combining its soft power with a firm approach.”
The problem with the established notion of the “frozen conflict” is that these conflicts were not reliably frozen but open to a risky “unfreezing.”
Moreover, after the 2008 war, it has to be clear that no one should rely anymore on the “frozenness” of such conflicts. With regard to the South Caucasus’s regional conflicts, the EU was not or only indirectly involved in conflict resolution and peacekeeping.
The EU’s role in this field of action was described by the International Crisis Group in 2006 as working around the conflict, not working on the conflict. With the 2008 war, the EU had to learn that in a conflict-stricken region like the South Caucasus, any external actor is finally caught up by challenges of conflict management even if it sets other priorities on his agenda toward the partner region like good governance, rule of law, economic reform and support for intra-regional integration or energy cooperation.
All of these issues from good governance to intra-regional cooperation are too connected with and hampered by the implications of unresolved regional conflicts.
It’s clear that the ENP is not a conflict prevention or settlement mechanism. However, the integration of the region into the EU’s neighborhood would require joint and tailor-made efforts at a certain stage to protect the countries of the region against numerous risks and complex mixtures of threats, most importantly to their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Responsibility toward the stability and predictability of the South Caucasus and the prosperity and security of its citizens has to be displayed both by the neighbor countries and the EU.
Obviously, the EU as a new player has been slow in building consensus within the organization on the need to commit more resources to stabilizing the situation in the South Caucasus. The deployment of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia in the aftermath of the August war could mark the beginning of a more active EU engagement.
However, the EU’s leverage is limited by the fact that it is in no common political view inside EU regarding to South Caucasus security problems. For peace process in the South Caucasus needs more active EU engagement. For example, in the Balkans the peace process and implementation of peace agreements has been enhanced by EU membership perspective. It is important to develop a similar strategic vision for the South Caucasus, which would make it easier for their leaders to persuade their societies on the need for compromise.
Finally, if “sustainable peace, stability and prosperity” are the union’s strategic goals in the region, conflict management and resolution strategy needs to inform the formulation and implementation of any EU policy vis-à-vis the region, and all policies need to be assessed in their impact on the region’s conflicts.
* Zaur Shiriyev is a foreign policy analyst based in Azerbaijan.