Statement by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov at the 10th Eurasian Economic Forum (Verona, 20 October 2017)
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Where if not in Verona, the hometown of the Capulets and the Montagues, is one better placed to reflect on the future of “two households, both alike in dignity” coexisting on the Eurasian continent – the Eurasian Economic Union and the EU? On whether, as Shakespeare wrote, the “ancient grudge” will persist between them, or they will find a way towards dialogue and mutual trust? And furthermore, on what has been hampering this kind of cooperation so far – be it lack of political will, insufficient competences or problems of other nature.
At the outset I would like to remind you that scepticism and unwillingness to recognise the very fact of Eurasian integration prevailed in the EU institutions ever since the establishment of the Customs Union between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan in 2010. Many in Brussels, and more generally in the West, regarded the Eurasian project from a negative perspective – as yet another attempt by the Kremlin to enhance and expand its geopolitical sphere of influence, a venture doomed to fail. Some even went as far as to ascribe to Moscow phantasmagorical plans to resuscitate the Soviet Union on a neo-imperial foundation. Time and the sheer course of events have shown how deeply erroneous these assessments had been. In reality, the Eurasian Economic Union was neither a political project, nor a new one, nor of solely Russian genesis. Rather, it was rooted in the concept of a “Eurasian union of states” put forward by the President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan back in 1994 in his lecture delivered at Moscow State University.
For us it is absolutely obvious that, however dramatic the consequences of dissolution of the Soviet Union with economic and human ties severed, each of the constituent countries of the EAEU has acquired its statehood in its own difficult and largely unique way, has learned to value its political independence and put it to good use. No one is in a hurry to surrender their national sovereignty to Moscow or any supranational bureaucracy. Rest assured that Moscow has zero interest in this as well. This has never been the goal of the EAEU. The Eurasian Economic Union adopts all its principal decisions by consensus. That is why the notion of alleged Russian dominance in the EAEU, which is particularly widespread in the West, seems completely implausible. By the way, in Brussels I am used to hearing complaints about Berlin’s preponderance in the EU, and with Brexit there will likely be even more of them. This circumstance, however, is not being perceived as evidence of artificial nature of European integration.
It is equally obvious for us that in the modern world dynamic development is impossible without full use of the potential offered by regional economic integration. Even the Russian domestic market with its population close to 150 million does not have enough capacity today to be self-sufficient and ensure global competitiveness of Russian business.
This is why the EAEU has prioritised efforts to build a single economic space, consistently eliminate mutual trade barriers and adopt common standards, rules and procedures.
It is in these areas that we see substantial room for discussions and agreements with our partners in the EU. Actually, the EAEU and the EU are founded on similar principles. In establishing the Eurasian Economic Union we were mindful of all aspects of the EU integration experience – both positive and negative ones. Obviously, adjusting them for the specific characteristics of our regional market. For instance, the EAEU technical regulation system is largely based on current EU approaches. WTO norms have been fully incorporated into the EAEU legal framework and, I would like to stress, prevail over the supranational EAEU rules.
Russia on its part has consistently promoted the philosophy of equal and mutually beneficial pan-European cooperation in its dialogue with the EU. We urged our partners to recognise the advantages of joint efforts in constructing a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok. At our insistence the Russia-EU Road Map on the Common Space of External Security adopted back in 2005 commits both parties to recognise (I quote) “that processes of regional cooperation and integration in which they participate and which are based on the sovereign decisions of States, play an important role in strengthening security and stability”.
Today we believe that, in keeping with the principle of “integrating integrations”, effective mechanisms of cooperation should be established between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the European Commission. In September 2015 the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council adopted an Aide-Memoire named “Eurasian Economic Union – European Union: Cooperation Outlines”. This document was transmitted to the President of the European Commission Jean‑Claude Juncker together with a cover letter from the first Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission Victor Khristenko. Meanwhile, the Russian side delivered its proposals on reviving cooperation with the European Union, including on the topic of integration, to Jean-Claude Juncker during his participation at the 20th Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2016. They still remain on the table.
