Remarks by Permanent Representative of the Russian Federation to the European Union Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov at the 11th Eurasian Economic Forum (Verona, 25 October 2018)
Russia-EU relations: state and prospects of development, creating a common space from the Atlantic to the Pacific
A year ago in this same venue we were discussing together the fate of the Montagues and the Capulets, drawing parallels between these and other “two households, both alike in dignity”, namely the Eurasian Economic Union and the European Union. It is fair to acknowledge that William Shakespeare’s talent made the story of Romeo and Juliette develop at a pace much more dynamic than has been the case with the process of establishing cooperation between our two unions. However, being aware of the tragic end of Shakespeare’s lovers, it is clear that our “couple” – the EAEU and the EU – have been luckier. Their mutual interest does not only persist but, according to my observations, continues to grow.
I would like to share with you my considerations on what happened as well as on what did not happen – something that is not less important – in their relations recently. One cannot say that a significant progress has been achieved in rapprochement of the two blocs but certain shifts have indeed occurred.
During the visit to Moscow at the end of last year a delegation from the Directorate General for Trade of the European Commission held a number of meetings with the Eurasian Economic Commission experts in charge of international trade issues, technical and customs regulation, as well as sanitary and phytosanitary standards. This year also saw several further contacts between the EEC and the EC, again mainly on technical regulation. Several European industry associations, such as EFPIA (the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations), have played a significant role in conjugating the EAEU and the EU markets.
It became evident that a clear-headed part of European officials – and they also exist regardless of what one may think – gradually started to realise that the EAEU is not a political project launched by the Kremlin to resuscitate the Soviet Union, a venture doomed to fail, but a genuinely functioning organisation based on economic integration, with an international legal personality, that efficiently exercising to the best possible extent functions of supranational control. For the European Commission to defend the interests of European businesses and citizens, its employees should cooperate with their counterparts of the Eurasian Economic Commission and work on mutually facilitating access to each other’s markets. It took the European bureaucracy plenty of courage and time to recognise this fact.
However, having conducted barely a couple of kick-off meetings, the European Commission officials hurried to make excuses: on the one hand, to those unwilling to allow dialogue with us to be “unfrozen” for a variety of reasons, primarily related to domestic politics, stating that there had been no contacts at political level with the EEC; on the other hand, to EU business stakeholders declaring that contacts do exist but they have not led to relevant results.
And, by the way, I have to agree with the latter explanation: results are really few. It is, of course, due to a limited number of such meetings as well as to insufficient political will on the part of our European colleagues. But that is not the only reason. EEC representatives attending our conference today may perhaps disagree, but I assume that Eurasian experts are also neither full of enthusiasm to answer Brussels’ questions that are often formulated as claims or demands to clarify specific aspects of EAEU regulations that cause concern. Discussing and settling outstanding issues that are inevitable in relations between major trade partners is, undoubtedly, important and I hope that it will be ultimately arranged. However, in my opinion, it would be much more long-sighted to start establishing a systemic dialogue at expert and higher levels around a positive agenda, discussing common approaches to elaborating standards of technical regulation, customs procedures, trade facilitation, exchanging ideas regarding further development and reform of the world trade system.
In its contacts with the European Union Russia has always been consistent in promoting the philosophy of equal and mutually beneficial pan-European cooperation, persuading EU partners of the need to combine our efforts in building a common economic and humanitarian space from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
Meanwhile, unlike a range of EU officials, representatives of our country have never made their partners and neighbours on the Eurasian continent face an artificial choice – either to be together with Moscow or with Brussels – and considered it to be a sovereign right of any independent state to develop multifaceted cooperation with due regard to its international obligations and norms of international law. Meanwhile, we cannot, of course, ignore attempts by a number of policymakers from Europe and beyond to draw and move dividing lines in Europe, filling the agenda of multilateral and bilateral formats held without Russia with a dual policy of deterrence and dialogue.
