BY ZAUR SHIRIYEV | APRIL 17, 2012
The Black Sea is now in part an internal sea of the EU. What is remarkable about the Black Sea region at present is that despite the numerous territorial disputes and historical mutual distrust, despite the ongoing armed conflict among the regional states, the region has managed to sustain a limbo of war and peace. While the regions surrounding the Black Sea were rapidly integrated into the EU, improvements made within the BS states have lead policy makers to say that it is now time for the EU to engage more deeply with the affairs of the BS area.In less than two decades, the European Union has pushed its eastern frontier from Berlin to the Black Sea, and this geopolitical shift opens up new opportunities, as well as new challenges. However, from a current standpoint, it is easy to locate the weak elements of the EU’s policy towards the BS area.
The Black Sea countries’ regional cooperation and further engagement was not high on their agenda due to the conflicts between states, especially within and beyond the South Caucasus countries. Interestingly, post-Soviet era transformation of the European Union and the conflicts in the Black Sea countries happened at more or less the same time; however the institutionally weak EU failed to respond to the challenges. During the first decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the EU was confronted with very high expectations with regard to its capacities; there was a gap between what these countries were hoping for and what the EU or its member countries were providing. The EU strategy towards the region and the regional states was not based on a unified approach agreed amongst member states. One important factor here was the naming of the region. At this point, the countries of the South Caucasus – Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia – saw the “strategic Black Sea region” as the gateway to Europe, but did not consider themselves to be part of it. During this time, despite heightened interest in the area, the region’s real priorities and needs were in fact largely ignored by the EU, owing to its lack of institutional capacity. Thus the region’s security issues and the attendant conflict resolution processes were mainly handled by the OSCE (in the case of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Nagorno-Karabakh conflict) and the United Nation (for the South Ossetia and Abkhazia conflicts). Until 2005, there was no attempt by the EU to address Moldova’s Transnistria conflict.