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06.11.2008. Towards a Union of Europe

 Sergei Karaganov Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy Igor Yurgens Chairman of the Board of the Institute of Contemporary Development

   The present overall crisis requires a comprehensive restructuring of the outdated and ineffective system of international governance. The crisis will seriously damage many, but at the same time it will clear away many obstacles, which will require fresh thinking and new approaches, in particular with regard to relations between Russia and the European Union.
   For Russia and EU countries, the preservation of positive elements in their relations and the transition of these relations to a higher quality is vital. However, these relations need a new philosophy based on the understanding that, in the long run, it is not even a strategic partnership but a strategic alliance, based on equality and global responsibility, that can prevent the relative marginalization of the European Union and Russia in conditions of the reduction (for the EU) or, at best, preservation (for Russia) of their shares of the global GDP. Their strategic alliance would make them resistant to the challenges and threats of the future world and would strengthen their positive role in it.
   Acting in isolation from each other or, even more so, in rivalry with each other, Russia and Europe will most likely not be able to claim the role of first-class centers of power in the future world order, comparable to the United States and China, and will become objects of the policies of external forces. It is only an alliance between Russia and the EU that can become such a pole, as the economic, political-diplomatic, military-political and geopolitical potentials of the two parties are mutually complementary.
We are united by a common culture, history and religious roots. For Russia, the EU is not just its largest economic partner and source of investment – especially as its share in Russia’s economic ties with the outside world will steadily decrease in favor of faster-developing centers of economic growth. Europe is one of the main sources of Russian civilization and identity and of Russian social and cultural modernization. For the current EU, Russia is the largest and the only additional external resource of geopolitical influence and economic and political subjectness in the future world.
   In the past several years, Russia and the European Union have accumulated extensive experience in constructive interaction on a majority of issues pertaining to their political and economic relations. But let us be frank: these relations are now deadlocked. The parties do not have a clear vision of strategic goals for their interaction. This factor leads to the “provincialization” and degeneration of the Russian-EU agenda, reduces the parties’ ability and willingness to find compromises on current issues on the agenda and overcome the “zero-sum game” logic, and makes their mutual relations more dependent on external factors.
   The officially declared goal of Russian-EU relations is a strategic partnership. However, given the present conceptual vacuum, the level of competition and even rivalry, this goal is unable to bring relations between the parties into line with their long-term needs in the dynamic world of the future – even if they sign respective documents.
The disappointment in the EU that Russia has not embarked on the path of subordinated liberal-democratic development of the Central and Eastern European countries and the lack of understanding in Brussels as to what model of relations with Russia it should seek stand in the way of the formation by the EU of a common and constructive long-term Russian policy.
   For the majority of the Russian policy-forming community, the role and place of the EU in the process of the comprehensive modernization of the Russian economy and society and in Russia’s consolidation on the tracks of modern development remain unclear. Russia does not know what it wants from the European Union. Also, there is no accord on what kind of social and economic model Russia must eventually build. There is strong, albeit barely audible, sentiment in the country in favor of a non-European path of development that would provide for the renunciation of the construction of a rule-of-law state, developed democracy, and the fight against corruption.
The continuation of confrontational tendencies in Russian-U.S. relations and the return of a military dimension to European politics could become one of the most prominent negative external factors for Russian-EU relations. The support for the U.S. confrontation policy in the situation with Georgia, which the EU countries initially showed in August 2008, has had a very negative impact on Europe’s image in Russia and has delivered a blow to the traditionally strong attractiveness of the “European model” in the eyes of Russian citizens.
   French President Nicolas Sarkozy, as leader of the country currently presiding in the EU, has partly remedied the situation by actually posing as a mediator in the conflict between Russia and the United States. Simultaneously, he has strongly increased the international weight of the EU.
This shows once more that in the long run Russia is interested in the growth of the European Union’s subjectness in international relations and in the security field; while, on the contrary, it is not interested in the wavelike reduction of the EU’s political influence in the world, which has been continuing for a decade now. This interest is emphasized now by the apparently proven inability of NATO to renounce its Cold War roots and to become a constructive force in Europe, rather than one reproducing mistrust and new divisions.
   In a situation like this, work on a new strategic agreement with the EU may largely prove to be premature and may do more harm than good.
The parties not only fail to understand what model of mutual relations they would like to have, for example, in ten years. Their present approaches to an agreement they are planning to work out differ fundamentally, too. Brussels intends to build a future agreement with Russia largely in the image and likeness of the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which does not meet the present and, even more so, future realities of the global economy and politics.
