Vol. 4, No. 18 (September 15, 2011)

Can the European Union play a balanced role in the South Caucasus?

Anar Rahimov
Independent Analyst

The common features of the Action Plans (APs) that the European Union has enunciated for its partner countries in the European Neighborhood Program (ENP) have attracted a great deal of attention.  But the differences, especially concerning conflict resolution, are striking, not only in the APs for the three South Caucasus countries, but also in the policies the EU has pursued in the region.  And that pattern raises the question as to how balanced a role the European Union can and will play in the resolution of conflicts there.  Indeed, there is a very real risk that some of the language in these documents may exacerbate rather than mitigate existing conflicts in that region (Wolff & Whitman 2008, p. 7). 

All three APs in the region set out a five-year program, but the priorities the EU and these countries have set are very different.  For example, the peaceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is defined as the top priority by the EU in the Azerbaijani document, but ranks only seventh in the AP for Armenia.  Given the continuing impact of this conflict on the region, such a difference in the APs of the two parties to the conflict is hardly justified, all the more so because portions of Azerbaijan are occupied by separatist and Armenian Republic forces and the principle of the priority of the territorial integrity of states is almost universally recognized, including by the EU.

Even worse, a close reading of the APs suggests that the EU is tilting toward Armenia.  While the EU urges both parties to use peaceful means to achieve a settlement and to follow international norms, the European Union AP for Armenia includes support for “the principle of self-determination of peoples,” a principle that is not accepted by the Azerbaijani side, at least in the form preferred by Yerevan.  The AP for Georgia only promises that support for Tbilisi will be part of EU discussions with the Russian Federation.

The three APs vary in other ways as well.  The AP for Azerbaijan ranks security and border management ninth among its priorities, the one for Georgia ranks these fourth, but the one for Armenia does not even mention this task.  At the same time, the AP for Azerbaijan ranks regional cooperation tenth, the AP for Armenia eighth, and the one for Georgia fifth.  This pattern suggests that Georgia must increase its efforts at regional cooperation even as Armenia and Azerbaijan exist without it.  That is interesting given that recent events clearly show that the tandem of Azerbaijan as an oil/gas producer and Georgia as an oil/gas transit country can not only survive but even increase economic turnover without Armenia. 

The participation as a moderator in the conflicts within ENP area is a new function for the European Union and is to take the form of the CFSP and ESDP.  By this involvement, the EU seeks to take a leading role within its immediate neighborhood and compete with the UN, OSCE and other international institutions in peacekeeping and peace monitoring operations.  Prevention of trafficking of people and weapons as a result of the conflicts are other key arguments for the EU presence there.  Wolff and Whitman (2008) investigated most of the conflicts in ENP area and prepared a comprehensive report for the European Parliament. 

The Eastern ENP area is noted for the Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia and Abkhazia
conflicts.  In addition, stability of the Caucasus also depends on how the Georgian government treats its Azerbaijani and Armenian minorities.  In the Georgian case, the Armenians seek autonomy while the Azerbaijanis often complain of social injustice and economic discrimination (Malek 2006, p. 146).  But it is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that is the most important for the EU, because it challenges that institution to live up to basic norms of international law that it supports elsewhere. 

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the first major violent conflict on the territory of the former USSR, but its history is not our subject here.  Instead, the issue is the present positions of the parties and their relationship to the EU.  The Azerbaijani government invokes international law and norms as the only means of solving the problem, but it nonetheless reserves the right to employ force to recover the occupied territories.  Here it is worth underscoring that Azerbaijan at no point threatens the territorial integrity of Armenia, the occupying power. 

