17.11.2007
The Tomorrow Is Now
№4 2007 October/December
What do you
call two parties who, while sharing the same apartment,
nevertheless find it impossible to agree on anything, find it hard
to keep their promises and consequently end up in bitter arguments
and mutual recrimination? If this was a human relationship, it
could be called a failing marriage and a divorce-in-the-making. But
the subject of this article is the relationship between the
European Union and Russia, and ironically, the inadequate state of
affairs between these two states has come to be called a “strategic
partnership.”

On the serious
side, the current state of EU-Russia wrangling is alarming:
recurring problems are detrimental as they distract the parties
from the real business of developing a truly strategic partnership
that would be to their mutual benefit. These problems – which are
undeniably mounting – reveal the haggling at the tactical level and
the absence of a truly strategic vision of a genuine
partnership.

WHY THE EU AND
RUSSIA NEED EACH OTHER

As a
participant in joint EU-Russia conferences for nearly a decade now,
I remember the level of enthusiasm and mutual respect that existed
between Russia and the EU around the turn of the millennium. Of
course, not everything was perfect at that time. On the contrary,
more often than not the workshops consisted of individuals hotly
debating their arguments. But one thing was certain: there was a
willingness to discuss things openly, and there was mutual
expectation that such interaction would lead to a more intense
cooperation between the parties.

Today, the mood
seems to be entirely different. On the Russian side, there seems to
be more and more contempt expressed for the European Union. The
Russian side ridicules the internal problems of the Union, such as
its failure to ratify the Constitutional Treaty; the cohesion of
the Union as a viable international player is questioned (although
Moscow itself has done a lot to undermine this cohesion); and even
the EU’s successful eastern enlargement is questioned by remarks
that “Poland is now the EU’s problem.” Russia seems to be very
self-assured at the moment and does not conceal its satisfaction
over the shortcomings it finds in the European Union.

On the EU side,
things are hardly any better. There seems to be a growing
frustration with regard to Russia in many spheres: the “strategic
partnership” has not advanced; there are worries about the future
of Russia as the electoral cycle has started; the EU’s hopes of
moving ahead with projects in the common neighborhood with Russia
(the ‘four common spaces’) are clearly failing; and there are
increasing bilateral frictions between Russia and some of the
member states, as exemplified by recent events in Estonia and
Poland. In essence, everything seems to be grinding to a halt with
Russia and the hopes and dreams of strategic partnership, instead
of becoming stronger, are disappearing.

This current
state of affairs comes across as very strange, especially when we
consider that the links between Russia and the European Union are
intimate and significant. We must remember that half of Russia’s
trade is with the EU, while a quarter of the EU’s energy supplies
come from Russia. There is also mutual interdependence in other
areas, especially in the North where the EU and Russia share a
common environment that is fragile and in need of cooperation.
Russia and the EU share a common neighborhood. At the same time,
there are common international challenges, such as terrorism and
the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and so
on.

In addition to
these obvious considerations, which do not seem to be sufficient
enough to bind the EU and Russia closer together, there are more
fundamental factors that are being overlooked by representatives on
both sides.

The need for
mutual cooperation stems from the fact that the 21st century does
not belong to the Europeans (that is, all people living in the EU,
Russia and countries in between). One could even argue that the
20th century was not Europe’s finest hour, either. If we ask which
European countries were better off in 1999 as compared with 1899 in
terms of relative power and standing, Finland and the Baltic states
did not even have independence at that time. Furthermore, none of
the major countries – Britain, France, Germany or Russia – fared
particularly well during the last century: most of them suffered
terrible setbacks in terms of international power and prestige.
True, these losses were not altogether bad: they inoculated the
western half of Europe against the most atavistic and aggressive
instincts in interstate and international relations – Europe’s fate
no longer revolves around the concepts of ‘power politics’ and
‘spheres of influence.’ More importantly, the end of the Cold War
allowed Central and Eastern Europe to enter the process, which
should be taken to its logical end by embracing the rest of Europe,
including Russia.

