Vol. 3, No. 18 (September 15, 2010)

The EU and the South Caucasus: More attention but little success

Anar Iskandarov
PhD candidate
University of Istanbul

Despite the increasing attention the European Union is devoting to the South Caucasus, the EU’s current approach is not capable of influencing the countries in that region to a significant degree.  And that has proved to be the case despite the interest of all the countries in that region of developing closer ties with the EU and other European institutions and despite the evolution of EU policy over the course of the last 20 years from one that accepted Moscow’s predominance in the region to an approach predicated on the ultimate integration of the three South Caucasus countries into Europe.
A major step in this evolution was the signing of Partnership and Cooperation Agreements (PCA) between the EU and the three countries of the region in April 1996.  These Accords were intended to provide a suitable framework for political dialogue, to support the efforts made by the countries to strengthen their democracies and develop their economies, and to accompany their transition to a market economy and to encourage trade and investment.  The PCAs also were designed to provide a basis for cooperation in the legislative, economic, social, financial, scientific, civil, technological and cultural fields. [1]

But things have not worked out that way.  Because of the Karabakh conflict in the case of Azerbaijan and Armenia and because of the Russian-Georgian war which resulted in Moscow’s recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, these agreements have not been able to promote a regional approach to relations between the EU and the South Caucasus.  Indeed, the European Union, despite these agreements and despite the EU’s professed interest in conflict resolution, has failed to develop the cooperation it might have because of these conflicts (Nuriyev 2007). 

Another shortcoming of the PCAs is that they do not create the basis for the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital as is the case with EU partnership accords elsewhere.  The PCAs only give the three states the status of most favored nations, a necessary but insufficient condition for a move toward a free trade zone (Merdanov 2007).  Moreover, because there is no reward for moving in that direction, the three countries have not been given incentives by the EU to do so.  And consequently, the EU has not succeeded in promoting its policies in the South Caucasus. 

One reason for this failure is that until 2003, the South Caucasus was a relatively low priority for the EU.  Until that time, Brussels did not develop a specific policy for relations with that region but instead simply transposed policy formulations it had developed for other regions to it, something that could not but fail given the very different challenges the South Caucasus presents (Macfarlane 2004, pp. 119-134).

Another factor was the EU’s deference to Russia in the region, especially in the light of Moscow’s growing assertiveness there and elsewhere in “the near abroad” (Taylor 1996, p. 126).  In the face of that development, the EU preferred to avoid direct involvement and promote the interests of its regions through other bodies such as the Council of Europe, the UN or the OSCE.  And that was easy for it to do because membership for the South Caucasus states has not been on the agenda of the European Union and because the three states have not sought a more active EU involvement there (Lynch 2003). 

But over the last seven years, the region has become more important for the EU not only because of Europe’s interest in energy supplies but also because of security threats emanating from the region (Aliyeva 2006).  As a result of these twin concerns, in 2004, the EU included the South Caucasus within the European Neighborhood Policy and appointed a Special Repesentative for the South Caucasus. 

Unfortunately, these steps did not achieve their intended goals, all the more so because of the weakness of the mandate of the Special Representative.  Unlike analogous positions for the Balkans or the Middle East, the EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus was charged only with generating ideas rather than promoting outcomes and his initiatives did not go beyond making visits to the capitals and calling for peaceful settlements of conflicts. 

In addition, the European Neighborhood Policy suffered from several other problems in the South Caucasus.  The lack of prospects for full membership anytime soon limited its role as a stimulus for reforms (Light, et.al., 2000, p. 77).  Moreover, the policies of individual European countries often were in conflict with those of the European Union (Helly 2007, p. 110; Cianciara 2008).  And the European Neighborhood Policy never was able to square the circle of dealing with the three countries as individuals and the three as members of a region (Gurbanov 2008).

The EU’s Eastern Partnership is the latest initiative intended to improve the political and economic relations with the EU of the six post-Soviet states of "strategic importance"—Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia.  At the core of this program are the promotion of human rights, rule of law visa free travel, free trade, and closer cooperation on various inter-state projects.  But it has suffered from internal inconsistencies and the doubts of states on both sides (Sadowska & Swieboda 2009, p. 1) and from opposition by Russia to some aspects of this program (Cianciara 2008). 

Obviously, the further integraiton of the South Caucasus into the European Community will require a great deal of time and effort, but first of all, the EU needs to define a more coherent role for itself.  There are some encouraging signs in this regard in the Association Agreements, but the EU clearly needs to approach both the region and the individual countries there with clearer goals and more energy.  

