The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, has proposed abolishing the posts of EU Special Representative for Moldova and for the South Caucasus region, the scenes of “frozen” conflicts in the EU’s neighborhood. Scrapping the two posts would reduce the level of EU attention and clout (such as it now is) regarding those conflicts. It would also complicate the regional countries’ access to the EU’s policy-making levels regarding the frozen conflicts. And by scrapping the two posts, the EU would lower the level of its own dialogue with Moscow about those conflicts –a dialogue that the EU itself deems necessary.
If accepted by the EU, the scrapping would signal disengagement from the security affairs of the EU’s eastern neighborhood, in deference to Russia. The proposal’s timing made it look like a concession, just ahead of the EU-Russia summit in Rostov-on-the-Don on June 1.
A newcomer to the EU and to foreign policy as such, Ashton is unlikely to have initiated the idea of abolishing the Special Representative posts for Moldova and the South Caucasus region. According to Brussels sources, the proposal originated with British officials in Ashton’s office, on whom she heavily relies at this stage.
Ashton forwarded the proposal to scrap the two posts in her May 21 letter to the EU’s Political and Security Committee (PSC); and her top adviser Robert Cooper elaborated on it to justify the internal inconsistencies (EU’s Special Representatives’ Posts Need Strengthening in Moldova and South Caucasus, EDM, June 4) in the PSC’s May 28 meeting. The two Special Representatives were not consulted. The proposal was also kept secret from the EU Eastern Partnership’s meeting on May 24 in Sopot, Poland, which Ashton (and some other senior Western officials invited) declined to attend. However, the proposal leaked out on May 31 in Brussels (EU Observer, May 25; RFE/RL, May 31, June 1, 2).
The EU has altogether 13 envoys with the status of Special Representative or similar status, for various countries and regions on three continents. The proposal would “streamline” this system, in the context of creating the EU’s External Action Service [foreign service, answerable to the EU Commission]. The stated rationale is to eliminate Special Representative posts for certain “distant” territories, while retaining such posts for countries or regions that are important and/or geographically close to the EU. Nevertheless, the posts for Africa’s Great Lakes region, Sudan, and other distant territories would be retained, while those for Moldova and the South Caucasus would be axed.
The mandates of the two incumbents (Peter Semneby for the South Caucasus and Kalman Mizsei for Moldova) expire technically in August this year, but may be prolonged for some months, until the EU’s External Action Service becomes operational. Under Ashton’s proposal, the two posts would be folded into the EU’s embassies in Moldova and the three South Caucasus countries. The embassies report to the EU Commission, not the Council.
Those embassies, however, focus on the host countries’ internal political, economic, and social reforms in deep technical and legal detail, as well as those countries’ relations with EU institutions in Brussels. The Special Representatives, by contrast, focus on conflict-resolution efforts. This division of labor is a sound one, and was in fact the main rationale for instituting Special Representatives for the South Caucasus region and Moldova in 2003 and 2005, respectively. This demonstrated the EU’s commitment to become a direct actor in the conflict-resolution processes.
The EU’s resident ambassadors have nowhere near the flexibility of Special Representatives in terms of travel for ongoing negotiations in various formats, liaising with all parties to the conflicts on a permanent basis, interacting directly with international organizations relevant to the conflicts, undertaking shuttle diplomacy in crisis situations, dialoguing with senior officials in Moscow, and meanwhile retaining some presence in Brussels to focus the EU’s attention on these conflicts (“lobby”). This is why the Special Representatives were not meant to, and do not, reside in Moldova and the South Caucasus. Those tasks require mobility, and they are incompatible with fixed residence. Resident ambassadors by definition could not cope with those tasks.
Folding the Special Representatives’ posts into the EU embassies would simply side-track the conflict-resolution agenda, submerging it to myriad unrelated local tasks, and downgrading it on the EU’s scale of priorities. Russia’s influence on the negotiating processes and on some of the actors involved would grow by default, at the EU’s expense.
Well before Ashton’s office came up with its proposal, a few observers had suggested merging these Special Representatives’ posts with the EU embassies (then called delegations) in order to match political representation with financial muscle. Indeed, the EU believes in reaching out to secessionist populations and authorities via EU-funded assistance programs. The funding is in the hands of the EU Commission, not the Council. However, this is a weak rationale for folding the Special Representatives’ posts into the embassies or in a multi-tiered Brussels structure. It would seem more effective to add that financial muscle to the Special Representatives’ posts for operations on the ground.<iframe src=’https://www.jamestown.org/jamestown.org/inner_menu.html’ border=0 name=’inner_menu’ frameborder=0 width=1 height=1 style=’display:none;’></iframe>