The imperative
for doing so stems from the fact that if the previous century was
tough for Europeans, the present will in all likelihood be even
tougher. We are witnessing the emergence of new centers of power
that will shift the global center of gravity to Asia, thereby
eclipsing the Europeans in the process. According to a recent study
on global power transitions, in the half century the European Union
will irrevocably fall behind China and the United States. Russia
does not even register in this study; it is lumped together with
“Greater Europe,” which includes the European Union and perhaps
also Turkey, a nation that has a chance to compete globally by the
mid-century (International Studies Review, 8(4), 2006, pp.
607–622).

Today, such
findings may sound surprising, especially to Russians who are
currently basking in their new-found prosperity as an “energy
superpower.” Yet the signs that all is not rosy in Europe are
already evident. When all of the categories of power – be it
population, economy or military – are factored together, the
combined relative power of Europe (Russia included) is decreasing.
Thus, by remaining aloof and continuing in its passive
aggressiveness, the European Union and Russia do not stand a chance
in the face of rapidly emerging global realities.

There is also
another factor that all EU member states are well advised to keep
in mind. Many view the EU’s common policy as an expendable
commodity that can be bought and sold depending on the political
situation. However, this approach is detrimental to the Union’s
international credibility and prestige. As a recent commentary in
European Voice noted, today Asia basically sees Europe as
politically irrelevant, except for as an export market and producer
of luxury goods.

The same lesson
applies to Russia, as well: it is seen as little more than a source
of hydrocarbons in the world. Of course, this position will
continue to generate considerable export revenues, but it is
unlikely to be enough to turn Russia into a self-standing global
player of the kind Moscow clearly aspires to be, especially over
the long term. To gain this status, Russia must diversify its
economy, which is overly dependent on a few natural resources,
reverse the dramatic demographic crisis, modernize its substandard
infrastructure and armed forces, while fighting against corruption
and inefficiency, the main features that have come to characterize
modern Russia. This array of systemic challenges is enough to
overwhelm even the most strategic and efficient modernizer, which
present-day Russia clearly is not. The internal and external
challenges facing Moscow are formidable, and by continuing on its
present course Russia may be unable to meet them. Thus, it is
obvious that only as a viable part of some “Greater Europe” can
Russia hold sway in the world in the coming decades.

Of course, one
may ask: If indeed the future belongs to Asia, what stops Russia
from joining forces with this dynamic part of the world as opposed
to stagnating Europe? The answer is simple: Russia is not an
Asiatic but a European country. Russia’s own center of gravity in
economic, demographic, historical, cultural and political terms is
in Europe, west and not east of the Urals. And even if Russia were
to make an Asiatic choice, it is doubtful that such a bid would
prove successful; it cannot compete economically with China or
India, and it is unlikely to yield any political gains except as
the role of Asia’s junior partner. By contrast, Russia could be a
major player in Europe, a player that could wield significant
influence once it has made the choice of joining the game in
full.

Importantly – and
somewhat puzzlingly – neither party denies the basic need for
genuine partnership. The European Union openly acknowledges the key
role that Russia plays in Europe and the need to develop a
strategic partnership with Moscow. In a similar vein, Russia voices
its wish to be a part of “Greater Europe” and to have a voice in
shaping the wider European, and even global, processes. However,
thus far this basic understanding has not been translated into
actual choices and policies.

THE TOMORROW IS
NOW

What the European
Union and Russia need is a markedly new relationship, a program of
radical rapprochement. But how can this be achieved in
reality?

The goal will
remain nothing more than a pipedream if the two parties continue to
disagree on specific issues, such as Polish meat exports, for
example. Negotiations must commence for a new document that would
replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement that
expires at the end of November of this year. Unfortunately,
presently both sides are busy in meaningless tactics, juggling and
haggling over insignificant things. This is no way to reach the
kind of rapprochement that would be required in light of the
challenges sketched above. An understanding consensus is needed in
order to create a relationship that would be truly worthy of the
name “strategic partnership.”

It is obvious
that the kind of rapprochement between Russia and the European
Union suggested here will entail far-reaching political and
economic cooperation, even integration. It will also demand both
substantial political rapprochement and economic convergence in
several sensitive areas and can only take place on the basis of
mutually accepted principles. Since the early 1990s, Russia, it
must be admitted, has been in a rather disadvantageous position in
this respect, as it was asked to accept rules that had been largely
adopted without its involvement. But it is precisely for this
reason that Russia should seek swift accession to international
forums, for example, in the WTO. Once Russia becomes a full member
of the WTO, it will be able to legitimately set the rules of the
game for global trade. This should alleviate Moscow’s concerns
about a one-way street where Russia is currently unable to affect
the norms it is expected to implement.

