ISSUE 2-2013
Раду Врабие Tomasz Stępniewski Peter Plenta
Ярослав Шимов Любовь Сидорова
Игорь Тышкевич
Тарас Шульга
Рафик Исмаилов Владимир Воронов

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Tomasz Stępniewski | Associate Professor at the Institute of East-Central Europe in Lublin, and at The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland | Issue 2, 2013


In 2004 and 2007 the European Union faced new challenges and problems as several Eastern countries joined its structures. Issues of, so far, secondary importance – ones connected with Eastern neighbours (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova) and the Southern Caucasus (Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia) – started to influence EU’s internal policy after the access of the Central European countries. Problems included migration, energy management, and security. On the other hand, after joining the Union, Poland, as well as other Central European countries, became decision-makers when it came to EU’s foreign policy, including policy towards the Eastern countries.

European Union’s actions towards the countries of the Southern Caucasus do not make a coherent policy. It comes from the lack of consistent EU’s Eastern policy, as well as from the need to take into consideration until now frozen conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh and recently un-frozen conflicts in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, as well as relations with the Russian Federation and Turkey. One has to mention the involvement of the U.S., China and NATO in this region. Until European Neighbourhood Policy was established, the European Union had not acknowledged the need to improve its relations with the Southern Caucasus countries. The European Neighbourhood Policy is a flag EU’s policy, directed at forming a circle of friends on its exterior borders by supporting wealth, stability, and security.[1]These goals are consistent with priorities set out by the European Security Strategy in 2003 that emphasizes importance of a stable neighbourhood. 

It is worth reminding that crucial reasons for establishing the ENP (European Neighbourhood Policy) were concerns over illegal immigration, smuggling, etc.; the problems that could have intensified after the access of Central- European countries into the EU. Another reason was intent to reassure older members and not-member neighbours. That is why the issues of security and stability on the EU’s borders were prioritised. It is worth mentioning that the overriding aim of the ENP was to prevent formation of the new division lines that would contribute to isolation of non-member countries. Because of that, prevention of conflicts within the EU’s external actions is a priority.

The EU policy towards Southern Caucasus countries focuses on aid; nevertheless the Union is contributing ever more actively to solutions of regional conflicts. What is more, the EU tries to form market and economic relations with the countries of the region. The Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003 changed the EU’s approach towards Georgia. The sign of this change was the fact that the EU sent to Georgia an advisory mission related to reforms of judicial system and crime prevention – EUJUST Themis – based on common action 2004/523/CFSP from 28th June 2004 (dates of the mission execution 15th July 2004–15th July 2005).

The aim of the following analysis is to show that the EU is intensifying its actions in the Southern Caucasus region in order to establish political stability and security of the region. Issues of strategic importance of the Southern Caucasus are addressed here, and then framework of the ENP, as well as regional projects based on the ENP, are discussed, such as the Eastern Partnership.

Strategic Importance of the Southern Caucasus

The Caucasus region is situated at the junction of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. When considering quality of the relations in this region, one has to take into account historical background, cultural identity as well as third-party actions. An important characteristic of the Caucasus region is its great variety due to the fact that it consists of countries belonging to various integration structures. There are EU membership candidates – Turkey and partner countries within the ENP framework: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia. There is also the Russian Federation, with which the EU established a “strategic partnership” based on four common aspects of integration (economic integration, common liberty, security and justice policy, external security integration, integration of research, education and science).

Strategic importance of the region is connected with availability of petroleum and natural gas resources there as well as with infrastructure of energy transport routes between Iran, Turkey, Russia, the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Such geostrategy creates an opportunity for diversification and assured security of the EU’s energy supplies. The territory has a great potential, however it is also exposed to competition for influence of third-party actors who are involved in the region. That is why in the 21st century the Caucasus became a scene of power struggle of the most important actors of world politics. Not only is the EU more involved in it, but also the Russian Federation, the U.S and China show growing interest in the region. The European Union spotted the significance of the region in transport routes map and took actions aimed at linking the countries in question with EU’s internal market.

Infrastructural projects of strategic meaning are worth mentioning. Their objective is to diversify both suppliers and transit corridors. Such corridors include the one linking the Caspian and the Black Sea, as well as pipelines: Nabucco, Constanta-Trieste, and AMBO (Albania Macedonia Bulgaria Oil). There are also other projects being planned that will apply to gas and crude oil transport and will go through the Black Sea (for example White Stream). There are also INOGATE project (Interstate Oil and Gas Transport to Europe) and TRACECA (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia) which aim is to unite the regions of the Caspian and the Black Sea.

