Russia-EU Strategic Partnership:
The Eurocrisis is not a Reason to Pause
Development of a mutually beneficial, equal and multidimensional partnership with the European Union has always been one of priorities of Russia's foreign policy and a prerequisite for maintaining a sustainable architecture of the European security, and so it will remain for the foreseeable future.
The European Union is not simply our largest trade and economic partner, the main market for Russian energy exports and a key source of investment and technologies. We are inseparably bound by millions of invisible ties of Greco-Roman and Christian cultural heritage, historical evolution, common traditions, ideals and moral guidelines. Russia and the EU are major global power centres which provide a significant contribution to maintaining global and regional security and project peace, prosperity and stability onto nearby regions.
Quite obviously, the very concept of the European integration has seen better days, to put it mildly. For the first time since World War II Europe dominates the headlines not as an oasis of stability, but in an unusual role of epicentre of global financial and economic turbulence. Protracted sovereign debt problems in the eurozone are accompanied by economic recession, slowdown of the integration process as well by fading public “Euro-optimism” and recently also by growing popularity of radical nationalist forces in a number of EU member states. In broader terms, the model of a “European welfare state for all” that emerged in the post-war period was put at risk. The EU institutional system upgraded by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty is facing certain difficulties with intergovernmental approaches to integration clearly gaining dominance. No wonder that many analysts on the continent and especially beyond are now speaking again of marginalisation and decline of united Europe that allegedly cannot cope with the impact of globalisation and the economic rise of the BRICS countries.
At the same time, rumours about the approaching demise of European integration seem to be exaggerated – even against the backdrop of the widely discussed scenario of Greece leaving the eurozone and the potential “domino effect” spreading the crisis along the EU southern periphery. Being exposed to both centrifugal and centripetal forces, the European project has historically been developing in a non-linear mode with inevitable delays and painful rollbacks in its evolution (think for example of the EU Empty Chair Crisis of 1965 and the failure of the EU Constitution at referenda in the Netherlands and France in 2005). At the same time, many EU analysts note correctly that often enough it were crisis events that woke up the European integration project from its slumber, pushing the EU towards regaining the pace of the integration process.
Today as well, the turmoil in the eurozone brings the EU closer to the understanding that without supranational centralisation of key economic governance tools they will not be able to cope with accumulating macroeconomic imbalances and gaps in the level of competitiveness undermining the basis of the monetary union. Hence the reforms undertaken in 2010-2012, including not only adoption of the high-profile Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance (the so-called fiscal pact) but also some other less known measures, such as strengthening the Stability and Growth Pact of 1997, introducing mechanisms for financial assistance, financial supervision, coordination of budgetary and economic policies as well as prevention and adjustment of macroeconomic imbalances. In other words, the leaders of EU member states, be it with considerable difficulties and internal contradictions, continue their course towards “more Europe”.
Even more, I dare to assume that European integration has already passed the point of no return. Too well do the Europeans realise all the benefits of a single internal market, Schengen visa-free area, single currency and common foreign trade policy – all granted by the integration. They realise that it is only as a single player in the global economy that they can ensure their survival in the globalised world. And, of course, they do not wish to go back to the Westphalian system of European nation-states always balancing on the brink of war.
That is why, in my view, single Europe will remain in whatever form even though that may require enhancing – within the EU legal framework or outside of it – multi-speed mechanisms giving a push to a group of economically most advanced core European countries ready to speed up the integration process.
Despite all its calamities, the EU today remains the most advanced integration union on the planet, a pillar of political stability on the European continent and one of key elements of the increasingly globalised polycentric system of international relations. The example of European countries which, after bloody wars of the 20th century, managed to launch, literally from scratch, a supranational integration project designed to guarantee "eternal peace" on the continent still remains a beacon not only for a whole number of other European countries but also for other regions of the world following the path of integration.
