NK, South Ossetia, Abkhazia: Workings of Euro policy on So Caucasus


01/30/2005 23:36 Tbilisi

Nagorno-Karabakh, South Ossetia, Abkhazia : the workings of the European
policy on South Caucasus [EU – CONFLICTS – DOV LYNCH]

By François GREMY and Célia CHAUFFOUR in Paris
On 28/11/2004

Light on the workings of the European policy on South Caucasus. How should
we understand the common point of view of the member States at the European
Institutional level? Interview with Dov Lynch, researcher at the European
Union Institute for Security Studies (EU-ISS), specialist of the EU-Russia
relations and the security issues in Russia and in the ex-USSR.

We know that the Europeans thinktanks are at least present, if not influent
in the European structures. Do they mention the possibility to intervene in
Abkhazia in a more committed way ? Is it feared that the Abkhazian crisis
might lead to a domino effect in South-Caucasus ?

There are several thinktanks, notably the Center for European Policy Studies
(CEPS), and the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EU-ISS) where
I work, as well as the Free University of Brussels for which Bruno
Coppieters collaborates. But, there is no organization that is taking an
official stance in favor of a more committed European intervention in

One month before Heikki Talvitie was appointed in July 2003, EU-ISS
organized an International conference about South-Caucasus and the European
Union. This conference gave me the opportunity to write an article and to
raise the question of the commitment of EU in the Region. If EU was to get
committed, by which conflict would it first deal with ? Even if this article
was debated at the official level, it was not accepted.

As regards Nagorno-Karabakh, EU offered its participation but only at the
post-conflict level : proof that Brussels does not plan on intervening about
the issues of conflict-solving and negotiations. It is known as the
checkbook effect: you have at your disposal a checkbook and in case your
interlocutor is ready, you agree to offer quickly your help by way of
considerable financial means in order to consolidate Peace. But you do this
only after making sure that the fondations of Peace have been laid down.

Generally speaking, EU has decided to not intervene directly in the
negotiation mechanism of the conflict so as to leave this to UN and OSCE.
Its role which is limited for the previously mentionned reason, will be
played after an agreement is reached in one of those regions of conflict. It
will result in financings, local reconstructions, etc.

But, the last events demonstrated that EU could change its stance. The
South-Ossetian crisis was the proof of it. The special representative Heikki
Talvitie wants to play a more direct role in the conflict opposing
Saakashvili to Kokoïti. He recently organized a meeting about this, and
during the crisis this summer he has regularly gone here and there in South
Caucasus. His task to make things easier might even grow more important in
the future.

Regarding Abkhazia, it was decided that the Council did not have to
intervene directly. But under the aegis of the Commission, Europe wants to
take part in helping in the reconstruction. Hence the new program which was
announced over last summer : it supports the reconstruction and transition
to democracy in Western Georgia, notably in Zougdidi, but also in some
Abkhazian regions. We integrated programs that were put aside a few years

When you talk about EU, what do you mean exactly by the Commission or other
structures ?

I mean the Council. The Parliament has very little influence over the EU
political issues. The Commission is very influent – let’s not forget that it
has at its disposal considerable financial means. But, as regards the
political line for the conflicts and EU’s involvement in the negotiations,
it is relevant of the Council of member States.

What credit do you give to the delegation of the European Parliament which
heads the three Parliamentary Commissions EU-Armenia, EU-Azerbaijan,
EU-Georgia ?

As always, the Parliament acts as an idea catalyst. The Parliament managed
to schedule and put on the agenda, some ideas which are for most of them
much too ambitious, or considered unrealistic. Those ideas are not
systematically integrated, but it is the role of the Parliament to support
and defend concepts so as to EU does not lose sight of this region.

With avant-gardist propositions ?

Yes, but with a result finally not so influent. For many issues, and since
1999, the Parliament advocates a common strategy for South-Caucasus. It is
important that the Parliament asserts this, and that the local élite see one
of the EU’s actors makes such a stance public, since it fosters a certain
solidarity and an attentive behavior.

