The EU’s Quest in South Caucasus: Energy Security & Pro-Active Engagement*

By Zaur Shiriyev | 24.03.2011


The EU is implementing all the possible projects in order to lessen Russian gas dominance in the European market and in this regard one of those big projects is the “Southern Corridor”, which includes Nabucco as priority project as well as ITGI, TAP and White Stream. None of these projects has been materialized as of yet and all of them heavily depends on Azerbaijani gas for their take off stage. When the EU high ranking bureaucrats visited to Azerbaijan on 13 January, 2011, President of European Commission José Manuel Barroso and the President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev signed a joint declaration on gas delivery for Europe in Baku. With this declaration, Azerbaijan for the first time committed itself -to supplying substantial volumes of gas to the European Union in the long run, which has led Europe to access to Azeri markets. In the wake of this visit, the European Parliament (EP) adopted “An EU Strategy for Black Sea region” on 20 January, 2011.  This strategy, among others, called in the EU as  “more direct engagement” and “EU’s leading role in the negotiations and peace-making processes”. On energy security issues, the resolution stresses on the importance of the Southern Corridor and “the significance” of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) transportation to Europe in the form of the AGRI project. Although the document refers “energy security” issues, there is no link to Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which is the challenge area for EU and its energy security in the future. Similar document (on the need for a European Union strategy for the South Caucasus) concerning South Caucasus was approved by the EP on May 20, 2010.  Unless Azerbaijani territories are liberated from the Armenian occupation and EU formulate a strategy to show its stance in the regional problems, peace and stability in the region will be unattainable. Accordingly, it  some  question arises such as is the EU “soft” or “smart” power in South Caucasus and why EU is not going to implement strong political will towards this region?

EU policy towards the South Caucasus has become an idiom only recently in political literature within last two decades. In 2003, the region, at a conceptual level, was recognized as an area where the European Security Strategy would typically apply. Until this period, the EU-South Caucasus  policy was based upon energy issues; its policies towards the region did not meet aspirations of South Caucasus states since the member states of the European Union reward their own national interests which contradicted with the overall policies of the European Union. During this time, the EU prioritized economic concerns over political and strategic ones. The lack of any sound political initiative toward the powerful policy was linked to the weaknesses concerning the EU’s objectives and its strategic instruments.

The political transformation of the EU made its strategic instruments stronger as well as reciprocally and positively affected its policies towards region. The increasing interest of the EU in the region and in its neighbour countries to the EU’s “soft power” initiatives include: Neighbourhood Policy and Eastern Partnership Programmes (EaP). In this regard, the EU’s approach to the South Caucasus is identifiable as “soft power” which is the most sophisticated and advantageous way to exercise power. The American theorist Joseph S Nye, who coined the term, defines such in the following manner: ‘soft power rests on the ability to shape the preferences of others…with intangible assets such as an attractive personality, culture, political values and institutions, and policies that are seen as legitimate or having moral authority [1]. The EU’s soft power comes from its common values, or norms, namely the principles of democracy; the rule of law; social justice; human rights; the commitment to a market economy; social solidarity; sustainable development and the fight against discrimination.


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* Published in the Fifth Issue of Political Reflection Magazine (PR).

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