Eastern Partnership

The new uncover of the EU’s Eastern policy is a project issued in the half of 2008 by Poland and Sweden – the Eastern Partnership.[2] The document was officially accepted as an EU project during the summit in Prague on 7th May 2009. The Eastern Partnership gives hope to Eastern European and Southern Caucasus countries by equalizing dimensions of the EU’s external policy. Moreover, it creates opportunity to strengthen the cooperation between eastern countries. It is worth mentioning that Russia’s war with Georgia in August 2008 played a role in implementing the Eastern Partnership. Although the Russian Federation achieved its goal by military actions, nevertheless the conflict assured the Union’s position and made the EU take actions. Obviously, the Partnership is not the EU’s response to Russia’s military actions in the region, because such actions cannot be answered with a political-economic project. That is why the Partnership should be treated as a “soft” project aimed at bringing the Caucasus countries closer to the EU’s standards. At present the Partnership is being implemented. Questions concerning the efficiency of the project arise, especially the ones related to other EU’s initiatives directed at the East – Black Sea Synergy. Is Eastern Partnership going to be a complementary project, or are these two initiatives going to overlap?

An added value to the Eastern Partnership should be (mutual) cooperation among Eastern partners that would reinforce building regional bonds. Program should as well begin (start) new economic initiatives, when it comes to supporting institutions in the Caucasus countries. In this way these countries would be able to meet EU requirements as well as apply EU solutions and regulations. On the other hand, the disadvantage of the initiative are: setting it within the ENP framework, scarce financial outlays in 2010-2013 (European Commission dedicated only 600 million Euros for that aim), lack of observation of human rights by some countries of the Partnership (Belarus, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) or a problem of developing this initiative alongside with EU strategic partnership with Russia.

The Eastern Partnership is a long-term project. The success of the project depends on involvement of the partners as well as skilful application of Poland’s historical experiences and political contacts with the country’s Eastern neighbours. That potential should be then integrated with the EU’s structures. The success of the project will create a viable opportunity to change the situation on the EU’s Eastern borders.


Does the EU take effective actions in order to prevent Caucasus conflicts? The above analysis shows that the EU’s outlook on the Southern Caucasus has changed. Russian-Georgian war in 2008 was a wake-up call for the Union. One cannot forget that the August conflict contributed to deterioration of Russian-Georgian relations. It also strengthened independence of Abkhazia and the Southern Ossetia and because of that, tightened their relations with the Russian Federation. An indirect result of the war was intensifying Eastern Partnership works by the EU that was addressed to Eastern neighbours (including the Southern Caucasus countries).

Russia’s military actions were aimed at preventing Georgia from getting closer to the West. By these actions Russia scared Western countries and led to cooling down of mutual relations. Nevertheless, the EU’s involvement is still limited. The situation gets even more complicated by the fact that some EU member states (for example France) prefer to tighten economic and military cooperation with Russia at the expense of the Caucasus countries.

The armed conflict showed how limited EU’s actions for Caucasus stability were, on the other hand, it contributed to increase of financial and humanitarian support for Georgia. The EU stays, however, the actor on the international scene who is the most involved in stabilizing operations in the Caucasus region. It must be emphasized that the Union’s involvement – without noticeable effects – may lead the Caucasus countries to believe that the EU is little effective. That may result in weakening the EU’s position in the region. Whether the quality of EU’s relations with the Caucasus partners and the Russian Federation will change depends on positive outcome of Geneva negotiations. The Caucasus region poses not only the problem of separatist Georgian republics – Abkhazia, the Southern Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh, but there are also separatist, to a lesser or greater extent, republics that are a part of the Russian Federation – Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia.

A challenge for the EU is to support reforms, encourage the Caucasus countries to turn into stable, peaceful, and secure actors that would create good neighbourly relations in this unstable region. That is why it is so important to remember that the EU’s policy in the Caucasus region will be complete only when the Union is actively engaged in problem-solving and when it takes actions to build civil society.

Without correct relations based on trust among the Caucasus countries it will not be possible to build a stable situation in the region. The European Union has to face the new challenge and assume the role of a constructor of mutual trust and understanding culture that is a necessary condition for the Caucasus countries true dialogue. 

[1] Compare with: Tomasz Stępniewski, Geopolityka regionu Morza Czarnego w pozimnowojennym świecie (Lublin–Warszawa: Instytut Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej, 2011), Małgorzata Klatt, Tomasz Stępniewski, Normative Influence.The European Union, Eastern Europe and Russia (Lublin-Melbourne: Wydawnictwo KUL, 2012). 
[2] Andrzej Gil, Tomasz Kapuśniak (eds.), Polityka wschodnia Polski. Uwarunkowania – Koncepcje – Realizacja (Lublin-Warszawa: Instytut Europy Środkowo-Wschodniej, 2009). 


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