Thu 19 Jan 2012
International Spectator: EU foreign policy and post-Soviet conflicts : stealth intervention / Nicu Popescu. – London and New York : Routledge, 2011. – xvi, 157 p. – (Routledge advances in European politics). – ISBN 978-0-415-58720-4 ; 978-0-203-83478-7 (ebk)
In this book, Nicu Popescu, Senior Research Fellow at ECFR and major expert in the Eastern European Neighbourhood, investigates the EU approach towards the conflicts that emerged in the nineties in some former Soviet republics, namely Transnistria, Abkazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh. The publication reveals that in those areas, the EU has conducted a sort of “stealth intervention”. This raises some interesting questions to which the author tries to find an answer: what mechanisms occasionally restrain the EU in conflict management? What are its real political priorities? Can the Council’s political reluctance act as a brake on other EU external actions?
Although these frozen conflicts have occasionally come into the spotlight of the international media, public attention has not always corresponded or led to the EU’s Council direct intervention in those crises. This book is therefore particularly relevant as an attempt to understand the reasons underlying EU foreign policy choices in those areas.
From a methodological point of view, the author uses an innovative theoretical framework that combines institutional and intergovernmental elements. The cross-examination of facts with interviews with select stakeholders reinforces its credibility.
The structure of the book is linear. The first chapter offers an overview of the theories, concepts, case studies and methodology adopted; the second explains EU conflict management and settlement mainly prior to Lisbon Treaty. The book then works through the chronicles of the facts of each case; this is, without doubt, the most effective feature of Popescu’s work. Going through historical events, the author explains the contradictions between the Council’s activity as an intergovernmental institution and that of the Commission, the EU’s executive body, as supragovernmental one. Popescu refers to their activities as dealing with high politics and low politics, respectively. The book suggests that the Council’s policymaking is strongly influenced by external actors and factors, such as Russia and economic issues like energy dependence. These elements play a major role in decision-making, with some member states taking them into account while others prefer to overlook them and demand stronger EU action. Notwithstanding the single national stances, disagreement at the Council level decreases the possibility of concrete decision-making in crisis management.
The Commission is acutely aware of these delicate balances, however, and has launched its own strategy. Popescu defines the Commission’s policy towards these conflicts as based on a “dosage approach” with spillover effects. The underlying idea is to bypass the political discussions of the Council initiatives by initially keeping a low profile and gradually extending the scope of its mandate over time.
All in all, Popescu’s theory of low and high politics is interesting and accessible even to the non-expert reader. Its main strength is its clear explanation of the interplay between the Council and the Commission, as well as the final outcomes in foreign policy. The theory sustained is capable of enlightening pathological situations “where issues can become politicized or depolicized”. Popescu gives a direct example of tension between the Council and the Commission: in 2006, an OSCE mission in Moldova, led by Russia, was due to expire, so the Commission’s Special Representative to Moldova, Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged, tried to lobby stakeholders to suggest a joint EU-Russia operation.
The book draws attention to the EU’s and member states’ hidden agendas, putting their consistency and coherence with the EU’s overall external action into question. It should be noticed, however, that with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty and the setting up of the European External Action Service, Popescu’s theoretical framework may have to be adapted. (Chantal Scaccabarozzi)