I will give you another reason why we, the EAEU and the European Union, are not moving forward. I would note that it happens while we both realise that the current situation in our relations is unnatural – against the backdrop of a turbulence shaking the global economy and attempts to reshape the world economy to fit the needs of individual countries in order to “make them great again”. The reason does not lie in the fact that EU’s attention is diverted to other, unpredictable to say the least, partners – one should not comfort oneself with that. In my view, the reason is that the blinders that EU countries chose to wear impede their ability to see prospects of not only maintaining but also strengthening the position of Europe in a changing, increasingly globalising world.
This approach is rooted in a refusal by the “collective West”, having proclaimed itself the winner of the Cold War, to interact with us in establishing a firm architecture of genuine cooperation in the Euro-Atlantic area – both in the field of security and creation of a common economic space. Unfortunately, many in the EU were indoctrinated that there is a “genuine Europe” and another, “not genuine” one. It is linked to the policy adopted by Western countries in the 1990s on substituting the building of “Common European Home” by a coasting and expansive development of political and economic alliances established during the Cold War era. However, we should not forget that we live on a shared continent anyway and bear a shared responsibility for its future.
Well, let me take you back to EU-EAEU relations. Unfortunately, recent years saw a time bomb planted in the EU Eastern Partnership Programme exploding. Thereby, an attempt to make Ukraine face the false choice I have already mentioned above led to an unprecedented crisis in EU-Russia relations. We may only regret the hastiness with which Brussels, prompted by Washington, began to unwind an anti-Russian sanction spiral and volunteered to suffer multi-billion losses, with their transatlantic allies meanwhile not suffering almost any.
I will note, by the way, that decisions on Western restrictions strongly affect our EAEU partners as well. And it’s difficult to avoid the thought that diluting the cohesion of our Union may be among their goals.
Naturally, the stories we hear almost every day on omnipresent and almighty “Russian hackers” or, on the contrary, good-for-nothing losers wandering along European streets, some with “Novichok” bottles, others with Moscow taxi receipts, spread within today’s paranoic PR campaign against our country inevitably influence our trade and economic relations. You know, taking into account the extent of phantasmagoria of the situation around the Salisbury “chemical incident”, I will not be surprised the least if one day London will figure out that Romeo and Juliette had been “highly likely” poisoned by envoys of the Russian tsar. But being a person who has been dealing with international relations all my adult life, I would like to say that I sincerely hope that much should change once the Brexit process, unfolding so unsuccessfully for London, is over. The propaganda “foam” will settle sooner or later and I count on common sense and pragmatism prevailing over obsolete ideological templates.
Therefore, I cannot but note that sensible voices are already being heard within the EU: the government of Italy, a country warmly welcoming us today on its soil, openly declares anti-Russian sanctions senseless and calls for their revision. Just recently, on 17 October, Vice-President of the Council of Ministers of Italy, Minister of the Interior Matteo Salvini visited Moscow attending an annual meeting of Confindustria Russia. Earlier this week Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte paid a highly productive official visit to Russia that included, inter alia, comprehensive talks with President Vladimir Putin.
EU economists know for sure that the common market of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia does exist, enabling free movement of goods, services, capital and labour and uniting 182 million customers living in our five countries. The aggregate EAEU GDP exceeds 2 trillion euros. Besides, a free trade area between our union and Vietnam has been successfully functioning since 2016, negotiations are being held on establishing FTAs with Egypt, Israel, India, Iran, Serbia and Singapore. We see wide prospects in signing an agreement on trade and economic cooperation between the Eurasian Union and the People’s Republic of China.
I would also note that only last week, on 18-19 October Brussels hosted a summit of Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) attended by Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev. At first glance, it may look paradoxical, of course, that Russia is part of the Asian group of ASEM. But, on the other hand, I suppose that this fact may only enrich EAEU-EU relations. The concept of an connectivity across “big Eurasia” has become a slogan of the summit for a good reason.
I think every sensible person understands that in today’s dynamic, highly competitive and quite dangerous world the EAEU and the European Union, naturally complementing each other – just look at our common energy and transport infrastructure – have no plausible alternative to cooperating and uniting our potentials. This is the approach we are guided by in building our relations with European partners.
I would really like to hope that inertia of Cold War mentality will progressively disappear and we will not miss another opportunity to build genuinely pan-European and pan-Eurasian cooperation on the continent that will not be regarded by anyone as a chessboard with expendable figures in a global game for world domination.