TODAY.AZ / Politics

The South Caucasus countries and the ENP: Three different paths to Europe?

09 January 2007 [00:07] - TODAY.AZ
After their inclusion in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) was initially rejected in a footnote in the European Commission document "Communication on the Wider Europe" of 2003, the three South Caucasus countries are finally part of a group of the EU's neighbours, which are set to benefit from privileged relationships with the European Union (EU). While the three ENP Action Plans were released on the 14th of November 2006, what can Tbilisi, Baku and Yerevan now expect from the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP)?

It was the Rose Revolution of 2003 in Georgia that for the first time sent the potent signal to Brussels that the South Caucasus, this distant corner of Europe, was not as static and marred in stagnation as its "frozen conflicts" and slow reforms suggested at first glance.

While launching an ambitious reform programme, the Georgian government immediately sent further signals to Brussels to underline Georgia's European aspirations such as the EU flags hanging since 2003 from many official buildings in the capital Tbilisi.

Although the three South Caucasus countries were included at the same time in the ENP to accentuate the regional approach favoured by the EU, they seem to be taking different paths. While the Action Plans are supposed to be tailor-made for each country, the EU traditionally favours a regional approach in its external relations. Due to a dispute concerning flights between Azerbaijan and the Northern part of Cyprus, not only Baku, but Tbilisi and Yerevan also had to suffer a delay in the negotiations over the Action Plans in the summer of 2005. The three Action Plans were finally signed on the same date.

The Georgian government has expressed some doubts regarding this regional approach, as since the Rose Revolution Georgia has had its hopes set on being included in a Black Sea region, which would comprise Ukraine and Moldova, rather than in the rather "unstable" South Caucasus region.

Indeed, the region hosts not only the "frozen conflicts" between Georgia and the secessionist territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, but also the Nagorno Karabakh conflict whose resolution is regarded as particularly tricky by regional observers. While for Brussels the regional approach seems effective with regards to the Nagorno Karabakh issue because it requires the cooperation of the two parties and has been designed as a priority in the EU-Armenia and EU-Azerbaijan Action Plans, it is perceived by Georgia as an obstacle on the road to a fast progression towards the EU.

Until now, Georgia seemed the most inclined of the three South Caucasian countries to undergo a process of Europeanisation on the level of norms and values and to adopt European democratic standards. Armenia is being more conscious, while Azerbaijan's European ambitions are clearly more limited. But what is the EU itself expecting from these three countries?

For Brussels, Armenia seems to be the "better pupil" among the three South Caucasian states. Better than the others, Yerevan seems to understand and embrace the rather technical language of Brussels, which prioritizes trade and economic measures and the adoption of the acquis communautaire through changes in national legislation, rather than the political support expected by Georgia.

Although Armenia has chosen a pro-Russian foreign policy course until now, it does not seem to have been perceived as a hindrance by Brussels until now. On the contrary, Armenia's limited hopes regarding a future EU accession seems to better match the type of cooperation envisioned by the EU within the ENP framework, a policy that precisely wants to be perceived as not being an open door to future candidacies.

The ENP is more an answer to security threats stemming from what is perceived as instable regions at the EU's borders than an attempt to diffuse European democratic norms and standards in the region as was the case with enlargement.

The visit of Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in November 2006 to Brussels, where he was welcome with open arms, shows that the EU is ready to close an eye to democratic deficiencies and restricted freedoms in Azerbaijan due to the strategic importance of the country in terms of energy security and its strategic location as a direct neighbour of Iran.

Brussels sees a powerful ally and a guarantee of future alternative energy supplies in Baku. Azerbaijan itself does not seem particularly inclined to a "Europeanisation" and has never shown an excessive interest in cultivating strong ties with the Union or to accept the conditions set by the EU in terms of democratic progress. Azerbaijan is conscious of its particular status as a country which can dictate its own conditions to the EU contrary to the two other South Caucasian countries.

The paths of these three different countries will ultimately depend on what the EU expects from the ENP. The EU-Georgia Action Plan shows that the EU has been sensible to the demands of Tbilisi and is ready to offer some increased political support to Georgia in the area of conflict resolution, which it had refused until now.

The inclusion of Georgia in a Black Sea dimension, which is a key initiative for Tbilisi, has also been acknowledged in the Action Plan. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the EU's expectations will match those of the three South Caucasus capitals in comparison to those during enlargement. The answer will likely appear in five years, when the ENP Action Plans will be renegotiated on the basis of what the EU thinks these countries have achieved.

By Lili Di Puppo



Print version

Views: 1879

Connect with us. Get latest news and updates.

Recommend news to friend

  • Your name:
  • Your e-mail:
  • Friend's name:
  • Friend's e-mail: