By Ahto Lobjakas in BrusselsThe president of the European Union’s executive Commission, Romano Prodi, said on Tuesday that the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has gone on too long and strongly hinted that greater EU involvement may be needed to resolve it.
“We're worried that the [peace process] has stopped since 10 years,” after talks in Brussels with visiting Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliev. “[There was] an armistice 10 years ago, [but] no peace. Clearly, [the EU] don't want to interfere with the Minsk Group, but we're urging and pushing that the Minsk Group has some result. I expressed my will to be at the disposal of the two nations in order to help the Minsk Group [under the aegis of the OSCE] find a solution."
Prodi said there is "urgency" felt within the EU for a solution, and that the bloc could help "speed up the solution." However, he acknowledged that the EU "cannot make positive proposals at this stage," as it has not been asked to get involved. The EU, Prodi said, has "complete respect" for the political autonomy of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
After meeting Prodi, Aliev welcomed the extension of the EU's “new neighborhood” program to Azerbaijan and the rest of the South Caucasus. He promised continued improvement through political, social and economic reforms, as well as closer political dialogue with the EU. However, Aliev stopped short of endorsing full EU involvement alongside the Minsk Group, which is chaired by Russia, the United States and France.
He stressed that the Minsk Group will continue to retain the mandate for mediation, adding he hopes it will become "more active." Asked by RFE/RL what precise role Azerbaijan would like the EU to play, Aliev said he had simply asked the EU to more actively support international efforts.
“Of course, we all understand that [the] Minsk Group has a mandate from the OSCE, and nobody is going to question that mandate, and the Minsk Group is trying to do its best to find a peaceful resolution,” he said. “But at the same time, we think that European organizations, [the] European Union, [the] Council of Europe, European public opinion can also be involved in the process.”
Aliev said dialogue with Armenia is continuing, but warned that if no concrete issues remain on the agenda, it is "not right to continue [and] imitate negotiations."
Being made a "new neighbor" by the European Union involves both privileges and obligations. The bloc holds out the offer of near-total economic integration and political dialogue. In return, it asks for reforms and -- above all -- stability and a readiness to peacefully defuse conflicts.
In the case of the South Caucasus, this is taking the EU into uncharted waters. So far, the bloc has sat back and let Russia, the United States, the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) do the mediating in the region's so-called frozen conflicts.
However, as Aliev’s visit to Brussels indicated, the greater integration with the EU also means greater EU involvement in trying to resolve the conflicts. As Prodi put it, the EU's "ring of friends" cannot tolerate conflicts.