The new pair to lead Europe on the world stage has a tall order of business to attend to as soon as sworn into office. It is shameful that so many are wasting time and energy on wishing that the European leaders decided differently on these appointments.
European foreign policy is in disarray. It lacks focus, consistency and yes, leadership. Europe’s potential on the world stage is constantly being sabotaged by narrowly defined national interests, and by leaders who care more about their global profile than that of the EU. So finally a new team; at least they are humble enough to know the world doesn’t revolve around them, which means they may actually listen and work to promote ideas that are bigger than their egos.
The first order of business is the unfinished business in the Balkans. The EU is fully deployed in Kosovo with some 1800 police and civilian staff trying to make sure that the newly independent country becomes a fully functional part of the EU family, and not an outpost of radicalism, ethnic tension and crime.
Kosovo is not recognized by all member states, but that should not be the concern and priority for the new foreign policy chief. The government in Pristina can do that. Rather, Catherine Ashton needs to focus on making sure that the EU mission in Kosovo turns out to be a success. An immediate trip to Pristina would go a long way in convincing the leaders there, and the population, that EULEX is serious about making its mission a success, which in the end will only benefit the Kosovars. Lately, the relationship between the head of EULEX and the Kosovo Government has taken a turn for the worst. Supported by a public grown tired of foreign oversight, the Kosovo leaders are hinting that they may want the EU out of Kosovo. Ms. Ashdown needs to reinforce the point that our agendas are fully complementary, and what is good for Kosovo is also good for Europe and vice versa.
The other urgent problem in the region is Bosnia. The country is ripping along the seams stitched up at Dayton and needs a new Constitution that will make it functional. Without a basic degree of functionality Bosnia will fail to catch the EU train and be integrated into the European family along with the rest of the region. There is actually a new Constitutional proposal on the table, but the last time the Americans and the Europeans tried to get the Bosnians to agree, they all walked away after a few hours bitterly unhappy with each other. Ms. Ashton should make it her personal mission to get the constitutional reforms in Bosnia passed, and she could ask Paddy Ashdown for help. He is a living legend in Bosnia, and the only one on the long list of High Reps that actually got the Bosnians to move an agenda together.
Beyond the Balkans we need to strengthen security in the broader Black Sea region, where frozen conflicts, weak borders and a fierce competition for access to Caspian energy threaten the stability on Europe’s eastern flank.
The situation between Russia and Georgia, following last year’s August war is far from stable or normal. The Russian military threat continues to undermine the security and territorial integrity of sovereign Georgia. This is a threat that the EU cannot tolerate. It goes contrary to the very concept of the EU – a community built on laws, norms, mutual respect and dialogue. If the EU is unwilling and unable to uphold these norms in its immediate neighborhood then how can it do so globally, and who will take the EU seriously on the international stage?
Beyond Georgia there is another frozen conflict that needs Europe’s urgent attention – the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia. Although the EU is not directly involved in the Minsk peace process – lead by the co-chairs US, Russia and France – status quo there threatens not only stability of eastern EU, but also undermines Europe’s energy security. The situation between the two countries is particularly tense, with regular skirmishes along the line of contact.
Armenia’s patch-up of relations with Turkey has made Azerbaijan especially nervous, and understandably so. Turkey has been a traditional ally of Azerbaijan, and has maintained a closed border with Armenia partly also to pressure Yerevan into withdrawing its troops from Azerbaijan. Unless Azerbaijan can be reassured that Europe is serious about ending Armenia’s occupation of Azerbaijan, Europe shouldn’t be surprised if Azerbaijan acts independently, even resorting to the use of force in order to liberate its land.
Another war in the South Caucasus is not in Europe’s interest, and particularly problematic would be a war that involves Azerbaijan, a key Caspian energy supplier and a future transit country for gas from Turkmenistan to Europe. Azerbaijan locked in a war with Armenia will not be a reliable energy provider, and it will not be a secure transit partner either. This means Europe, and Turkey, will lose access to Caspian energy, which could be redirected to Russia, China and Iran – all three big markets, offering European prices for the same gas. The EU’s new Foreign Minister Ashton should take an urgent trip to Baku and Yerevan, and on the way also stop in Ankara and Moscow to seek support for a lasting peace deal. Resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict will unlock the Caucasus-Caspian region and offer Europe, and the countries of the region, an unprecedented opportunity to cooperate and integrate. This in turn would do more for EU’s long-term security of energy supplies than all the pipeline talk currently heard in Brussels.
Of course this is not the whole of EU’s foreign policy agenda, rather these are only some of the more immediate issue that can’t wait and that are in Europe’s back- (or in the case of the Balkans, front) yard. So before we go off fixing the world, let’s put our own house in order with the help of the team just appointed.
Borut Grgic, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, is the founder and chairman of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Brussels.