The integrity of Azerbaijan and other Caucasus Republics was recognized by the international community as soon as the USSR collapsed.  Armenia was also among the countries, which had recognized Azerbaijan in its former Azerbaijan SSR boundaries and did not recognize self-proclaimed “Nagorno-Karabakh Republic.” But invoking the right for self-determination, Armenia has ignored four UN Security Council Resolutions which “demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Armenian armed forces from the occupied Azerbaijani territories and also the establishment of conditions for the return of refugees and displaced persons to their places of residence in their native land.” [1] Such a position of Armenia undercuts the 1994 cease-fire agreement and limits the activities of the OSCE Minsk Group Co-chairs.
Licínia Simão (2010, p. 3) argues that, “the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is best portrayed as an interstate conflict, with visible impact on the domestic constituencies of both Armenia and Azerbaijan, making any analysis of civil society engagement in conflict resolution highly incomplete, if this interstate dimension is not reflected.  It can therefore be said that the dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh is an ethno-territorial conflict of an interstate nature with elements of irredentism and separatism.” 

EU participation in the solution of the conflict is limited to cooperation with and full support of the OSCE moderation and acceptance of a peaceful solution within the Minsk Group framework and Priority Areas of ENP APs. [2] The failure of the EU in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is also explained by Nicu Popescu (2011, p. 95) as “lack of demand from either Armenia or Azerbaijan” and strong opposition by France to the idea of being replaced by the EU in the negotiation process.  Nonetheless, the 2006 European Parliament Resolutions stresses that the EU shall be actively involved and “must help settle conflicts in the Caucasus region” (Moustakis & German 2009, p. 130) and should not count only on the acting co-chairs, but also on the other member states of the Minsk Group, [3] such as Turkey, which is an associated member to the EU from 1963.

Turkey is very influential in the region and supports Azerbaijan in its conflict with Armenia.  According to Roberto Aliboni (2005, p. 10), regardless of whether Turkey remains a neighbor or becomes a member of the EU, Turkey will play a major role and the EU should be able to expect that this role will be collaborative and constructive—even though the EU at present is not directly represented in the mediation effort there.  France is one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group, and the EU fully supports that framework.  Moreover, the newly opened EU Delegations in Azerbaijan and in Armenia, together with the office of the EUSR in the region provide a key channel for the exchange of information between the parties and among the EU and OSCE representatives (Simão 2010, p. 16).
The duplication of the activities by the EU and the OSCE reflects the geographical enlargement of the Union and its increasing involvement in classical OSCE areas.  Problems arise when the EU and MS are unable to “clearly decide on where they want the OSCE to go and what they want it to do” (Graaf & Verstichel 2008, pp. 275-276).  For example, by appointment of the EUSR to Moldova, the South Caucasus and Central Asia within the ENP, the EU ignored the OSCE, which “has developed much expertise based on its long-established missions” (Ham 2006, p. 31).  Emma Stewart (2006, pp. 199-200) finds the reason for misunderstanding in the EU’s wish to cooperate more with the UN, rather than with the OSCE.  However, this discriminative approach is harmful, as the OSCE scope of activity covers not only Russia and the Caucasus, but also Central Asia and sometimes is present where there is no UN interest at all. 

Unfortunately, many EU figures extrapolated from the resolution of the tensions in the Balkans to the successful implementation of the ENP.  In reality, the perspective membership in one of the leading economic and political powers was a stimulus for the sides to come to the agreement, but the ENP itself has not been designed as a conflict prevention policy, though it had contained security and stability issues.  It is more about soft power application, an invitation to cooperation, rather than an obligation.  Given that membership of the Caucasus republics in the EU is not on the agenda anytime soon, the effect of the ENP instruments was quite small compared to their impact in the Balkans.

In addition, the contrasting understandings of conflict management by the Commission and the Council of Ministers have not contributed to the involvement of ENP in the field of conflict management.  It has been suggested that since the ENP was proposed by the Commission and is implemented by its instruments, there is no foundation for the other instruments within ESDP/CFSP (Crombois 2008, pp. 3-4) and instead of extending the areas of cooperation, it is better to remove the deficit of instruments (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung 2008, p. 1).  Nonetheless, the EU can contribute to the conflict resolution process by bearing the possible financial and political costs, defining the limits of its “neighborhood,” working out a clearer political stance, sounding the EU voice by replacing France in OSCE Minsk Group, increasing the confidence and cross-border cooperation between the parties, and promoting the greater involvement of the civil society into the negotiation process (Wolff 2007, pp. 4-5).

