What is the position of the EU in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict?

During the 1990s, in the early stages of the conflict, while third parties such as the UN, the OSCE Minsk group and Russia were involved in the mediation process, the European Union suspended its presence and was absent from all peace-building activities not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also in other post-Soviet conflicts. France, however, which is a member state of the EU, is one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group, but it does not represent the Union in the mediation process. Indeed, there were calls for France to pass the co-chair seat to the EU, although Paris officially rejected this.[1] Azerbaijan believes that France has adopted a pro-Armenian position and wants to see more EU involvement in the process.[2]

In particular, after 2003, and within the framework of its different policies, the EU intensified its initiatives to settle the conflict by offering structural approaches such as political and institutional reforms, development of civil society, and the creation of a suitable political, economical and social environment.[3] As the first initiative towards the building of relations with the states in the region, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Georgia, the EU signed the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in 2006.[4] The EU hoped that the ENP would help establish a positive climate that would lead to the settlement of the conflict.[5] However, the ENP Action Plans did not produce the anticipated results, since they mainly focused on economic and political transformation rather than on a settlement of the conflict.[6]

The second tool used by the EU in its efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for the South Caucasus, who operated under a mandate from the Council of the EU. The first EUSR was appointed in 2003. In 2006 the mandate was strengthened, with a view to making a more effective contribution to settling the conflict. Unfortunately, because the EUSR’s priorities are unclear, this initiative is another ineffective tool in helping resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.[7]

After the Russo-Georgian war of 2008, the EU launched the “Eastern Partnership” (EaP) program in 2009, which also stresses the importance of resolving conflicts to regional development. The main goal of the EaP is to strengthen bilateral relations between the EU and Eastern countries within the framework of the Association Agreement, as this will help increase integration. Negotiations with Azerbaijan and Armenia on the Association Agreement started in July 2010, and the areas of negotiations included political dialogue and foreign and security policy, justice, freedom and security, economic and sectorial co-operation, and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).[8] The expected long-term result of the stronger regional integration is interdependence between the parties to the dispute that will affect the establishment of a positive climate for settling the conflict. However, the previous unsuccessful EU projects relating to the countries in the region that also included helping resolve conflicts resulted in failure, due to the lack of clear requirements on the parties to the conflict. If any positive result is to be achieved for resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of the above-mentioned agreement, it is important that some pre-conditions be established for both parties to the conflict.[9]

Additionally, with the idea of engaging non-governmental actors in the confidence-building process, the EU launched a civil society program called the European Partnership for the Peaceful Settlement of the Conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh (EPNK). The main aim of the program is to promote dialog between the wide range of policymakers, media and civil society from all parties to the conflict. It is assumed that EPNK will promote the creation of a suitable environment that can lead to effective civic engagement by the communities involved in the conflict.[10]

The EU supports a peaceful settlement of the conflict and expresses its intention of contributing to the peace-building process by utilizing its instruments as the South Caucasus grows closer to the EU neighborhood as a result of its eastward expansion.

[1] Cristescu, Roxana and Paul, Amanda, “EU and Nagorno-Karabakh: A ‘Better Than Nothing’ Approach”, March 15, 2011; https://euobserver.com/opinion/31989. Accessed on October 5, 2020.

[2] Shiriyev, Zaur, “Challenges for the EU in the resolution of Nagorno Karbakh conflict: An Azerbaijani Perspective”, European Policy Center, June 17, 2013; https://www.epc.eu/en/Publications/Challenges-for-the-EU-in-the-r~24a2e8. Accessed on October 5, 2020.

[3] Simão, Licínia, “The problematic role of EU democracy promotion in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Nagorno- Karabakh”, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 45, Issues 1-2, 2012, pp. 193-200.

[4] Wolff, Stefan, “The European Union and the Conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh Territory”, Report prepared for the Committee on Member States’ Obligations Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Berlin, November 4-5, 2007; http://stefanwolff.com/publications/the-european-union-and-the-conflict-over-the-nagorno-karabakh-territory/. Accessed on October 5, 2020.

[5] Ferrero-Waldner, Benito, “The European Neighbourhood Policy: The EU’s Newest Foreign Policy Instrument”, European Foreign Affairs Review, Vol. 11, No. 2, 2006, p. 139.

[6] Shiriyev, “Challenges for the EU in the resolution of Nagorno Karbakh conflict”.

[7] Wolff, “The European Union and the Conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh Territory”.

[8] Abilov, Shamkhal and Hajiyev, Beyrak, “Why the Neutrality of Azerbaijan Is Important for the European Union”, Insight Turkey, Vol. 21, No. 3, 2019.

[9] Shiriyev, “Challenges for the EU in the resolution of Nagorno Karbakh conflict”.

[10] “The European Union continues to support civil society peace building efforts over Nagorno-Karabakh”, Reliefweb, A 490/12, November 6, 2012; https://reliefweb.int/report/azerbaijan/european-union-continues-support-civil-society-peace-building-efforts-over-nagorno. Accessed on October 5, 2020.