Regrettably, Brussels has so far chosen to limit itself to a purely formal answer to these addresses. Anti-Eurasian scepticism and pointed disregard for new realities in the region continue to prevail in the official Brussels rhetoric. It is highly revealing that the issue of Eurasian integration is completely absent from the EU Global Strategy of 2016, which was fashioned as the EU foreign policy doctrine for the foreseeable future. Neither was it mentioned in the 2015 Joint Statement by the High Representative of the European Union and the European Commission on the revised European Neighbourhood Policy. I am prepared to assume that if the EU manages to negotiate a declaration (or at least a joint statement) for the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit on 24 November in Brussels, this document will hardly elaborate on the EAEU or even give it a passing mention. All this in spite of the fact that two Eastern Partnership countries, namely Armenia and Belarus, are members of the EAEU, while another one – Moldova – has applied for observer status.
Remarkably, this approach had taken shape long before the Ukrainian crisis. I clearly recall the determination with which the European External Action Service sought in 2012-2013 to prevent any attempts by official EU bodies to establish contacts with the Eurasian Economic Commission, share best practices or merely display curiosity regarding its establishment and competences. Even potential cooperation between statistical services of the two unions was neglected. This is yet another indication that many in the EU persevere in their view of the Eurasian continent as a chessboard and of countries of our shared neighbourhood – as mere pawns in a “great game” against Russia for some imaginary dominance and exceptionality. I will not mince my words: this does not speak highly of the EU and seriously undermines its claim to be in the forefront of regional integration processes across the world.
It is only recently that perceptions of the EAEU in EU capitals and institutions seem to start shifting for the better. There is growing understanding, albeit grudging, that direct contacts between the EAEU and the EU supranational institutions may be useful. In reality, such contacts would allow for discussions on potential approximation of regulations in respective fields (e.g. in technical and customs regulation) with a view to facilitating and increasing mutual trade. We are receiving some positive signals in this regard, though, frankly speaking, at this point things have not moved beyond reflections and overtones.
Moreover, in their public statements and private conversations EU officials are attempting to link the prospect of EU-EAEU cooperation to the fulfilment of two criteria – voluntary participation of states in the Eurasian project and their WTO membership. Certainly our EU colleagues have had every chance to establish for themselves that no one is being forced against their will to join the EAEU. As for the WTO, four out of five EAEU members have joined it while accession talks are ongoing with the fifth one, Belarus. In this context, since Brussels has itself spoken out on this issue, we expect that words will be translated into deeds and the EU will start playing a truly constructive role in Belarus’ WTO accession process. This might become, if you will, a litmus test for EU’s sincerity in its relations with Belarus and the EAEU as a whole.
While the EU is stalling and reflecting, shrinking its membership in the meantime, the EAEU continues to grow, attracting new participants and interested partners. The EAEU has embarked on practical cooperation with over a dozen states and integration blocs while fostering links with international organisations. There was an in-depth discussion on this topic yesterday. This is yet another evidence of the magnetism of the Eurasian project for the outside world and an objective demand for it.
Strictly speaking, EAEU and EU citizens and business communities are not about to pause, waiting for approval from Brussels. Such is the nature of our regional trade and economic interdependence that has not bent to the efforts of those advocating sanctions and embargoes. Nothing attests to this in a more powerful way than this year’s trade volume indicators between the EAEU and the EU. According to the Eurasian Economic Commission, mutual trade grew by almost 28 per cent in the first half of the year. In parallel, trade volumes between Russia and the EU increased by almost 30 per cent reaching over 115 billion euros. Thus, Russia and the EAEU on the whole are leading in terms of trade growth with the EU among all its foreign partners. One has to admit, however, that so far we are seeing merely a restoration of the import and export volumes lost in 2014-2016 due to the drop in oil prices and the notorious restrictions.
Against this backdrop supranational EU institutions are faced with a choice. They can persist with their wait-and-see policies imposing certain preconditions and requirements on their partners. They can even try to hamper regional integration processes, thus creating new dividing lines in Europe. This would obviously prevent our continent from becoming a realm of peace, stability and prosperity.
But there is different way that leads to a win-win situation. I am referring to a scenario in which the EU would actively help lay the groundwork for greater economic complementarity of integration projects in the two parts of the Eurasian continent. In turn, constructive cooperation with the EAEU will allow Brussels to more effectively promote its interests and ensure due regard for its concerns. This scenario could benefit not just Moscow and Brussels, but also many other capitals within the two unions and beyond. Russia and, as far as I can tell, the Eurasian Economic Union too, are open to such cooperation.
Summing up, I would like to entertain the hope that the immortal lines of the playwright (still of EU heritage for the time being) – “For never was a story of more woe/ Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” – are not a pronouncement on the relations between the two largest integration unions on the continent. It is up to us to draw conclusions from the dramatic events of recent past and find a way to dialogue and convergence.