Russia is interested in preserving the European Union as a great economic and political power. It was clearly voiced at the 28th Russia-EU summit held on 14-15 December 2011 in Brussels. Our country is in word and in deed helping the EU break out of the economic crisis spiral. In 2011, bilateral trade volumes increased by a third, reaching 307 billion euros. 41 per cent of our currency reserves are nominated in euros. Through the launch of the first phase of the North-European Gas Pipeline in November 2011 and the planned construction of the South Stream gas pipeline, Europe acquires a reliable gas supply system ensuring its energy security for decades ahead. In its capacity as member of the IMF as well as within the G-8 and G-20, Russia actively participates in elaboration of collective solutions to stabilise the financial and economic situation in the eurozone countries.
Today, Russia and the EU are linked by numerous channels of dialogue and cooperation, binding us tightly and allowing a substantive discussion on various issues – from nuclear security to phytosanitary control. The multilevel system of cooperation which has developed over more than twenty years and proved itself on multiple occasions is crowned by Russia-EU summits held twice a year (let me note in parenthesis that no other country enjoying the status of an EU strategic partner can equal Russia in frequency of meetings between heads of state and government) and playing a key role in deepening our cooperation and giving it concrete substance.
The Road Maps on four Russia-EU Common Spaces (the Common Economic Space, the Common Space on Freedom, Security and Justice, the Common Space of External Security and the Common Space of Research and Education, including Cultural Aspects) adopted at the Russia-EU summit in Moscow on 10 May 2005 serve as a guideline for our work aimed at development of an equal-based and mutually beneficial strategic partnership.
The proposal to create of a common economic and human space from the Atlantic to the Pacific made by President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin in his article "Russia and the Changing World" has served as a powerful stimulus to further implementation of the existing potential in Russia-EU relations. I would like to focus just on some of most relevant areas of our bilateral cooperation whose progress will, in my view, contribute to achieving the goal set in the article, namely creation of a "Union of Europe" between Russia and the EU.
The visa dialogue is a central issue of Russia-EU cooperation which immediately concerns the lives of millions of our compatriots and citizens of the European Union. Hardly can any other track of our cooperation as much serve as a touchstone determining the faithfulness of partners' intention to develop a strategic partnership for modernisation.
At the Russia-EU summit in December 2011 in Brussels start was given to implementation of Common Steps which, when implemented, will allow to introduce a visa-free regime for mutual short-time travels for Russian and EU citizens. In the course of implementation of the Common Steps we will have to go a long way of mutual verification and conversing the legal framework as well as current practices employed by the parties on all aspects of the document aimed, inter alia, at ensuring that the border will be impregnable against organised crime as well as human and drug trafficking.
Given the significant amount of technical and organisational issues related to the implementation of the Common Steps, it is now difficult to make any forecasts about the time the visa barriers will fall making our citizens free to move. There is, however, a natural time reference for such an historic event – that is, in my view, the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.
By the way, lately we often heard our partners complaining about the increased migration pressure on the European Union from the South, fraught with a rise of crime and social troubles, risks of terrorist attacks and unrest in EU member states. All this allegedly prevents them from adopting a breakthrough decision on eliminating visa barriers in relations with Russia. In my view, this linkage looks artificial. Russia does not exist in a vacuum either, and is well familiar with migration problems. Besides, I consider deeply flawed the message implied by such statements that visa waiver is a caprice of the Russian side that, if fulfilled, would allow Brussels to expect our flexibility on other issues. Far from that. Not only 2.5 million Russian citizens visit Schengen countries annually but also 1.5 million citizens from the Schengen states cross the Russian border each year. Therefore, resolution of the visa issue would benefit both parties and reflect the common interest of Russia and the EU in expanding business, tourist, cultural and academic ties, an indispensable condition for developing a partnership for modernisation.
We build upon consistent and non-politicised continuity of action on the visa track. Negotiations on a visa waiver agreement should, in our view, start immediately after the Common Steps have been implemented. Any other scenario would contradict the very logic of the agreed document approved by Russian and EU leadership.
Russia is ready for visa-free movement of citizens of our countries. We hope that the EU will show constructive approach to this issue in line with the spirit of our partnership.
Along with that we are working on modernisation of the 2006 Visa Facilitation Agreement. We seek liberalisation of the current visa procedures, including for holders of service passports, and expansion of categories of persons having the right to get multiple visas and be exempted from visa fees.
The Russian-Polish intergovernmental agreement on local cross-border movement signed in December 2011 in Moscow was an important milestone making it much easier for people living in the Kaliningrad Region to travel to adjacent voivodstva of Poland and vice versa.
All these are practical steps which really improve conditions for travel to Europe for hundreds of thousands of our citizens for the purposes of tourism, family visits and education and, in a broader context, contribute to strengthening the human dimension of Russia-EU cooperation.
The Partnership for Modernisation launched at the Russia-EU summit in Rostov-on-Don in 2010 has evolved over the last years to one of the cornerstone joint projects and an important catalyst in our relations. It is above all the innovative philosophy of the Partnership that deserves positive evaluation based on seeking ways to combine Russian and EU potentials for the sake of innovative development of our countries. Having given the Russia-EU strategic partnership a fresh modernisation touch, this initiative has largely contributed to achieving compromise solutions by the parties on Russia's WTO accession, progress in harmonisation of technical standards and regulations as well as enhancing environmental and healthcare cooperation. Progress has been reached in preparation of a roadmap on Russia-EU energy cooperation until 2050 bringing it to an advanced stage; contacts have also been intensified aimed at exchange of experience in the field of law-carbon and resource-efficient economy. Bilateral relations between Russia and EU member states are now also guided by the spirit of modernisation; respective documents have been concluded with 23 of them.
Work on the Russia-EU New Basic Agreement (NBA) is continuing which is called to become an instrument for further deepening of our relations.
Let me remind you that the Russia-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) which was signed in 1994 and entered into force in 1997 serves as the legal framework for our relations. At a certain point, the parties realised that this Agreement still functioning as a legal basis does no longer reflect new realities on a number of issues. This concerns, in particular, the terms for start of negotiations on an agreement on trade in nuclear materials set out in the PCA and the institutional architecture of relations envisaged by it. Environmental, agricultural and energy issues as well as macroeconomic policy and regional cooperation required greater elaboration. Finally, the Russia's WTO accession should be taken into account. In a word, time has come for renewal.
The first official round of negotiations was held in Brussels in July 2008, a month after the Joint Statement on the launch of negotiations for a new agreement was adopted at the Russia-EU summit in Khanty-Mansiysk. However, the negotiation process was twice interrupted for reasons which hardly had direct bearing on the subject of negotiations.
Nevertheless, after the difficult start the negotiation process gathered pace and by the end of 2010 the delegations (and I have the honour to lead the Russian negotiation team) managed to hold 12 full-format rounds.
After that, however, the negotiations came to a pause – which seemed to be a technical one – caused by the fact that Russia was entering the final stage of parallel negotiation process on its WTO accession.
There is no need to say that the 18-year marathon concluded in December 2011 with a set of documents on Russia's WTO membership signed involved a number of difficult compromises whose implementation cannot but entail certain cost for the Russian economy. That is why one should not expect the Russian side to be to immediately agree to further steps towards trade and economic liberalisation. Unfortunately, it is exactly what our EU partners meant by WTO Plus when they spoke of the New Basic Agreement.
In this context our partners were, obviously, disappointed by our response. As a result, the full-format negotiations stalled, one could say, until the fate of the trade and investment chapter has been clarified.
Understandably, both Russia and the EU would wish provisions of the New Basic Agreement to allow a further step in our mutual cooperation compared to the PCA. However, we are not ready to sacrifice the balance of interests. We cannot accept approaches based on attempts to gain unilateral additional concessions at Russia’s expense.
Due consideration should also be given to the integration processes of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan – notably the establishment of the Customs Union (CU) as well as the launch of the Common Economic Space and the Eurasian Economic Commission (EAEC). It concerns, in particular, the overlap of national and supranational competences, first of all in the fields of trade in goods, competition policy, public procurement, technical requirements and other areas which now belong to the EAEC sphere of activities.
