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EU: New Partnership Could Help Ease Conflicts On Periphery

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The September terror attacks on the United States, and their aftermath, are helping influence the creation of a new order in which the United States, the European Union, and Russia are in strategic partnership. This partnership can help play a role in easing some of the conflicts beyond the edges of an enlarged European Union. That's the argument of Michael Emerson, a senior research fellow at the Center for European Policy studies.

Prague, 9 January 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Brussels-based analyst Michael Emerson sees new political realities emerging for Europe and the countries on its periphery as a result of the 11 September terror attacks on the United States.

Chief among these new realities, he says, is a strategic partnership between Russia and the enlarging European Union, in alliance with the United States.

A second feature is an increasing "cooperative regionalism" in what he calls the peripheral areas where the European Union's "quasi-empire" meets the former Russian and Ottoman empires.

Emerson's arguments are set out in an article in the latest issue of the Brussels-based weekly "European Voice." He writes that the strategic partnership consisting of the United States, the European Union, and Russia has advanced "enormously" in the past year -- particularly since September -- because of Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to be a cooperative partner.

The benefits of this can be felt, for instance, in the Baltic region, where the EU's cooperative effort between the Nordic states, the Baltic republics, and Russia -- an initiative called the Northern Dimension -- is well under way.

Emerson tells RFE/RL: "The Baltic Sea area -- that will be confirmed as an area of peaceful cooperation. And my guess in particular is that once they are in [the European Union], the Baltic states will be quite keen, much keener than today, on cooperation with Russia."

Turning to the Balkans, Emerson sees the peaceful process of "Europeanization" of Southeastern Europe as gradually succeeding.

"You have Bulgaria and Romania, which are holding on despite going through an extraordinarily difficult transition period, tenaciously holding on to the prospect of Europe," Emerson says. "And at the other end, you have Croatia, which is wishing to join the [EU] enlargement process. So you have the progressive encirclement of the residual areas of disorder and instability in the Balkans."

He notes that, during the past year, civil war was avoided in Macedonia and Kosovo successfully held elections. Emerson suggests that even though questions remain about Bosnia and Montenegro, prospects for positive developments are reasonable.

One long-frozen conflict that he sees as coming "out of the freezer" at last is the divided island of Cyprus. Emerson notes the recent contacts between Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot President Rauf Denktash and says he sees the prospect of approaching EU membership for Cyprus as spurring the peace effort.

"There is now a good chance in my view that within a year, we will have a settlement of the Cyprus issue factored into Cyprus-EU accession," Emerson says. "And from that point onwards, you have an excellent precedent for starting the Euro-Med game in a more positive and cooperative way."

In mentioning Euro-Med, Emerson is referring to the long-established but largely dormant cooperation agreement between the EU and the Muslim countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean rim.

Spain, the new rotating president of the European Union, has pledged to re-animate the Euro-Med connection. Emerson sees that process as largely being held hostage by the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but he says resolution of the Cyprus issue would send a positive signal to the Muslim Mediterranean states.

Moving to the Caucasus, Emerson says that region "should be next in line for transformation." He writes that the past year saw long-standing conflicts over Nagorno-Karabakh and Abkhazia slide back toward warfare. He says that perhaps -- given Russia's increasingly cooperative mood -- Moscow can now help achieve a return to negotiations in these conflicts, particularly in light of an apparent reversal of the Russian policy of blocking UN-sponsored talks on Abkhazia.

Turning to Central Asia, plus Afghanistan, Emerson writes that that region is now "part of the continuous and linked chains of regional sets of disorders, ethno-cultural conflicts, violence, and criminality stretching from the Balkans to the Chinese and Indian frontiers."

He says that as the conflict zones closest to Europe are gradually resolved, the frontiers of conflict are being pushed further to the east. The result is that Central Asia is rising in the foreign policy priorities of the U.S., Russia, and the EU.

Emerson notes that many of the remaining conflicts are intractable, and he suggests a way to help restore some movement to these situations. He calls it "track two diplomacy" and explains that it involves efforts by individuals not in government -- such as independent analysts -- to develop ideas that may be ahead of what official diplomacy can do.

He says that often, official diplomacy may be completely blocked for political reasons and that "hugely powerful diplomatic resources, in terms of expertise and diplomatic instruments" are effectively paralyzed.

This is where "track two diplomacy" comes in, he says: "There are occasions when independent people can speak out more substantively on what rational and constructive solutions to some conflicts may be, and thus put before public opinion visions of the advantages for the people concerned of making a rational compromise over conflicts."

Emerson says this type of informal diplomacy is about new ideas being heard.

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