EU’s Special Representatives’ Posts Need Strengthening in Moldova and South Caucasus

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 108

Javier Solana

Abolishing the EU’s Special Representative posts in Moldova and South Caucasus, as proposed, would look like de-prioritizing the solution of frozen conflicts, and the European neighborhood’s security (“The EU’s Declaration of Impotence,” RFE/RL, June 2).

Since their inception in 2003 and 2005, respectively, these posts are filled on a political basis, through appointment by the EU Council by consensus among all member states. By the same token, the Special Representatives report to the EU Council and the EU’s top foreign policy official (Catherine Ashton has succeeded Javier Solana in such a capacity). Thus, the Special Representatives can speak for the entire EU with the political backing of all EU states. On the downside, however, the Council’s consensus-based operation tends to result in low-common-denominator decisions and sometimes weak instructions to the envoys.

EU politics in Brussels and Paris has prevented the office of Special Representative for the South Caucasus from fulfilling its potential and the expectations in the region. The “frozen” conflicts were never a priority for Javier Solana to address in any consistent way. Resources allocated to the South Caucasus office were mismatched to the actual magnitude of its tasks.

Instead of strengthening that office, the EU’s French presidency arranged for a large part of conflict-management tasks in Georgia to be transferred to a French official in 2008. Supposedly “temporary,” this arrangement persists to date. That official, Ambassador Pierre Morel, has however retained his pre-existing post as EU Special Representative for Central Asia up to the present (and was most recently immersed in dealing with the Kyrgyzstan crisis). The dispersal of effort has impaired the EU’s effectiveness in the South Caucasus conflict-management and conflict-resolution processes.

The EU is not involved as such in the negotiations on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. France is one of the three mediators, alongside the United States and Russia, in that conflict. But France acts in a national capacity, not representing the EU, in that mediation process.

In Moldova, political turmoil and constitutional crisis has compelled the EU’s Special Representative to shift much of his effort toward internal affairs, rather than the Transnistria conflict. This situation exists since early 2009 and may continue until the end of 2010 at least, with a referendum and elections due to take place. However, the goals of re-starting the 5 + 2 negotiations, reaching out to Trasnistria’s authorities and population, and raising the issue of Russian troop withdrawal at the international level, necessitate continuity of effort.

The EU’s Special Representative, Kalman Mizsei, can and does hold informal talks at his level with the relevant Russian policy-makers, such as Deputy Minister/State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Grigory Karasin, and Security Council Deputy Secretary, Yuriy Zubakov. However, an EU negotiator not appointed politically would lack that authority, and would be reduced to interacting with Russian and other governments at the working level.

The EU institution of Special Representatives for Moldova and for the South Caucasus region needs to be strengthened, not axed or folded into some unwieldy structure. The incumbents ought to continue being appointed politically, so as to speak for the EU with full authority, and retain access at commensurately high levels with governments and international organizations, indeed including the EU’s own institutions and influential national capitals.

When the mandates of the two incumbent diplomats expire, their successors could be selected from among senior European figures (former foreign ministers). This would add weight to the posts and demonstrate the EU’s continuing commitment to the security of its neighborhood.

At a minimum, the negotiators on the “frozen” conflicts need direct access to the High Representative. And the holders of these posts need to work on a full-time basis, not divide their efforts on several fronts.

To avoid a repeat of Solana-style, sporadic involvement that lacked solid preparation of follow-up, Catherine Ashton and her office can interact more consistently with the incumbent and successor EU envoys for the South Caucasus and Moldova. If an appropriate interaction did not exist under her predecessor, this is no reason for not trying it now. This would become indispensable, if Ashton contemplates raising the “frozen” conflicts and related issues with Russia’s top leaders in the EU-Russia dialogue.

Doing less than this, and even abolishing the Special Representatives posts, instead of strengthening them, could suggest that the EU downgrades conflict-resolution in Europe’s East on the EU’s scale of priorities. It is not yet clear whether the proposed axing of the two posts reflects a gloomy strategic reassessment and a Russia-First order of priorities, as just implied by Ashton’s top adviser (Robert Cooper, “Not Many Winners in South Ossetia,” Times Literary Supplement, May 28); or a more banal case of bureaucratic streamlining, non-strategic in intent, but with potentially debilitating strategic consequences. The next step is up to Ashton, but the ultimate decision will be in the hands of the Council.<iframe src=’http://www.jamestown.org/jamestown.org/inner_menu.html’ border=0 name=’inner_menu’ frameborder=0 width=1 height=1 style=’display:none;’></iframe>