EU contractual relations can influence ethno-political conflicts through three inter-related mechanisms. But which factors affect the extent and manner in which conditionality, learning and passive enforcement can influence ethno-political conflicts in the European neighbourhood?
The effectiveness of each of the mechanisms depends first on the value of the benefits the EU holds on offer mapped against the costs of compliance with EU obligations. Only if the potential gains relative to the costs are sufficiently high, could the Union meaningfully exert influence on its neighbourhood conflicts. Value is determined by the objective nature of the contract. Naturally, when full membership is an option, the EU's potential leverage on a conflict is higher than in cases where relations are based on association, partnership or financial assistance. This begs the question of whether the EU can significantly influence third states that it cannot or does not wish to fully integrate. Indeed this is the core dilemma underlying the ENP, which was born precisely to find an alternative to full membership for aspirant EU members such as Ukraine and Moldova (and only later extended to the Southern Mediterranean and the South Caucasus countries).
Yet equally important is the subjective value of EU benefits: the perceived value by the recipients within a conflict party. Whereas membership may be the most valuable offer the Union can make, it may be of little interest to a nationalist jealously guarding his/her country's sovereignty and seeking international alliances elsewhere. By contrast, the more a conflict party identifies with 'Europe' or the more dependent it is upon it, the greater the EU's potential influence. However, different actors within a third country may value EU benefits differently. Domestic actors have different aims, strategies and tactics, which are driven by different historical, economic and political interests. As such their assessment of the EU differs. Hence, depending on the internal balance of different domestic actors and their interaction within a conflict party, the overall effect of EU conditionality can be positive, negative or nil.
Another determinant of value is timing. In the case of ex ante conditionality, expected reforms are demanded in the short and medium terms but the actual delivery of the benefit (eg membership) occurs in the long run. This generates several problems. Long-term benefits are valued less than short-term ones. The unpredictability of the long-term reduces the value of the benefit and therefore the potential incentives for conflict resolution. The time lag between the demanded conditions and the subsequent delivery of the benefit may also induce policy-makers in conflicts to delay policy changes or negotiating positions until the delivery of the benefit is closer and surer. This may be particularly true in conflict situations in which taking steps towards a settlement is often viewed as taking a risky step into the unknown. As such, principal parties may be reluctant to reach an agreement until the prospects of membership are closer. This dilemma characterises the Turkish position on Cyprus and the Kurdish question for example. In other situations however the opposite problem may apply. At times, benefits delivered before the fulfilment of their accompanying obligations may also have disincentive effects on conflict resolution, as for example has been the case of Greek Cyprus and EU membership. When the benefit is delivered in the short-term based on an understanding that the respect of its accompanying obligations will follow suit, its value is absorbed by the recipient party. This may induce the conflict party to avoid or postpone the respect of the conflict-related obligations, counting on the EU's unwillingness to withdraw the carrot.
The credibility of the obligations
Beyond valuable carrots, the effectiveness of the three mechanisms also hinges on the credibility of the EU and its demanded conditions or obligations. Credibility depends on the conflict party's perception of the EU's capacity and willingness to carry out its declared commitments. In the case of ex ante conditionality, credibility is related to the Union's track record in delivering its promised gains, when and only when the specified conditions are fulfilled; whereas in the case of ex post conditionality, credibility is related to the EU's track record in withdrawing benefits in cases of consistent violations of specified obligations. Credibility in passive enforcement instead entails cooperating when and only when the rules governing engagement are respected by all parties. Credibility also impinges on the potential for learning, given that a particular norm is more likely to be assimilated when all parties engaged in contractual relations are steadfast in their respect of it.
In conflict countries, the EU's credibility is seriously damaged if the principal parties observe that the Union itself does not respect a condition demanded of it, such as minority rights in member states like France or Greece. Likewise, if EU policies are perceived as displaying double standards, favouring one side of a conflict, an inverse social learning effect may set in. This problem is particularly acute in secessionist conflicts from Cyprus to the former Soviet space, where the EU, fearing indirect recognition, refuses to have any official contact with the de facto authorities of a secessionist entity. Official ties with the metropolitan state and the snubbing of the unrecognised entity creates resentment within the latter, which may lead to its distancing from the goal of European integration and the values that allegedly underpin the EU project.
EU credibility also requires clarity in the specification of conditions and obligations. In addition to its informational value, the clarity of a condition is key to credibility because it reduces the scope for the political distortion of a contractual relationship, and also raises the likelihood of learning and passive enforcement given the clear nature of the rule to be experienced and assimilated. Yet often, when it comes to conflicts, clarity is hard to obtain. When are human rights respected? When is justice obtained? What constitutes a compromise? Human rights violations and features of undemocratic practice, racism and xenophobia exist within the EU as well as outside it. The meeting of a criterion is rarely clear-cut and often a question of degree. In addition, the Union does not have ready-made benchmarks to monitor precisely the implementation of political reforms and policy shifts, and often does not have specific models that provide a clear format for an expected change within a third country.
Rather than representing a determinant of EU effectiveness in its own right, political management frequently provides the underlying explanation of why the EU's potential in conflict resolution is not met. Conflict parties' awareness of the EU's political management of contractual relations on the one hand reduces the value of an offered incentive, while on the other hand diminishes the credibility of the EU's conditions or obligations. It is often due to political imperatives, operating beyond the blueprint of a contract, that problems arise relating to the value and credibility of the EU's incentives and conditionalities in conflict resolution.
An effective EU contractual relationship would necessitate the automatic entitlement to rights when obligations are fulfilled and the automatic withdrawal or non-entitlement of benefits when they are not. Yet such automaticity is never present in practice. Both the granting and the withdrawal of a benefit require a consensus within the Union. For an association agreement or an accession treaty to come into force, there must be unanimity of the member governments, and the ratification of national parliaments and the European Parliament. Such a consensus depends on the fulfilment of the contractual obligations of the third state. But it also depends on other factors, which are motivated by underlying political or economic imperatives. Some degree of political management in determining when and whether conditions are met and when and whether benefits should be granted is inevitable. However, when blatant violations persist without consequences or when benefits are not granted despite the general fulfilment of contractual obligations, then the EU's own credibility is harmed. In other words, when other conditions unspecified in the contract govern the Union's relations with third states, then EU policy loses its effectiveness in foreign policy.
In conclusion, the value of EU contractual relationships often grants the Union considerable potential to promote its peacemaking objectives in the neighbourhood. However, this potential is frequently marred by the wavering credibility of EU contractual obligations, which hinders the prospects for effective conditionality, learning and passive enforcement. Political management in turn diminishes both the value of EU relations and the credibility of EU conditions in the eyes of conflict parties. By contaminating contractual relations with political precepts that fall beyond the blueprint of contractual ties, the EU frequently punches beneath its weight in conflict resolution.