The EU Eastern Partnership and Democracy Promotion in the South Caucasus
The South Caucasus is of the greatest strategic importance for the European Union (EU) because of many reasons including the post-Soviet independence of three young states and their subsequent inclusion in the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP), the protracted conflicts, energy-rich resources in the Caucasus-Central Asia and pipeline politics in the Black Sea-Caspian basin. From the very beginning the EU’s engagement with three aspiring democracies under ENP lacked pragmatic, coherent vision and has therefore frequently been criticized by academics and politicians over the past several years. More recently, the EU policy has undergone an overall transformation from enlargement to regionalization as regards the Eastern neighborhood. The Eastern Partnership (EaP), launched in May 2009 and designed to provide greater impetus to EU relations with Eastern European countries, is generally seen as a continuation of the ENP and is also meant to genuinely improve on the ENP. Although the EaP is viewed as a new geostrategic response to a changing neighborhood, the EU’s partnership initiative, since its adoption, has been called into question for being ineffective policy for various reasons.
Clearly, the young states of the South Caucasus suffered serious crises of transformation after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Their economies differ in their size, integration perspectives are facing vastly different challenges and these countries find themselves at different levels of development despite many shared problems and pursuing their own political agendas. In this regard, the EaP represents an important means of drawing attention to the EU’s eastern neighbors, thus pushing them to genuinely transformational reforms in their respective countries. However, scholars and policymakers often raise interesting, yet sensitive question for discussion: will the EaP through political and economic reforms succeed in integrating the young Eastern neighbors closely and deeply to the EU in the coming years? Given that authoritarian regimes in some of the partner countries are slow in implementing political and economic reforms as well as opposed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, the answer to the aforementioned question still remains open.
On the other hand, the EaP’s success hinges on whether the EaP countries are ready to make greater use of regional cooperation in order to become closer to the EU norms and standards. While the EU tries to promote stability, democracy, security and prosperity in the South Caucasus, different security perceptions of the EaP countries continue to be key obstacles in forging closer relations with the EU and with each other in the interest of democracy promotion and regional stability. The EaP countries’ varying orientations make economic cooperation less straightforward and undermine regional integration, negatively affecting relations at the EU–Eastern Neighborhood level. Whereas the young states in this region seek security, their security concerns differ vastly.
Meanwhile, two major factors influencing the EaP’s policy expectations in EU’s eastern periphery are particularly noteworthy. First, the EaP requires strong support from other EU-member states that are playing a key role in the formation of policy towards the Eastern neighbors. While some of EU member states are failing to take an active role, others lack strong vision when it comes to policy toward the EU’s eastern countries. As a result, polarization within the EU between those member states which prefer to pursue a “Russia first” policy and those which see it as the serious obstacle to the formation of an effective strategy toward Eastern neighborhood has so far impeded a reorientation of policy on the South Caucasus. Second, the expectations of the partner countries regarding the EaP differ not only from that of EU member states but also among themselves. They do not share the same situations, resources or weaknesses. For this reason, the EU needs to find appropriate ways of responding to the heterogeneity of the EaP countries, which are characterized by different degrees of interest in EU integration. Due to its new instruments, the EaP certainly has the potential to develop a new level of strategic cooperation between the EU and Eastern partners, thus adding value to the ENP. The major question, however, hinges on whether both the EU and its Eastern neighbors will succeed in committing themselves to meet the EaP’s policy goals in the near future.
Over the past two years the EU’s EaP policy in the South Caucasus has reached stagnation point and been strongly criticized for Brussels'' much concentration southwards these days. In order to reactivate and re-center the EaP in the EU policy towards the entire region, a comprehensive, strategic and pragmatic vision for Eastern neighbors should be developed fast to support deep democracy promotion in these countries. In other words, if the EaP is to reach a substantial progress in the coming years, a fundamental rethink and reorientation of policy is necessary, in the absence of which tangible results are unlikely to be expected.