Introduction in:

Anna Steiner

Enhanced Relations - Protracted Conflict(s)?, page 13 - 14

The EU's Non-Recognition and Engagement Policy (NREP) towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia

1. Edition 2019, ISBN print: 978-3-8288-4304-2, ISBN online: 978-3-8288-7236-3,

Series: Wissenschaftliche Beiträge aus dem Tectum Verlag: Politikwissenschaften, vol. 82

Tectum, Baden-Baden
Bibliographic information
13 Introduction Being located on an important energy transit route for energy exports to the EU, the South Caucasus is a strategically important part of the European Union’s Eastern Neighbourhood (cf. Fischer 2010b: 4). The region has previously been part of a geopolitical game between Moscow and the West during the Cold War. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the independent states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have been influenced by regional key players – e.g. Turkey and Iran – as well as international actors – Russia, the United States and the European Union. The European Union has developed close political, societal and economic relations with the three states, especially with Georgia, with which it signed an Association Agreement in 2014 that introduces a preferential trade regime – the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA). However, protracted conflicts1 with and over de facto independent entities such as Nagorno Karabakh (disputed over between Armenia and Azerbaijan) or Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region in Georgia, that have been recognised by Russia after the 2008 Georgian-Russian war, endanger the region’s sustainable and peaceful development. The Russian recognition of the independence of both Abkhazia and South Ossetia has made them “partially recognised” states but isolated on an international stage. The international community (except for Russia, Nauru, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Syria and the de facto entities themselves) regard Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region integral parts of Georgia. Fischer (2010:4) describes Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Nagorno Karabakh as “‘white spots’ on the map of the [European Union’s] Eastern Neighbourhood” (Fischer 2010b: 4). The lack of statehood and legitimacy isolates the de facto entities from the international community, which thus stands in contrast with the EU’s interest to increase its engagement with the region. This contrast is most prevalent in Georgia, a country closely associated with the EU, where two de facto independent states have emerged. In order to strengthen its role in conflict resolution, the European Union approved a Non-Recognition and Engagement Policy (NREP) towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia in December 2009 that „[...] aims at opening a political and legal space in which the EU can interact with the separatist regions without compromising its adherence to Georgia’s territorial integrity” (Fischer 2010b: 1). Since the NREP is based on a non-paper that has never been published, the only publicly available document setting out the policy in more detail is an EU Institute 1 The wording “protracted conflicts” will be used throughout this thesis. Often referred to as “frozen conflicts”, this term has proven to be inappropriate and hypocritical, since neither the situation, nor the danger of a new escalation is frozen or put on hold (cf. Morar 2010: 10-18). 14 for Security Studies (EUISS) report by Sabine Fischer (= Fischer 2010b) published in 2010 (cf. de Waal 2017). Therefore, the public profile of the NREP is relatively low (cf. ibidem). Furthermore, a public political debate about the NREP has not taken place. While the two pillars of the policy – non-recognition and engagement – have been reaffirmed by the EU on various occasions, the NREP itself has neither been widely discussed, nor officially revised2. This – alongside the lack of academic discussion dealing with the NREP3 – is surprising, especially as over the 10 years following the 2008 war and Russian recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the relations between Georgia and the EU have significantly deepened. This is evidenced by the Association Agreement and DCFTA and the Visa Liberalisation, which became effective in March 2017. The present thesis aims to close this gap by giving a brief overview of EU- Georgia relations and describing if and in how far the NREP has developed within the same time frame. In this context, analysis of how the NREP has been integrated in the EU’s political and economic tools will be discussed. Designed as one component of the EU’s comprehensive conflict resolution strategy in Georgia, the aim of this thesis is to detect whether the EU’s NREP for South Ossetia and Abkhazia has been successful in increasing conflict management capabilities and governance in Georgia. Based on expert interviews, the implementation and success of the NREP will be reviewed. This includes recommendations for a future EU approach towards the de facto states Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region that will complete the work. 2 The EUISS Report by Sabine Fischer (2010b) was published as Seminar report after a meeting on 1-2 December 2010 between the EUSR for the South Caucasus and the EUISS. It contains, besides an assessment of its implementation, recommendations, for example that “the NREP should focus primarily on de-isolation and transformation” (cf. ibidem: 6). Thus, the evolution of the policy within the first year can be tracked. 3 Besides publications in 2009-2011, for example “Engagement without Recognition” by Cooley and Mitchell (2010), few recent articles could be found, among them Thomas de Waal’s analyses “Enhancing the EU’s Engagement With Separatist Territories” (2017) and “Uncertain Ground” (2018).

Chapter Preview



Protracted conflicts with and over de facto independent entities such as the Abkhazia and South Ossetia/Tskhinvali region in Georgia endanger the region’s sustainable and peaceful development. Anna Steiner examines Georgia’s breakaway regions in the context of EU policies – a highly topical, yet unresolved matter.

Relations between Georgia and the EU have significantly deepened within the last ten years (Association Agreement, DCFTA, Visa Liberalisation). The present book closes a scientific gap by reviewing the NREP in the light of these developments. Using a profound literature basis and expert interviews, the authorsheds light on EU-Russian relations, the politico-normative framework of EU-Georgian relations, neighbourhood relations and applicable governance concepts. Realistic proposals for a future EU approach make this book a guideline for diplomatic engage­ment.