The Lisbon Treaty with instruments like the CSDP missions, development cooperation, and mediation activities may help realize the aims, though it would require the EU to be patient while consensus and trust is built up. [4] According to the treaty’s provisions, a range of institutions including the Council Secretariat, Civilian Planning and Conduct Capability (CPCC), CPMD, and EUMS, will make the EEAS a key player in the crisis management (Hynek 2011, p. 84).  The involvement of Russia and Turkey, the players with a strong influence on the region, in the ENP as the strategic partners is also a positive contribution.  And the recently opened fully fledged EU delegation to Azerbaijan and Armenia could promote the EU’s ends and redress some of the imbalances in the APs. 

Aliboni, Roberto (2005) “The Geopolitical Implications of the European Neighborhood Policy,” European Foreign Affairs Review 10, pp. 1-16. 

Crombois, Jean F. (2008) The ENP and Crisis Management: Assessing the Use ‘Civilian Power’, Presentation for European Consortium for Political Research Standing Group on the European Union, 2008, available at http://www.jhubc.it/ecpr-riga/virtualpaperroom/003.pdf
(accessed 12 September 2011).

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (2008) Division for International Dialogue, 10 Theses on the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), August, available at http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/id/ipa/05606.pdf (accessed 11 September 2011). 

DE GRAAF Vincent & VERSTICHEL Annelies (2008) “OSCE Crisis Management and OSCE-EU Relations,” in Blockmans, S., ed. (2008) The European Union and Crisis Management: Policy and Legal Aspects, Asser Press. 

Ham, Peter van (2006) “EU, NATO, OSCE: Interaction, Cooperation and Confrontation,” in Hauser, G. & F. Kernic, ed. (2006) European Security in Transition, Ashgate.

Hynek, Nik (2011) “EU Crisis Management After the Lisbon Treaty: Civil—Military Coordination and the Future of the EU OHQ,” European Security 20:1, March.

Malek, Martin (2006) “The South Caucasus at the Crossroads: Ethno-territorial Conflicts, Russian Interests, and the Access to Energy Resources,” in Hauser, G. & F. Kernic, eds. (2006) European Security in Transition, Ashgate.

Moustakis, Fotios & Tracey German (2009) Securing Europe: Western Interventions Towards a New Security Community, Tauris Academic Studies.

Popescu, Nicu (2011) EU Foreign Policy and Post-Soviet Conflicts: Stealth Intervention (London: Routledge).

Simão, Licínia (2010) “Engaging Civil Society in the Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict: What Role for the EU and its Neighborhood Policy?”, MICROCON Policy Working Paper 11, June, available at http://www.microconflict.eu/publications/PWP11_LS.pdf (accessed 10 September 2011).
Stewart, Emma J. (2006) The European Union and Conflict Prevention: Policy Evolution and Outcome (Berlin: Lit Verlag).

Wolff, Stefan (2007) The European Union and the Conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh Territory, Report prepared for the Committee on Member States’ Obligations Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, available at http://www.stefanwolff.com/files/EU-NK.pdf (accessed 11 September 2011).

Wolff, Stefan & Richard Whitman (2008) Conflict Resolution as a Policy Goal under ENP in the Southern Neighborhood, Report Prepared for the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament, Centre for International Crisis Management and Conflict Resolution, available at http://www.stefanwolff.com/files/ENP.pdf (accessed 08 September 2011).


[1] Letter from the Permanent Representative of Azerbaijan to the United Nations Secretary General, 4 April 2001, available at http://www.un.org/documents/ga/docs/56/a5662.pdf (accessed 10 September 2011).

[2] European Union // External Actions, Summary on EU—Azerbaijan Relations, available at
http://eeas.europa.eu/azerbaijan/eu_azerbaijan_summary/index_en.htm (accessed 10 September 2011).

[3] For more information on the composition of the OSCE Minsk Group, please consult
http://www.osce.org/mg/66926 (accessed 07 September 2011).

[4] Memorandum of Quintet Group, Concerns and Recommendations on European Neighborhood Policy, 2010, available at http://eap.pauci.org/file/ZWFwX3BhdWNpX2ZpbGVzMjY2Ng__.doc?n&d (accessed 10 September 2011).