After such
steps have been successfully achieved, the EU and Russia should
plan for deeper economic integration in Europe. This should be an
ambitious program that would include some elements of close
political cooperation, perhaps even integration. It is obvious that
comprehensive integration can only take place on the basis of
certain shared ideals. These could have been European values had
this term not become such an unnattractive word in the Russian
debate of late. Instead, such ideals could be summed up as ‘liberal
values’ – a set of principles that are common to all and proved
efficient in guiding the development of successful
nations.

In essence, this
program would entail a new post-PCA agreement that would be
ambitious and comprehensive in scope, and stand in stark contrast
to the present mood of cynicism on both sides.

Russia should
take the initiative and play a leading role in this rapprochement.
It must do so for two reasons. First, Russia is clearly a more
viable international actor. This has been proven time and again
when Moscow was able to wreak havoc on Brussels’ policy. It is time
that Russia puts this prowess to a more constructive use. Second,
as argued above, Russia seems to be more in need of the strategic
partnership. These two factors suggest that Moscow should take the
bull by the horns and present an ambitious agenda for economic and,
perhaps in the future, even political integration. Of course, in
the short-term this would demand a certain pooling of sovereignty.
But over the long term, the dividends would be substantial in terms
of enhanced prosperity and prestige for Russia. It will also enable
it to wield a more influential and autonomous role in global
affairs.

In its turn, the
European Union should reciprocate by being open to such a new
agenda, accepting that it would entail a radically upgraded role
for Russia in the construction of Greater Europe. Over time, this
should result in new ambitious institutions, such as providing
Russia with established forms of consultation when it comes to
certain key EU policies that directly affect it. However, until
there is mutual understanding of the issues, it is pointless to
speculate about what the provisions might be.

Finally, the
two sides should strive to involve their common neighborhood in the
program of radical rapprochement, eventually turning it into a
pan-European project of cooperation and integration. It is clear
that the process of European integration will remain incomplete as
long as there is a gray zone of excluded countries in between the
EU and Russia. There is also the psychological aspect to the
importance of remaining open and transparent for other partners:
the EU and Russia should avoid creating the impression that some
shady bilateral deals, which may result in new divisions, are
happening between Moscow and Brussels. The process should be open
to all interested parties who are willing to play by the same set
of rules, or shared liberal values as stated above.

Many may view
these suggestions naïve or unrealistic in light of the recent
acrimony between the European Union and Russia. Yet the fact that
the European Union and Russia need each other to fare well in the
future, in conditions of tough economic competition, makes the
continuation of present trends not really a realistic option,
either.

I can also
imagine people thinking that even if the agenda is the right one,
the timing is not. Some may argue that with the Russian electoral
cycle in progress, there is hardly any room for ambitious
initiative concerning a radical change in Russia’s course. But this
is equally wrong. One of the most baffling things about the current
impasse is the parties’ illusion that they somehow have ample time
on their hands. This applies especially to Russia which has so far
failed to make up its mind as to whether it truly belongs to Europe
and what that factor entails for its domestic policy. In this
respect, the high prices of oil and gas have been a mixed blessing
as they made Russia put off some of the severely needed
decisions.

The path of
closer economic and political cooperation and integration could
lead to a situation where the EU’s present achievements and
know-how would be fused with the vast Russian potential that
currently risks being underutilized due to the scope and scale of
challenges facing Russia. This would enable the emergence of a new
powerful European presence and voice in the world. It is important
to emphasize that such a voice would not be a power political bloc
that opts for new divisions in the world but one that acts as a
force for moderation and reason in the turbulent international
politics of the 21st century. Such an entity might also make the
Americans listen to the concerns put forth by the concerted will of
Europe, and perhaps help to eventually establish an area of freedom
and prosperity that would arc from Vancouver to
Vladivostok.

The stakes are
high, the decisions have to be taken promptly and implemented
swiftly. The tomorrow is now: the globalizing world will not wait
for the laggards and history will judge harshly those who fail to
act in time.