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What common EU policy towards Russia by 2020?

Executive summary – Seminar GlobalEurope 2020 / UE-Russia (Warsaw, March 12, 2004)

Europe 2020 chose to sum up the seminar’s discussion in 5 bullet-points – 3 key-ideas and 2 propositions:

1- Russia is no longer a threat for the EU for the coming decades. It is on a contrary a partner; but a partner which is not a future Member-State, and therefore whose future the EU is not supposed to shape up: Russia will be what the Russians, and not the EU, will want it to be.

2- This partner will be an unpredictable one, because it goes through an uncertain era of political, economic, demographic, social and geopolitical transformation. It will also be an imbalanced partnership due to the fact that Russia needs the EU much more than EU needs Russia (EU-25 : 470 million inhabitants / GDP around 10.000 billion Euro — Russia: 145 million inhabitants / GDP around 400 billion Euro) in terms of both economic development and global governance.

3- Such unpredictability is likely to affect some of the vital interests of the EU, and in particular in 3 fields: EU’s command of its ongoing enlargement process; the stability of EU’s direct Eastern neighbourhood (from Belarus to Caucasus); EU’s energy supply (around 30% of EU-25’s needs).

4- Given the three previous characteristics, the EU must adopt a proactive policy towards Russia based on 3 strategic axes:

a- An offensive action aimed at promoting values of peace, democracy and human rights within the direct neighbour region located between EU and Russia;

b- A firm policy determining EU-Russian economic, technological and trade co-operation according to Russia’s non-interference inside the EU;

c- An open and responsive attitude towards Russia itself with regard to co-operation in the field of education, training, civil society and common values.

5- The two previous axes should be invented and implemented by the EU, however the third one should include the renovation of the Council of Europe which is the most appropriate institution for a successful EU-Russia co-operation on common values, civil society and EU policies of neighbourhood.


1. Russia is no longer a threat for the EU, but a partner which is not a future member

All participants and speakers in the seminar agreed on the idea that Russia would not represent a threat for the European Union in the coming decades. Such an idea marks the end with a series of decades, in particular with the 1945-1989 period. It opens a new era of partnership between the two entities. Russia is not a future member-state. It is an independent player which does not subscribe to the EU integration process and which must not be treated therefore as a candidate-state. Russia will be what the Russians want it to be, not what the EU will dream it to become. According to the participants’ general opinion, there has for many years been confusion within European policies towards Russia, probably explaining their failure. For instance, the 4 “common spaces” (consolidation of democracy; integration of Russia to a common social and economic area; co-operation to strengthen international stability and security; and partnership aimed at facing the European continent’s common challenges) reiterated in the St Petersburg Summit, were never implemented. The EU approach draws too much from the enlargement experience, attempting to associate Russia to similar processes. The parallel between the PHARE programme (the embryo of the procedures of enlargement to Central and Eastern European Countries) and the TACIS programme (operational matrix of EU/Russia cooperation, and mostly a failure) clearly illustrates this confusion.

Indeed Russia has no intention to compel to the EU vision of its development, and even less of its future. It was recalled during the discussion that whether Russia is European or not is not a relevant question when dealing with future EU-Russia’s relations: firstly because the EU does not have the monopoly of European identity; secondly, because the European character of a country does not make it an EU candidate automatically.

Decision-makers and people in charge of the preparation and implementation of the future partnership should get rid of the fallacious analogy between Russia and candidate-Central and Eastern European States. Russia is a neighbour whose political, economic or social orientations will follow their own course. In order to be efficient, the future partnership EU will offer to Russia should be clear on this.

2. This partner is an unpredictable one because it goes through an uncertain era of political, economic, demographic, social and geopolitical transition

Recent developments in Russia illustrated how wrong most EU experts’ predictions were. Contrary to most forecasts, Russia is clearly deviating from the model proposed by European democracies, and heading for a centralised and autocratic system that suppresses counter-powers and weakens the rule of law. Such evolution illustrates clearly Russia’s level of unpredictability in most fields (political, economic, legal, social, etc.). The EU must therefore invent strategies taking for granted this unpredictability, meaning that it should define clearly its own vital interests in order to prevent them being endangered, and remain open to positive developments while not being based on them.

From Yeltsin to Putin 1. And from Putin 1 to the uncertainties related to the options opened at the beginning of Putin 2, European investors as well as EU political actors know that the future of Russia is highly unpredictable, except on one aspect: Russia will not be able to solve its inner problems alone:

. a very low productivity that shall not grow significantly without some major foreign investments (conveying transfers of technology and know-how) because the main economic sectors of Russia remain under complete state-control or very state-dependent (aeronautics, energy) or Russian-property only; a characteristic of developing country but without the instruments of development;

. decayed infrastructures conveying high environmental risks and completely incapable of inducing modernity;

. external economic relations depending on trade rather than on direct foreign investment, thus reducing the country’s capacity to integrate global economy;