Specifically, the EU should encourage the governments to design a well-defined strategic vision for integration into the EU, urge the establishment in each country of a special European integration ministry, promote democratization and economic growth, develop judicial reform, promote the fight against corruption, and upgrade the role of the Special Representative, even as it addresses broader security challenges together with Russia, Turkey and the United States.


[1] The texts of the Agreements are available at http://www.europa.eu (last accessed 11 August 2010).


Agacan, Kamil (2007) “AB'nin Guney Kafkas Politikası”, Stratejık Analiz, pp. 43-51. 

Aliyeva, Leila (2006) EU and South Caucasus, Discussion Paper, Bertelsman Group of Policy Research & Center for Applied Policy Research, December. 

Aslund, Anders & Marek Dabrowski (2007) Europe After Enlargement, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Atasoy, R. S. (2006) The Role of the South Caucasus in EU-Turkey Relations, Istanbul: Istanbul Bilgi University.

Blockmans, Steven & Adam Lazowski, eds. (2006) The European Union and Its Neighbours: A Legal Appraisal of the EU's Policies of Stabilization, Partnerhsip and Integration, Hague: T.M.C. Asser Press.

Cianciara, Agnieszka (2008) “‘Eastern Partnership’—Opening a New Chapter of Polish Eastern Policy and the European Neighborhood Policy?”, Analyses & Opinions, No. 4, June.

Cohen-Tanugi, Laurent (2008) The Shape of the World to Come: Charting the Geopolitics of a New Century, New York: Columbia University Press.

Demir, Faik (2003) “AB'nin Güney Kafkasya Politikası”, in B. Dedeoğlu, Dünden Bugüne Avrupa Birliği, İstanbul: Boyut Matbaacılık.

Gegeshidze, Archil (2000) “The New Silk Road: A Georgian Perspective”, Perceptions: Journal of International Affairs, June/August. 

Giragosian, Robert (2007) “Shifting Security in the Caucasus”, The Quarterly Journal, Vol. 6, No. 3, Fall, pp. 100-106. 

Grevi, Giovanni (2007) “Pioneering Foreign Policy: the EU Special Representatives”, Chaillot Paper, No. 106. 
Gromadzki, Grzegorz (2008) “Five Theses on European Neighborhood Policy”, More than Neighbors, Warsaw: Batory Foundation, September. 

Gurbanov, V. (2008) Assessing the EU’s Policy on the Protracted Conflicts in its Neighbourhood, Brugge: College of Europe.

Hasanov, Ali (1998) Azerbaijan’s Foreign Policy: European states and US (1991–1996), [in Azerbaijani], Baku: Baku state University Press.

Hatipoglu, Esra (2005) “South Caucasus in EU Neighborhood Policy”, in O. Yesilot, Caucasus in Changing World, Istanbul: Kitabevi Press, pp. 19-30.

Helly, Damien (2007) “EU's Influence in Its Eastern Neighbourhood: The Case of Crisis Management in the Southern Caucasus”, European Political Economy Review, 7, pp. 102-117. 

Herzig, Edmund (1999) The New Caucasus: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House.

ICG (2006) “Conflict Resolution in the South Caucasus: The EU’s Role”, Europe Report No. 173, International Crisis Group, 20 March. 

Light, Margot, Stephen White, and John Lowenhardt (2000) “A Wider Europe: The View From Moscow and Kiev”, International Affairs , 76 (1), January.

Lynch, Dov (2003) “The EU: Towards A Strategy”, in The South Caucasus: A Challenge for the EU, Challiot Paper No. 65, EU Institute for Security Studies. 

Macfarlane, Neil (2004) “The Caucasus and Central Asia”, in Dannreuther, Roland (ed.) European Union Foreign and Security Policy: Towards a Neighbourhood Strategy, London & New York: Routledge, pp. 119-134. 

Merdanov, Samir (2007) Avrupa Birliğinin Güney Kafkas Politikası, Ankara: Naturel Yayın.

Nuriyev, Elkhan (2007) The EU Policy in the Sotuh Caucasus: The Case of Post-Soviet Azerbaijan, Working Paper, German Institute for International and Security Affairs, May.

Sadowska, Maria & Pawel Swieboda (2009) Eastern Partnership—Good Start, Hard Labor to Come, Warsaw: CEPA.

Secrieru, Stanislav (2009) “Illusion of Power: Russia After the South Caucasus Battle”, CEPS Working Document, No. 311, Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies.

Smith, M. (2003) “The Framing of European Foreign and Security Policy: Towards a Post-Modern Policy Framework”. Journal of European Public Policy , Vol. 10, No. 4, pp. 556-575.