The Foreign Policy of the European Union and the Black Sea Region

Posted in Europe | 08-May-10 | Author: Corneliu Pivariu

The European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) together with the prestigious Harvard University through the Black Sea Security Program of the JFK School of Government organized the seminar "The Foreign Policy of the European Union and the Black Sea Region" in mid-April in Paris.

Important members of EUISS, the Council of Europe, Harvard University, NATO as well as the officials, geopolitics experts and observers from the Black Sea region who have been invited to attend the annual Black Sea security course organized by Harvard-JFK, participated at the seminar and delivered a series of high-class presentations. The seminar professionally synthesized the present and future problems of the theme under discussion.

Here is a brief presentation of the most important issues.

Twenty years ago, the European Union was an organization that tried to establish relations with the neighboring countries. The enlargement that followed was not just a geographic procedure but also an institutional one.

The EU has been successful with its policies in the neighboring countries since 2008 (despite the situation in Georgia). Nevertheless, the success of the Union did not meet people's expectations and therefore a new concept of the Eastern Partnership was developed. This initiative was partly determined by the conflict from Georgia, the suspended deliveries of Russian gas to Europe and the creation of the Union for the Mediterranean. In this context, the democratic presidential elections from Ukraine were considered to be an important aspect since Ukraine remains one of the highly important countries for the EU and for the world.

As far as Republic of Moldova is concerned, the EU appreciates the consultations and the cooperation regarding the reformation of the Constitution. At the same time, a solution must be identified for the conflict in Transnistria, even if it is not active at the moment. Moldova is very important for the EU and it has a special strategic role therefore after the resolution of the conflict from Transnistria, its role could become even more important. In this context, Ukraine's position is of utmost importance because during the first official visit to Brussels of the new president, he said that Ukraine will adopt a position similar to the EU as far as Transnistria is concerned.

Georgia is another important state for the EU. The Union must support the sovereignty of the country under the present circumstances and leave out the problems caused by Abkhazia and South Ossetia since President Saakashwili - supported by the United States but also by the Europeans - adopted a very delicate position.

There were reserves in the approach of the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in relation with Nagorno-Karabakh and the genocide of the Armenian people during the First World War. Russia was not considered to be interested in finding a resolution to Nagorno-Karabakh while the possible successes of the US foreign policy in South Caucasus were considered to be "uncertain".

When analyzing the involvement of the EU in the wide region of the Black Sea, the Union was said to be extremely involved in negotiations even though most of the times, the participation was simply reactive. Therefore, the EU should identify on time the countries and areas that have potential for conflict so that it has time to prepare a set of countermeasures and stop these conflicts. The peculiarities of each conflict must be taken into account (there are conflicts located at a distance from Russia and there are conflicts that involve more than two neighboring countries). Also, careful consideration must be given to "frozen" conflicts. Ioan Mircea Pascu, a Romanian Member of the European Parliament suggested that the term "dormant" should be used for this type of conflicts.

The crisis management within the EU should function unitarily and it should use the principle of the three Ds: Defense, Diplomacy and Development. Nevertheless, a unified action is restricted by the fact that according to the Lisbon Treaty, member countries are sovereign in their foreign policies and these elements cannot be granted to the Union.

Turkey is equally important in the Black Sea region since it attempts to become a global power are more and more evident. The European Union will support some of Turkey's actions.

Unlike other NATO or EU members, Turkey is not interested in the Black Sea region in order to protect better its specific interests. This is the reason why Turkey improved very much its relations with Russia.

The relations between the EU and Turkey must be clarified since it wants to join the Union but also because there are important EU members (France, Germany) that still oppose Turkey's membership. The European Union must give an answer to Turkey's request as soon as possible. This answer cannot be negative, but it must be a negotiated agreement, mutually accepted, which could possibly be established as a Special Partnership.

As we have expected, all the presentations mentioned Russia's role in the Black Sea region as well as the relations between Russia and EU. Here are the main points of this topic:

The Russian foreign policy in Europe was rather weak after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The former European socialist countries' membership to NATO and EU (Romania and Bulgaria were the last members) and the situation from Georgia (until 2008) have reduced the Russian influence in the region. In this context, the Russian influence was rather isolated. After the war from Georgia in 2008, Russia started to regain its positions; it improved its relations with Turkey and the results of the Ukrainian elections and the evolutions from Georgia made Russia feel more powerful in the region. On the other hand, Russia still has some doubts about a possible shift of Ukraine and the potential alliance of Moldova with Romania. This could be one of the reasons why Russia does not want a resolution for the Transnistrian problem and offers serious economic support to the regime from Tiraspol. Russia is said to provide 52% from Tiraspol's budget and the supplies of Russian gas to Transnistria are never paid by the Transnistrian separatists.

Russia is more and more interested in pursuing its objectives, not only in the Black Sea region but also in Europe in general. Its successes are explained by the fact that the Union has never assessed correctly Russia's possibilities and it did not adopt the appropriate strategies about Eastern Europe or Russia. This is what facilitated Russia's successes and it regained the power that it had lost in the region, proving that it mastered the "soft power" policy. However, the EU does not want to play the "zero" game with Russia. Having in mind the fact that EU members still have different opinions about Russia, and that Russia knows how to turn these dissentions to its own benefit, it is difficult to estimate if the EU would achieve its objectives. We mention that the partnership between Russia and the European Union is only a deficient and formal agreement.

Nevertheless, Russia is more likely to have good relations with EU than with NATO. Moscow considers NATO to be a traditional enemy and consequently, the EU security policy would be more likely than the NATO security policy. A NATO policy would be built by the NATO member countries and it would be built on the partnerships signed by the Alliance with the countries neighboring the Black Sea.

The EU - seen as a factor of stability in Russia's immediate vicinity but equally a Russian target too - must be extremely careful about Russia and it must respect the sovereignty of its neighbors.

Any action of the EU in the Black Sea region must take into account the characteristics of the region. As compared with the EU, this region does not have the tradition of cooperation. At the same time, different countries have different situations and probably the desires of the empires from the region are stronger than in any other part of the world.

Both NATO and EU have an important role in the provision of stability and security in the Black Sea region, even though cooperation between these two organizations has not been the best in this part of the world. It is also important to mention that relations between the EU and the new Administration from Washington are more fragile than with the previous Administration.

The foreign policy of the European Union is not yet as consistent and efficient as we would have expected. There have been only a few months since the creation of the new institutions stipulated by the Treaty of Lisbon. Some of these stipulations already appear to be obsolete because there have been some political developments since the Treaty was drawn. One of the officials who attended the seminar said:"Even though we have a good car in Brussels, we must not forget that it still has 27 drivers".