   The differences in understanding the philosophy and meaning of the document have predetermined the different approaches of the parties to its form and content. Russia has proposed working out a relatively compact document that would contain the main principles and goals of relations with the European Union and that would serve as the basis for detailed sectoral agreements for various spheres of interaction. The EU, however, insists on concluding one comprehensive agreement with interlinked sections, which would contain specific commitments for all areas of cooperation. Some of the EU’s demands are completely at variance with Russian interests. In particular, the European Union wants the future agreement to contain specific commitments from Russia concerning the energy sector, which would reflect some of the provisions of the Energy Charter Treaty, which are unacceptable to Moscow.
   Finally, the anti-Russian group in the EU and the forces that are behind it will undoubtedly try to make the negotiations highly unconstructive. And if the parties do sign some kind of text in the long run, its ratification – given the present level of mistrust between Russia and some of the new EU members and the heterogeneity of the EU – would be torpedoed.
   A pause is needed for the formation of a new philosophy and a strategy of relations, including in negotiations on a new agreement. Simultaneously, the parties should step up efforts to find new forms for interaction that would be innovative for the established practice of their relations. Key issues for discussion may include: the role of Russia and Europe in the world; their common strategic interests and a base for their joint implementation; and the creation of mechanisms for building mutual confidence.
    A pause in negotiations on a new strategic agreement must not have a negative impact on Russia’s commercial, economic or political relations with individual EU member states. The dialogue between the governments and between the expert and business communities must be markedly stepped up in order to jointly develop an understanding of what we want from each other and what relations we want to build in the future world in place of the vague “strategic partnership”. We need to bring more democracy to this dialogue and broaden its base.
   We should not repeat the experience of working out the four “Road Maps”, which sounded good but which have now been forgotten by everyone, except their authors. The “Road Maps” covered up problems and offered nothing for moving forward.
   The pause should also be filled with stepped-up cooperation with individual EU countries.
The creation of a strategic alliance between Russia and the EU must rest on a stage-by-stage formation of an Energy Union – a common energy complex of Europe, based on cross-owned businesses and on the joint management of the extraction and distribution of natural gas and other energy resources.
   Then the main cause of speculations about “energy security” and “energy imperialism” – that is, energy prices – will cease to be a stumbling block, as it is the obvious – albeit not discussed – desire to get more cheap gas and oil that is behind the pressure exerted on Russia over energy. If a common energy complex is created, both producers, controlling resources, and consumers, controlling distribution, will be equally interested in fair energy prices, while energy will be used more economically. An Energy Union between Russia and the EU would give more energy independence to Europe, which would greatly strengthen its international positions.
   Another basis of the proposed union must be close interaction between Russia and the EU and the coordination of their policies on key strategic issues, on most of which their interests coincide. These issues include: preventing a new militarization of European politics and climate change; preventing large-scale wars amid the on-going rapid repartition of the world and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; protecting the universal value of international law and institutions; commitment to a peaceful settlement of interstate and internal conflicts; and maintaining stability in the “Broader Middle East”.
   A common Russian-EU economic space could be – in a decade – a third basis of the union.
   Russia and the EU also have common interests in fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, and joint use of outer space for peaceful purposes. The parties can and must harmonize their interests and policies in building a new architecture for global governance.
   After the pause, the parties should begin work on a possible treaty on their strategic alliance, while the pause itself should be used to work out its conceptual frameworks.
A union between Russia and the EU, a Union of Europe, should not interfere with other elements of a future European architecture, but complement them; for example, the humanitarian Council of Europe. We do not think that the Europeans in the EU will give up their military-political alliance with the United States within NATO any time soon. Russia will step up interaction with Asian countries within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. A Union of Europe could solve the problem of an artificial “choice” between Russia and Europe for countries that are between them: Ukraine, the South Caucasian states, countries in the former Soviet Central Asia and, finally, Turkey.
   A Union of Europe, NATO and the Council of Europe could be placed under the aegis of a new pan-European treaty (“Helsinki-II”), advocated by Russia.
We are aware that we – as people who in these difficult times propose establishing a Union of Europe – would be accused of starry-eyed idealism. But the new world requires big ideas and a breakthrough into the future. Otherwise, we risk getting stuck in the past or getting lost in this world of the future.

 Unofficial translation

 // Originally published in Russian in Rossiiskaya Gazeta (Federal Issue) №4786 of November 6, 2008 

1. This article reflects the results of a series of studies into Russian-EU relations, conducted under the aegis of the Institute of Contemporary Development. A brief resulting report will be made public after the Russian-EU summit next week. The detailed results of the studies will be published in a booklet in early 2009.