E.U. Comments on Ankara’s Policy in the South Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 194

European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn at the October 14 2009 release of the EC report on the progress of countries aspiring to EU membership.

The European Commission has released its “2009 Progress Report” and “Enlargement Strategy Paper” in which it assessed developments in Turkey. The strategy paper stressed Ankara’s role in contributing to the stability of the Middle East and the South Caucasus. Turkey’s efforts toward the normalization of its ties with Armenia and its key position on the Nabucco project, which will ease the E.U.’s energy dependence on Russia, was also discussed in the strategy paper (Anadolu Ajansi, October 14).

The Enlargement Strategy Paper stressed that the accession negotiations with Turkey have reached a more critical stage, requiring a new impetus for implementing reform. The paper notes that the pace of Turkish reform is often too slow. Furthermore, “the international economic crisis adds to the strain. In several cases, bilateral questions unduly affect the accession process” (E.U. Enlargement Strategy Paper, October 14). As an obstacle to the E.U. enlargement strategy, the report reiterated that Turkey continues to face major challenges relating to the rule of law, in particular the fight against corruption and organized crime. These issues are important in a functioning democracy and economy and largely shape the E.U. accession process (E.U. Enlargement Strategy Paper, October 14).

It also emphasized several issues that Turkey has taken major steps toward fulfilling in terms of its E.U. membership requirements. Turkey is making progress in resolving border disputes, in conformity with the principle of the peaceful settlement of such disputes in accordance with the United Nations Charter, including, if necessary, the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice. The report noted that, “Turkey is committed to cooperation in the region and is part of the Black Sea Synergy framework. The Commission supports Turkey’s participation in the Black Sea basin cooperation program under the European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument (ENPI) (E.U. Enlargement Strategy Paper, October 14). Regarding Ankara’s steps toward establishing diplomatic relations with Armenia, the report highlighted that, “significant diplomatic efforts to normalize relations with Armenia were made, resulting in the signature of protocols for the normalization of relations in October 2009. It is important that these protocols are swiftly ratified by both countries” (E.U. Enlargement Strategy Paper, October 14).

In addition to other important points contained in the strategy report, it appears that the E.U.’s insistence on the swift ratification of the protocols might prove problematic for the Turkish government. Despite the fact that Ankara has consistently emphasized that the protocols will not be ratified until Armenian troops withdraw from Karabakh, the Turkish public and the Azerbaijani government are anxious about the prospect of international pressure on Ankara to ratify the protocols before such a solution is found (EDM, October 14).

The Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, during a recent parliamentary address, repeated that the Turkish government has not changed its political commitment to ending the Armenian occupation of Karabakh. “Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is as important for Turkey as its own. Turkey will continue to advocate [Azerbaijan’s rights] at every diplomatic stage, like it has done over the past 17 years” Davutolgu said (Hurriyet Daily News, October 21).

It seems that it is also in the interests of the E.U. to find a solution to the Karabakh issue. In its “European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument Azerbaijan Country Strategy Paper 2007-2013,” the European Commission stated that it also aims at stabilizing the whole South Caucasus region by supporting a peaceful settlement of the Karabakh conflict. Should a deal be reached and implemented, several basic assumptions in the strategy might change quite radically and, consequently, the commission’s approach to assistance should be updated (European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument Azerbaijan Country Strategy Paper 2007-2013).

In its first official report after the Turkish-Armenian protocols were signed on October 10, the E.U. has expressed its expectation to see the protocols between Turkey and Armenia quickly ratified by both countries. Perhaps from the perspective of the E.U. it is strategically important to encourage greater stability in the energy basin of the South Caucasus and to maintain the security of its energy routes. Yet, both the E.U. and Turkey need to predict how Russia as an influential actor will develop its policy toward Azeri-Armenian relations. Recently, Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev has taken initiatives that imply Baku might be leaning toward Moscow, but it is unclear as to whether Aliyev is bluffing both Turkey and the E.U. in order to ensure their support over Karabakh.

To solve the remaining problems with Azerbaijan, Davutolgu is visiting Baku, however it remains to be seen how the E.U.’s demand to ratify the recently signed protocols will influence Turkish-Azeri relations.