. a relative importance of energy and raw material resources depending in fact on the evolution of energy needs worldwide (a reduction of petrol-dependence will reduce the Russian « asset » in this field) ; and an enormous squandering of these riches as a result of waste and corruption throughout the political and economic Russian system

. a negative demographic evolution, which has already contributed to reduce the country’s population (some studies foresee a Russian population below 100 million inhabitants by 2050), and which creates many problems, in particular the crucial question of the control of the Eastern part of the country (Siberia) faced with Asian demographic pressure;

. a general shortage of properly trained executives prepared to rule a modern economy and society, resulting from the absence of ambitious policies aimed at preparing those who will make tomorrow’s modern Russia: neither in the economic field (limited education to management, business creation, trade law…), nor in the social field (weak NGO fabric, no consumer or user organisations), nor in the political field (fading away of political parties, suppression of independent media);

. a chronic instability all around Russia, creating areas of tension in Central Asia, Caucasus, Belarus and Ukraine. This instability results from the disintegration of the Soviet empire, from the colonial nature of the present Russian Federation (which creates and will create conflicts by lack of political agreements) and from Russia’s objective to recover its « natural space ». These developments can be seen in Ukraine where, in an economic way, Russian operators directly linked to the State are currently trying to take control of entire sectors of the country’s economy;

. a loss of international credibility linked to the collapse of USSR and to its economic weakness; as shown by the recent case of the Russian contribution to UN. Russia wished to pay more than its calculated share (on the basis of its part of global GDP, Russia should only contribute to 0.4% of UN’s total budget) because, as a permanent member of the Security Council, it considered it ought to pay at least 1% of the total.

All these elements illustrate the extent of the difficulties Russia is and will be confronted with in the coming decades. The nature of these problems proves that they are sustainable and that Russia will require external partnerships to overcome them. The scope of these problems adds to the general conviction that the unpredictability of Russia’s developments directly relate to the capacity of its leaders to solve them.

The EU must keep in mind the great imbalance of the EU-Russia partnership:

. Russia’s gigantic needs in terms of capital, know-how, technology, investment, training, etc. have nothing in common with the European needs in terms of raw material or energy;

. the economic weight ratio between the two regions will not change drastically in the next 2 decades given the width of the gap: EU’s economy is 20 times superior to Russia’s.

3. This unpredictability can affect the EU’s vital interests

Even though uncertainty dominates any attempt to anticipate Russia’s evolution by 2020, participants in the seminar agreed on the idea that three fields essential for the EU could be significantly affected: EU’s command of its ongoing enlargement process; the stability of EU’s direct Eastern neighbourhood (from Belarus to Caucasus) ; EU’s energy supply (around 30% of EU-25’s needs).

Today already, every one can see the negative reactions of Moscow to EU’s ongoing enlargement to 10 Central and Eastern European Countries. Its refusal to extend the trade agreements contracted with the EU-15 to the 10 new Members, proves this. If the EU ought to reject any interference of Russia with its inner processes, this situation nevertheless casts some pessimistic light on the future. Indeed it has appeared to the participants that the “mental geographic maps” of the EU and of Russia are not complementary. Seen from Moscow, many states that are about to enter the EU belong to the “Russian space”. This is the case of the Baltic States and in particular of Latvia whose population includes 40% of Russia-speakers; but it could be the case tomorrow with Bulgaria or Romania. The EU must understand the reasons of the Russian worries and reactions, but it can by no means accept them. The approach of the EU is not aggressive and peoples of the concerned countries decide freely upon their destiny. However we should not be naïve and think that Moscow will be satisfied with this process, especially as long as Russia is not a democratic country (which implies not for many years yet). Therefore the EU must expect endless pressures, threats, manipulations from Moscow aimed at preventing the successful integration of these states to the EU and at negotiating further advantages. The case of Kaliningrad (a modern “Danzig corridor”) clearly shows the nature of the risks weighing on this part of the EU as a result of the Russian vision of its own “space”.

Secondly, every one can see the destabilizing role played by Russia in the whole area located between EU and Russia: practically all non EU-candidate countries in this area (Belarus, Ukraine, Moldavia, Caucasian countries) are today thrust into more or less violent crises due to the action either of the Russian state directly (namely in Belarus, Moldavia and Caucasus), or of Russian state-related economic operators (Ukraine). This situation is worrying for two reasons:

. firstly, because it maintains instability on the borders and fuels all sorts of traffics (people, arms, drugs)

. secondly, because it prevents the countries concerned from evolving towards democratic forms of government and towards the rule of law, despite the reiterated will of the populations concerned.

It is clear that EU interests in terms of security and international credibility are endangered. The common will to present the EU as a force of stability promoting values of democracy among populations interested, directly imperils the EU’s neighbourhood policy.

Lastly, it is clear that the Russian unpredictability in the two next decades weighs significantly on the EU’s energy strategy. Providing close to 30% of EU-25 needs, Russia is a key component of the EU’s future in terms of energy. The temptation is strong for Russia to use this element as a weapon in the negotiations on other fields; even though in reality Russia is in vital need of the currencies provided by the sale of hydro-energy. It would be a mistake though to consider the Russian supply of energy safer than the Middle-East one.