Is there countercurrents among the Commission and the European Parliament
about a stronger EU’s commitment in South-Caucasus, if not even an active
policy to encourage those countries to apply for membership?

It seems to me that the Parliament encourages membership since 1999. But the
Council, the Commission and the Parliament concurr in admitting that the
Parternship and Co-operation Agreements (PCA) which constitute the framework
for the EU-South Caucasus relations are not sufficient to reach the goals
announced in the PCA -political stability, conflict-solving and durable

The Commission, the Council and the Parliament are aware of it. Since 1999,
an internal debate is going on between those three main actors so as to find
a solution. Everyone knows that the objectives of durable development and
political stability cannot be considered without solving the conflicts. EU
is in a difficult position : it is not ready to intervene, but its
objectives cannot be fulfilled without a regional openness which requires to
settle the tensions between Armenia and Turkey, notably the embargo, etc. A
region has to be created.

The European Parliament has been hoping for years for a common and more
committed policy. As for the Commission, it maintains its position.
But, the debate is before all taking place between the member States. Some
States are in favour of a much more committed polciy, notably Germany and
some Nordic countries. Other member States already committed in the region
are not sure about the necessity of adopting a strategy at the regional
level. They question the added value that EU might bring.

Do you think that the interests of the countries which are the most influent
in this zone may be incompatible with the ones of EU ?

It is more a matter of added value than a matter of incompatibility. Some
member States have adopted for ten years a national policy of intervention
in this region. France co-presides the Minsk Group. Germans are very implied
in solving the conflict in Abkhazia. The English also appointed Brian Fall
as the special representative firstly for Georgia on October 1st 2002, and
then for South-Caucasus. Brian Fall is an experienced diplomat and a former
ambassador in Moscow. He knows this region very well.

In 2002, those countries started to realize that a European policy might
succeed where national policies had reached their limits. Those debates
ended up by the appointment of Heikki Talvitie. The mandate of this new
special representative is innovative, as the Council points out. But we coud
also see there a compromise : Talvitie does not have an office in Brusells ;
he has at his disposal a reduced budget and little technical support.
Besides his post is mainly financed by Finland.

A lack of means coupled to too much bureaucracy?

Heikki Talvitie is very careful. He is very well aware of the limited weight
of EU in the region, but also aware of the presence of other countries and
organizations which already have a clear influence in the region. He was
ambassador in Moscow and he knows very well Russia. Hence, he knows the
constraints he has to deal with. The objective his first year of mandate is
to meet the decision-makers. Russians were rather anxious as for the
creation of this European representation, but he managed to « reassure »

Do you think that Heikki Talvitie will present at half-mandate a report
about the regional situation or else a concrete action-plan ?

I do not think so. I believe that he has to hand back a general report,
every six or twelve months. Those are short documents where a certain number
of ideas are highlighted. Those ideas may appear too timid, but his freedom
of action is limited.

I do not think that he can establish an action plan. An action plan has a
specific connotation. UE implements action plans for Moldavia, Ukrain,
Israël or in the framework of the new neighborhood policy.

So it is not realistic to consider a definite regional policy by the next
3-4 years ?

Indeed. On the other hand, an action plan not at the regional level but at
the national level might be considered – and, firstly for Georgia in case it
carries on its transition. But, those action plans will be passed only after
the first wave of action plans set up for the new neighbors and which will
be ratified next month. Almost one year will have been necessary to
negotiate an action plan with Ukrainians and Moldavians. This one comprises
4-5 chapters about policy, economy and conflict-solving.

For the time being, the South-Caucasus countries are not ready. Their being
included in the new neighborhood policy last June is decisive at
medium-term, but not immediatly. Everything is possible, but EU’s strategy
for the next 3-4 years basically depends on the current events. The
topicality may open up options more quickly than forecasted, as well as
close them.

Translated by Marie Anderson.