The International Spectator

Volume XLI, No. 3 (July - September 2006)

Editorial Note

The third issue of The International Spectator in 2006 revolves around three core themes: the EU's emerging security culture, its relations with its eastern neighbours, and energy. In particular, the energy crisis in the winter of 2006 has highlighted the close link between the EU's troubled eastern neighbours and the imperative of energy security, and has raised their saliency in Brussels.

Geoffrey Edwards focuses on the European Union and its fledging security culture, analysing the prospects for its development and consolidation. Edwards notes that recent developments both within the Union and outside it have raised the importance of the question of whether a European security culture is in the making and if so, of what it consists. The greater institutionalisation of the EU security apparatus, the emergence of an EU security discourse ushered in by the Security Strategy, the growing number of ESDP operations and the measures taken to counter terrorism, as well as the deepening commitments to meeting the demands of conflict situations all suggest a new seriousness about the EU's role in security matters. Yet this does not make the emergence of a coherent and consolidated security culture a foregone conclusion. The EU's defence capability also remains well below what would be necessary to fulfil the Union's self-proclaimed security ambitions. Furthermore, divergent national security cultures in Europe persist and have been accentuated by the greater diversity within the enlarged EU. Finally, substantial differences in the national perceptions of the EU itself represent an obstacle to a coherent EU-wide security culture.

Delving into two specific foreign and security policy questions in the EU neighbourhood, Nicholas Whyte and Kristi Raik discuss key and topical questions and developments in the Balkans and eastern Europe. Whyte tackles the case of Montenegro explaining how the political dispute between Belgrade and Podgorica has ultimately been resolved through the secession of Montenegro and the dissolution of the State Union brokered by EU High Representative Solana in 2002. The dissolution occurred after Montenegro's referendum, in which the pro-independence camp narrowly succeeded in surpassing the 55 percent threshold established upon the strong urging by the EU. The independence of Montenegro took place peacefully and in a relatively tension-free environment. Yet it has anything but put an end to Serbia's "national question", the outcome of which hinges above all on the fate of the ongoing negotiations over Kosovo.

Broadening out to the east, Kristi Raik focuses on the political transformation of the EU's eastern neighbours, and in particular on the EU's democracy promotion strategies in this region through the European Neighbourhood Policy. The author begins by making a fundamental distinction between the different degrees of democracy and processes of democratisation on course in the region. She categorises the neighbours in terms of states undergoing a renewed process of transition (the "colour" revolution countries: Georgia and Ukraine), of states undergoing a prolonged process of post-Soviet transition (Moldova, Armenia and Azerbaijan), and of states that remain fossilised in authoritarian rule (Belarus). Making these distinctions is of primary importance to the objective of devising tailor-made democracy promotion strategies. In this respect, Raik argues that EU policy should be shaped according to the different phases of democratisation in the eastern neighbourhood, and thus hinge on an appreciation of the specific domestic dynamics in the region. Although Raik argues that the ENP can contribute to such a strategy she is quick to note its shortcomings. These include the much-quoted absence of a membership perspective for the ENP countries, the relationship of asymmetric interdependence between the EU and its neighbours, the persisting vagueness of its policy instruments and of its overall strategic direction. Nonetheless, Raik suggests that the ENP could make a positive contribution to the democratisation of its eastern neighbours, particularly in countries such as Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. If the priorities in these countries' Action Plans were translated into concrete guidelines and the EU were to devote the necessary resources to enable and induce its neighbours to pursue these objectives, the ENP could make a positive contribution to the political transformation of these countries. However, the eventual success of the ENP would inevitably raise to new heights the very question it is intended to shelve, that is, that of further enlargement of the EU.

Enno Harks also focuses on the eastern neighbours, examining the salient question of energy security. Harks describes the origins and evolution of the current energy crisis afflicting Western and Eastern Europe alike. Europe is set to remain the world's largest natural gas import market, and Russia is likely to remain Europe's major gas supplier. Yet precisely because of this awareness in Moscow, the Kremlin has engaged in brinkmanship towards its Western buyers, threatening to reorientate itself towards the Far East. In response, European policymakers and analysts have discussed alternative means to secure Europe's energy needs. Russia's Gazprom's worrying production outlook, the absence of Russian energy market reform, and Russia's unreliability - highlighted by the 2006 Russia-Ukraine energy dispute - have further raised European incentives to seek energy suppliers elsewhere. Against this background Harks examines what the Union can do both to avoid a repetition of the 2006 crisis and to strengthen the medium-term security of its energy supplies. His recommendations focus on three primary issues: energy pricing, the establishment and strengthening of institutional dispute settlement mechanisms and the promotion of transit diversification.

The theme of energy and energy security also runs through the next article by Gerd Nonneman who focuses his attention on the Gulf and on EU relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Running through the history of European-Gulf relations, he points out that bilateral relations between Europe and the individual countries of the Gulf have historically been part and parcel of the process of state formation in the region. However, the multilateral dimension of the relations between the EU and the Gulf region as such are far more recent. Nonneman traces the evolution of the EU's multilateral policies towards the Gulf back to the early 1990s, beginning with the crisis sparked by the second Gulf war and culminating with the heightened EU attention to the region in the aftermath of the 11 September events. The author realistically spells out the limitations on both the EU and the Gulf countries constraining the scope and depth of the multilateral relationship. Yet he argues that the EU's ties with the GCC could contribute to the ongoing process of political transformation in the region, the importance of which is pivotal for the Union's energy security. On the basis of both interests and acknowledged constraints, Nonneman concludes by indicating several policy guidelines to develop EU-GCC relations.

Retaining the focus on energy, while turning to the Italian domestic context, Giacomo Luciani and Maria Rita Mazzanti analyse the changes in the Italian legal and regulatory frameworks in the energy sector. The authors describe the process of liberalisation of the Italian energy sector during the last decade, which has taken place in line with the policy developments and ensuing legal obligations stemming from the EU. In particular, the authors concentrate on the privatisation of ENEL and ENI, on the establishment of regulatory frameworks in the gas and electricity markets, and on the decentralisation of administrative responsibilities in the energy field. All these reforms have been undertaken in response to EU directives. As such, the authors turn to the way in which member state Italy has attempted to influence the evolution of the EU's energy policy. They also delve into Italy's wider energy policies both at corporate and at government levels, focussing on supply and transit markets in the southern Mediterranean, the Caspian and the Black Sea.

Finally, this issue's Italian foreign policy survey features an article by Jason Davidson, who tackles the much-discussed developments in Italy-US relations under the new Prodi government. Conventional wisdom held that Prodi's government, following in Zapatero's footsteps, would have triggered a discernible U-turn in Italian foreign policy in general and bilateral ties with the US in particular, abandoning the uncompromisingly Atlanticist outlook of his predecessor. Yet Davidson argues against this thesis, basing his argument on both historical and time-contingent factors. First and arguably most important, Italy's foreign policy since the Second World War has rarely oscillated on the transatlantic dossier, always aiming to foster close ties with Washington while advancing a strongly Europeanist platform. Second, and related to the current juncture in the transatlantic relationship, the US in 2006 appears far more inclined to pursue multilateral solutions especially to the problems of the wider Middle East. In developing this line of argument, Davidson focuses on the cases of Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. The author suggests that while in the cases of Afghanistan and Iraq, Italy is unlikely to diverge significantly from the US position, on the Iranian question the jury remains out, and the direction of Italian-American relations will depend on the precise foreign policy paths chosen by both Washington and Rome.