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Europe's Lack of Strategic Ambition

Published date: 17.09.2008 16:18 | Author: Kliping inostranih medija

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Russia's invasion of Georgia has once again revealed the European Union's central foreign policy flaw: While the EU is good at managing crises, it has hardly ever solved one.
The weakness of Europe's so-called Common Foreign and Security Policy stems from a lack of strategic focus and ambition. Take Montenegro, for instance. This small former Yugoslav republic has much in common with Georgia -- and not just the good wine, tasty food and great coastlines. They are both countries that have been knocking hard on the EU membership door, and they make no secret of their ambition to be fully integrated into Europe's club of democratic market economies.
Rather than embracing this as a strategic opportunity -- since both countries have been advancing fast in their reform and transition efforts, outpacing the regional averages -- the EU seems to be embarrassed by their progress. Brussels is looking for ways to shut its doors and keep the ambitious would-be members at a distance, perhaps just long enough so they lose their zealous drive.
True, the recent accession of Romania and Bulgaria has given enlargement a bad name. Brussels sharply criticized Sofia and Bucharest in July for not doing enough to fight corruption and suspended hundreds of millions of euros in aid money. This experience has given enlargement skeptics the upper hand. But punishing Montenegro and the Balkans for the failings of Sofia and Bucharest is unfair and strategically shortsighted.
The EU is missing a huge opportunity to stabilize the broader Balkans and Caucasus regions if it fails to reward Montenegro and Georgia for their efforts. In the first case, it's the EU Balkan agenda that hangs in the balance. Montenegro is a living example of regional success. It never went through a war or ethnic cleansing. Because of its democratic outreach to all of its citizens, it has managed to keep its Albanian minority excited about a future in an independent Montenegro. The country is making rapid economic progress and moving at a fast-forward pace through the reforms agenda outlined by the EU in its Stabilization and Association Agreement.
Given Montenegro's tiny size, the EU could absorb it at almost no cost. With a population of just 680,000, there's hardly a risk that Montenegro's labor force could "flood" the EU market. Besides, the country's economy is so dynamic that few Montenegrins would be tempted to emigrate anyway.
But if the EU refuses to take in even a small state like Montenegro, what are the prospects for larger countries like Serbia or Albania to ever join the EU?
If Montenegro is not advanced to EU candidacy status this year, the message for the rest in the region will be crystal clear. The radicals will be able to argue convincingly that the EU isn't serious about admitting the Balkan states, and they will use this as a powerful lever to undermine the reformers currently in government.
Serbia's pro-EU coalition would likely be the first victim and might be forced to end the recent cooperation with The Hague tribunal for war crimes.
Europe lacks a strategic vision and the political ambition to speed up its Balkan endgame. But equivocating now is the wrong strategy as the Black Sea security rim is collapsing under Russian pressure.
As with the Balkans, the EU has kept the Caucasus at arm's length. Brussels seems to have lost track of why it cared about Georgia in the first place. The country is the front end of the South Caucasus tunnel, which connects Europe to the energy resources of Azerbaijan and Central Asia. For the EU, the South Caucasus tunnel is the only direct link to Caspian energy supplies and the optimal gateway from which to develop a sustainable economic exchange with Central Asia.
It's quite possible that a more ambitious EU policy in the Caucasus-Caspian region may have discouraged Russia from invading Georgia. The war has now complicated matters and fundamentally changed the geopolitics of the region, and the EU will have to take Moscow's regional interests into consideration.
However, the long-term payoffs of giving Georgia a realistic perspective of joining the EU will come from having a functional Caspian and Central Asian policy. It is here that Europe will interact with China most directly -- and it is China, not Russia, that is the rising power of tomorrow. A proactive Georgia policy would be the beginning of a competitive Central Asian policy.
Europe's strategic vision in the Balkans and Caucasus is failing. It is time for Europe to graduate from crisis management to finding geopolitical solutions.
Mr. Grgic is the founding director of the Institute for Strategic Studies.