With regard to the forthcoming elections in the United States, the Atlantik-Brücke e.V. recently hosted a panel discussion in order to discuss the question of what Europe can offer the next US president.
The panelist were:
- Dr. Gunter Pleuger, former German ambassador to the United Nations from 2002 to 2006 and forthcoming president of the European University Viadrina
- Özcan Mutlu (Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen), member of the Berlin House of Representatives
- Frederik Pleitgen, the Berlin correspondent for CNN
- Dr. Alfred Tacke, former state secretary in the German Ministry of Economy and Labor
- Prof. Dr. Michael Stürmer, chief correspondent WELT-GRUPPE
Dr. Pleuger and Dr. Tacke agreed that the EU holds the best position to mediate in the Caucasus conflict and could offer this to the US. In almost the same manner as Mr. Klose did at the latest DGAP panel, Dr. Pleuger points out that in contrast to the US, the EU is not one of the conflicting parties and is therefore best qualified to moderate the talks.
During the discussion, Dr. Pleuger mentioned several aspects which are crucial for the success of any negotiations and are also vital for the EU's future talks with Russia and Georgia:
- "Do not take sides"
An actor is only qualified to mediate in a conflict if it does not side with one of the conflicting parties. In this regard, the call of several states in Eastern Europe to impose sanctions on Russia is counterproductive because it limits the credibility of the attempt to serve as an intermediary. Furthermore, Dr. Pleuger questioned that sanctions are an effective mean to achieve a turn in the Russian foreign policy.
- "Balance your criticism"
A good mediator balances critique. A precondition for reasonable comments is that the mediating party soberly analyses the contribution of both conflicting parties to the escalation of the conflict. As Dr. Pleuger noted, the EU excluded Saakashvili's involvement in the break-out of the conflict from the discussion. This is a deficit and the EU should face this issue in order to enhance its ability to treat Georgia and Russia equally.
- "Say what you think"
In one side comment, Dr. Pleuger corrected the assumption that diplomats do not say what they think. This may be important for the future EU dealings with Russia and Georgia. Stating ones own perspective is required in any relationship based on confidence, or at least one based on respect for the other party's interests.
In spite of these good pieces of advice to the EU, Dr. Tacke and Prof. Dr. Stürmer doubted that the EU is able to develop a coherent and effective foreign policy in the Caucasus conflict. Prof. Dr. Stürmer even predicted that the United States will act unilaterally again, because the EU's decision-making process takes too much time.
In fact, there are voices in the EU that oppose the idea of an EU mediation due to the EU's energy interests in Russia and thereby slow the internal negotiations down. In the view of these European states, however, the deteriorating relations with Iran enhance the EU's dependence on Russian engergy supplies. Therefore, as Dr. Tacke noted, the room to maneuver for the EU is limited.
Moreover, as Dr. Pleuger added, one can not expect the EU to resolve the complex conflict which includes a lot of different parties on the ground. Any de-escalation of the conflict should then be acknowledged as a success.
At the same time the panel was taking place in Berlin, the heads of state of the EU were talking in Brussels. In spite of the call of a number of Eastern Europe states for levying sanctions against Russia, others led by France and Germany insisted on diplomacy. A decision on suspending talks with Russia on a new economic and security pact was postponed.
With regard to the lessons above, this can be seen as a good result. According to a New York Times article, the United States welcomed the EU's decision to affirm support for Georgia's territorial integrity, but would have wished to see a stronger notion toward Russia. However, in this case, not taking sides and a careful decision-making are not such bad things even if they are perceived as "hesitant" in the US.
Leonie Holthaus is an editorial intern at atlantic-community.org
Related Materials from the Atlantic Community:
- David Francis: Proposal for a United Policy Towards Russia
- Matthew Derek Crosston: Transatlantic Unity Should Not Isolate Russia
- Marek Swierczynski: Russian Belligerence Will Strengthen Transatlantic Relations