Conflict Resolution in the Neighbourhood: Comparing the Role of the EU in the Turkish-Kurdish and Is

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The aim of this paper, written by Nathalie Tocci and published by the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS), is to compare the manner in which the Union’s bilateral relations have affected two key conflict areas in its neighbourhood: the dispute between the Turkish state and the Kurds, and that between Israelis and Palestinians. The two conflicts differ significantly, as do the Union’s relations with the parties.

1. Introduction 

The logic of and interest in comparing the European Union’s role in the Turkish-Kurdish and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts is far from immediately obvious. Not only are the two conflicts significantly different in their historical trajectories and in their domestic, regional and international facets, but the role of the EU in these two regions has also been widely diverse. Following a brief overview of these differences, and in view of the diverse, yet comparable role played by the Union in both regions, this paper attempts a comparison of the EU’s role and impact in the two conflict areas. It aims at highlighting some of the major benefits and shortcomings of the Union in contributing to an amelioration or resolution of ethno-political conflicts at its doorstep. 

In analysing the EU’s role, the first evident observation is that in neither conflict has the Union adopted a prime diplomatic mediation role. In the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, although the Union’s role in the peace process was institutionalised through the formation of the ‘Quartet’ in 2001, its position has remained secondary to that of the United States. On the Kurdish question, the Turkish state has never invited any official international mediation, including that of the EU. 

As such, this paper will focus on a different dimension of EU foreign policy, namely the EU’s contractual ties with the conflict parties. The EU’s contractual ties have taken different forms. They have included the full accession process as well as weaker forms of association, partnership and assistance. Recently, the Union’s European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) has attempted to bridge the gap separating accession from non-accession relationships. 

As the name suggests, contractual relations foresee the delivery of EU-related benefits through different degrees of integration into the EU, in return for the fulfilment of specified obligations. The fulfilment of obligations can be ex ante or ex post, i.e. either conditions need to be fulfilled before the contract is agreed, or conditions specified in a concluded agreement need to be respected otherwise the contract may be lawfully suspended (or both). The case of the Copenhagen criteria is an example of the former, while the ‘human rights clause’ in Euro- Mediterranean Association Agreements is an example of the latter. Obligations are political and economic as well as technical, legal and institutional, related to the EU’s acquis communautaire

Other than degrees of integration per se, this form of foreign policy is intended to foster longterm structural change in the political, economic, legal and institutional spheres, both within and between non-member countries. Given the intent to expand the scope of EU governance beyond the EU’s frontiers through the specification of benefits and obligations, contractual ties can affect conflicts by acting upon the domestic incentives underpinning them. This often occurs through EU conditionalities on the conflict parties, on which the following sections largely focus.

To read the article in full, visit the CEPS website.

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