What is the position of the EU regarding the Karabakh issue?

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. It was, therefore, absent from all peace-building activities not only in Nagorno-Karabakh but also in other post-Soviet conflicts. However, France, as a member state of the EU, was one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk group, but it did 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 believed that France had adopted a pro-Armenian position. Therefore, it wanted to see more EU involvement in the process than France alone.[2]

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

The EU’s second tool to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict was the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for the South Caucasus, which operated under a mandate from the Council of the EU. The first EUSR was appointed in 2003. In 2006 the mandate was strengthened to make a more effective contribution to settling the conflict. Unfortunately, because of the unclear priorities of the EUSR, this initiative became 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 was 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. The negotiation areas included political dialogue, foreign and security policy, justice, freedom and security, economic and sectorial cooperation, and a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA).[8] The expected long-term result of more robust regional integration was interdependence between the parties to the conflict that would affect establishing a favorable climate for settling the conflict. However, the previous unsuccessful EU projects relating to the countries in the region that also included helping resolve conflicts failed due to the lack of precise requirements on the parties to the conflict. Suppose any positive result is to be achieved in resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict within the framework of the above-mentioned agreement. In that case, some pre-conditions must 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 program’s main aim was 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]

In general, before the Second Karabakh War, the EU expressed its intention to support a peaceful settlement of the conflict and contribute to the peace-building process by utilizing its instruments as the South Caucasus grows closer to the EU neighborhood due to its eastward expansion. That is why, while Russia is busy in Ukraine and does not have political credibility in the global arena due to the Ukraine War, the European Union attempted to be a new mediator in the peace process between Azerbaijan and Armenia after the Second Karabakh War. In this regard, it initiated the meeting of President Ilham Aliyev and Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan several times since the signing of the Trilateral Statement of November 10, 2020, in order to reach final peace between the parties to the conflict. Therefore, it is worded that “the EU seems to be the most proactive, once again coming to fill the geopolitical vacuum of the region, while the Russian-led CSTO’s reaction was lukewarm at best… [and] EU’s engagement has been more sustained, robust, and assertive than before.”[11]

[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 December 5, 2022.

[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 December 5, 2022.

[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 December 5, 2022.

[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 December 5, 2022.

[11] Urciuolo, Luca, “Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine allows the European Union to accredit itself as a mediator between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Geopolitical Report, ISSN 2785-2598, Vol. 25 Issue 3, November 7, 2022. Retrieved from SpecialEuroasia; https://www.specialeurasia.com/2022/11/07/european-union-caucasus/#:~:text=After%20almost%20three%20decades%20on,the%20Armenian%2DAzerbaijani%20conciliation%20process. Accessed on December 5, 2022.