4. The EU must adopt a proactive policy towards Russia

According to the previous elements, the EU could usefully get loose from the strategies and concepts invented these last years to fuel the EU/Russia partnership, and follow three new axes:

a- An offensive action aimed at promoting values of peace, democracy and human rights within the direct neighbour-region located between EU and Russia:

It is indeed a matter of credibility (inside and outside) for the EU to present itself as a strength promoting efficiently democracy, the rule of law, prosperity and stability within its direct neighbour countries (from Belarus to Morocco, Ukraine, Moldavia, Caucasus, Turkey or the Middle-East). The EU must now engage actively to prevent any destabilisation of the democratically elected regimes in this area, to promote the rule of law and to ensure economic and security partnerships with this region. Regardless of any integration perspective, it a matter of proving that being a neighbour to the EU implies being able to count on it to share its values and its prosperity. The EU must therefore engage a wide-ranging co-operation in all sectors with the countries of this area aimed at the continuation and extension in training their future economic, intellectual, social and political elites; extending the concept of « association agreements » (Euromed type or adapted) and to oppose, including through UN or sending troops of interposition, any dismantling or questioning of the sovereignty of these countries by Moscow. The fact that this question is related to the Russian « mental map »of the region should be kept in mind. The EU should play a role of pedagogy, in cooperation with international organisations, aimed at helping Russia to adapt its « mental maps » to the 21st century. Tactically speaking, it is also the best way for the EU to avoid being on the defensive and having to “protect” its territory from such attempts of de-stabilising. The non-democratic nature of Russia’s present power should remind to the EU that this type of power only considers relations under the shape of power-struggles. In the matter, to let Moscow act freely on the East of the EU border would be a strong incentive for Moscow to do it as well inside the EU borders, in this grey « area » according to Russian eyes. Enlargement has also a political price. These aspects are not seen in the same way in Paris, London or Brussels, and in Warsaw, Riga or Tallinn. The EU has accepted to enlarge, it must now to ensure to its members full member-status and invent and implement the required policies.

b- A firm policy determining EU-Russian economic, technological and trade co-operation according to Russia’s non-interference inside the EU:

The EU should put conditions to the size of its economic, technological and commercial co-operation with Russia and relate it to the respect of the integrity of EU borders. Any Russian interference should immediately be sanctioned by reducing co-operation in these fields. But we should not be misled by these conditions: they should not aim at transforming Russia instead of the Russians. By experience we know that determining co-operation according to some Russian inner developments does not work. Each member-state undertakes its own assessment of the situation and EU discipline is difficult to define and to maintain. However, when confronted to the endangering of EU integrity (as a result of direct or indirect interference in the internal affairs of some member-states), it a lot easier to implement common replies; moreover this takes place in a far more pedagogic way for the Russian partner as it addresses to the leaders who are the sole decision-makers in the matter.

c- An open and responsive attitude towards Russia itself as regards to co-operation in the fields of education, training, civil society and common values:

Moreover the EU must be an attentive partner and remain open to partnership opportunities with Russia in fields relating to common values. In terms of education, training and civil society namely, the EU should count on the expertise of the new Member-States in particular (culturally closer to Russia and having recently experienced economic and democratic transitions) and should systematically propose to Russia some joint operations (student exchanges, training, civil society partnerships, etc.). To this purpose, it should directly address to the actors of Russia’s nascent civil society and not engage into some creations involving public institutions or governments. At the bilateral level, Member-States have already many such inter-governmental instruments of co-operation. However the EU should not overestimate its power of proposal; the success of its initiatives will in the end only depend on Russia actors’ will (and political ability) to engage fully into these projects.

5. The EU/Russia partnership strategy could partly be based on a renovated Council of Europe

The two first axes must be conceived and implemented by the EU; however the third one should include the renovation of the Council of Europe which is the most appropriate institution for a successful EU-Russia co-operation on common values, civil societies and EU policies of neighbourhood.

It belongs to the EU to invent and manage the two first strategies. Its leaders, institutions, instruments and operators are the ones required both to support these developments on the basis of the values shared with Russia’s Western border countries, and to prevent Russia from interfering into EU internal affairs.

But as regards to the third axis, the European Union should entrust its implementation to the Council of Europe which is the natural institution for co-operation between EU member-states and Russia, especially when they relate to values, law, democracy and education. The EU as such, or otherwise a group of motivated member-states, could energize the Council of Europe by means of new missions and increased financial means. Russia could appear as a precedent to future actions towards other neighbour countries.

It is any way certain that such action cannot be supported by the EU alone or it would appear by far too unilateral; and it is useless to create new complex and costly instruments to implement such mission since the basis already exists within the Council of Europe. Lastly, the failure of TACIS or MEDA do not play in favour of entrusting the Commission again with such missions

This document is the sole responsibility of Europe 2020 And does not reflect the views of the Diplomatic Academy of the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs

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