III Interests and Policies of Global and Regional Actors

On Regions and Regional Framings: The Missing Link between the European Union and the Caspian Sea Basin

Michela Ceccorulli


That the European Union (EU) acknowledges the relevance of the Caspian Sea basin is clearly confirmed by the centrality of this regional area in its overall energy strategy and policy. European energy security, it is broadly argued, builds inevitably on relations with both supply and transit countries: this is the main reason behind an ‘external dimension’ of energy security. Against this background, the Caspian basin assumes a prominent role for the European Union both because of the resources this geographical spot has and because of the transit role it may play for energy deliveries towards Europe. Thus, the EU has set forward a set of objectives regarding the area: the promotion of sustainable development of energy resources; the exchange of policy, regulatory and technical know-how; the deployment and advancement of new energy sources; the modernization of existing and the promotion of new energy infrastructures and transportation systems. Even though important results have been reached, some limitations keep characterizing the European approach and the cooperation path. An effective EU foreign policy strategy towards the Caspian to sustain the overall energy strategy is basically lacking and this fact, ultimately, impacts on the scope and the extent of cooperative attempts.

This basic acknowledgment brings one to wonder about the overall EU’s approach toward the area: is the Caspian perceived as a region in the same vein as other geographical areas? Has the European Union developed a strategy toward the Caspian? Where does the Caspian figure in EU’s strategic projections? Which issue-areas have been the object of dialogue or cooperation between the Union and the Caspian basin? These and more questions constitute the bulk of this chapter.

In fact, the EU has increasingly shaped its relations with the outer world through the promotion of regional approaches and policies, independently of the effective existence of institutionalized regional forms of cooperation among foreign states. Indeed, this approach is easily understandable for at least two reasons: first, regional cooperation has been the distinctive trait of the EU’s experience and the promotion of integrative efforts elsewhere is supposed to bring about overall benefits. Second, most of the issue areas of concern for the European Union are better addressed through regional approaches and solutions. For example, the promotion of transportation and infrastructural projects demands for coordination among neighbouring states in the same vein as the limitation of pollution in the Caspian Sea waters. Transnational challenges particularly require regional approaches following the argumentations of the ‘regional complex’ theory developed by Barry Buzan and Ole W^ver (2003) according to which threats travel easier along short rather than long distances. In general, the regional one seems to be a fair geographical context to look at to understand the interplay between global and local dynamics on the governance of a phenomenon. The increasing attention paid to the Caspian basin by powerful international actors adds to the importance of a regional approach, if not for the reason that this latter directly borders the Union’s neighbourhood.

Against this background this chapter discusses first how the EU has framed cooperation in the realm of energy and infrastructures with the Caspian basin. This specification is all the more important given that while bilateral relations between EU members and Caspian states may, in certain cases, prove to be quite developed, this chapter focuses on regional dynamics at play (EU- Caspian basin) and on their limits. Deriving from this latter consideration, in the second section the chapter explores the place of the Caspian basin in the EU’s strategic planning. This part highlights the reach and the weaknesses of the EU’s approach towards the geographical area, so as to offer insights for a comparison with approaches undertaken by other international actors considered in this volume, such as the United States, China and Turkey. Finally, and building on what has emerged thus far, the third section considers the issue areas that, aside from energy, have constituted the bulk of cooperation efforts with the Caspian basin, paying particular attention to the transnational issues discussed in the first part of the book.

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