The EU’s Niche in the New South Caucasus: Old Partners, New Challenges

Written by | Monday, April 13th, 2015
European Values

Daniel Khachatryan (Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation)

South Caucasus has been an object of interest of the EU foreign policy since the 1990s. Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan are potential strategic partners while their natural attraction to Europe can provide a platform from which the EU could profit politically as well as economically. However, since each of these South Caucasus states has recently had to deal with different kind of political developments, rather than employing a “one-for-all-approach” in its policies towards all of them, the Union now has to cautiously deal with these states on an individual basis.

For the EU, Armenia turned out to be undoubtedly the most unpleasant surprise in the course of the accession talks. After a promising start of the negotiations on the Association Agreement in the late 1990s, President Sargsyan decided not to sign the deal after visiting Moscow in September 2013. Shortly thereafter, Foreign Minister Nalbandyan announced the intention to join the Eurasian Economic Union while simultaneously assuring the EU representatives that Armenia certainly wants to continue cooperating with the block. One of the reasons for the cooperation is the presence of an extensive Armenian diaspora in Europe (there are more than 500 000 Armenians only in France), which is an important foreign political and financial instrument for the 5-million country.

Until November last year, the pro-European stance of Georgia was unequivocal. The former President Saakashvili (currently facing charges of corruption and abuse of power) directed the country towards Europe after the Rose Revolution in 2003, whereby his policies were further reinforced by the Russian invasion of Georgia in August 2008. After Garibashvili became the Prime Minister in November 2014, the Ministers of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and the Minister for Integration with the EU and NATO were forced to leave their positions. Even though Georgia has, as the only South Caucasus state, signed the Association Agreement in June 2014, this political earthquake aroused considerable concerns about the future orientation of the country, which had clearly been on the path to EU for the preceding 12 years.

The last of the South Caucasus states being examined in this study, Azerbaijan, is at the moment potentially the most interesting country for the EU, though the accession talks have been least successful. The sudden interest in Azeri-EU cooperation was caused by the Ukrainian crisis, which led the EU to become acutely aware of its energy dependency on Russia – a link to the Central Asian energy resources via Azerbaijan offers one viable solution. However, the ambitious Baku has no interest in a deeper cooperation because it is energy self-sufficient and, moreover, a prospective Association Agreement would force it to implement many democratic reforms that would touch especially upon human rights, the violation of which Azerbaijan is infamous for. From these examples, it is obvious that the EU is again at the beginning of the path despite the years of painstaking diplomatic work.

(The study can be downloaded here)

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