Resolution of differences on the trade and investment chapter is, no doubt, the main prerequisite for activisation of the negotiations, what both parties – I truly believe – really and sincerely wish. But it requires additional efforts. At the end of the day, certain aspects of our relations can be regulated by sectoral agreements. I believe that the existing difficulties are not insurmountable.
The same is true for the new conditions of our work on NBA related to the Eurasian integration processes. There can be no fundamental contradictions since both the activities of the EAEC and Russia's potential obligations under NBA are based on the same principles – those enshrined in WTO agreements. What we need to do is find together with our partners a way to reflect the new processes in the future agreement.
With the development of the military-political identity of the EU in the 2000’s, we strengthened our cooperation in the settlement of crisis situations and stabilisation of conflict regions, especially in the area of our common interests. Russia participated in the EU Police Mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2003-2006) and provided valuable helicopter assistance to the EU operation in Chad and in the Central African Republic (2008-2009). Thanks to the well-coordinated actions by the Russian Navy and the EU Operation Atalanta in the Golf of Aden, the number of successful attacks in 2011 by Somali filibusters on merchant vessels passing through the region almost halved. Together with the EU we are searching for negotiated solutions on the Iranian nuclear programme, Middle East and Transnistrian settlement as well as other regional crises and conflicts. Air contingents of the Russian Ministry for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Elimination of Consequences of Natural Disaster in coordination with relevant EU institutions are fighting with wildfires in European countries. Our cooperation in the military-technical sphere is also consistently developing.
We intend to further stimulate this work instilling in our partners the notion of the need to develop solid and future-oriented, pre-emptive institutional formats of our cooperation. There is already some progress in this regard. Since 2010, the Russia-EU military staff-to-staff talks are held on a regular basis. In 2010-2011 Russia and the EU negotiated two joint statements on the situation in North Africa and the Middle East. However, given the emergence of a new generation of cross-border challenges and threats, risks of regional instability in Europe's southern borders intensified by the “Arab Spring” and overall increase of conflict potential in international relations, this is obviously not enough. There is a need for structured mechanisms allowing to exchange information, including confidential data, immediately respond to emerging crises, promptly adopt joint decisions on applying coordinated efforts in the field of crisis management and ensure strategic control over their implementation. In this respect we could follow the example of the Russia-NATO Council which acquired similar functions in 1997.
Let me remind you that there has already been an attempt to create such a mechanism. At the Russian-German summit in Meseberg in June 2010 the German side put forward a joint initiative to establish a Russia-EU committee on foreign policy and security at ministerial level. However, the EU linked the follow-up to this initiative – artificially, in my view – to progress in the Transnistrian settlement and then our partners shelved it at all. I expect that strategic vision on this issue will ultimately prevail over momentary political considerations in the European Union.
Besides that, we are still interested in developing a stable legal basis with the European Union for joint or coordinated operations in the field of crisis management. We continue the laborious and, I should admit, difficult work with our partners with a view to finding a common denominator in this issue. In this context, we are set to closely follow the provisions of the Joint Statement on the outcomes of the Russia-EU ministerial meeting in Luxembourg of 29 April 2008 envisaging discussions on the draft agreement "in the spirit of equal partnership and cooperation".
Taking all of the above into consideration, I would like to stress that our relations do not suffer from a lack of breakthrough strategic initiatives often ascribed to them. Naturally, we have quite a few differences along with common interests and projects uniting us and designed to strengthen the fibre of our cooperation. There is nothing surprising about that. In fact, Russia and the EU are not only partners, but also competitors.
Speaking of irritants in our relations, I mean in particular the worrying tendency to project changes in EU legislation to its cooperation with third countries, including Russia. In other words, Brussels tends at times to interpret the rules and norms adopted by 27 member states as having prevalence over international obligations of these same member states, in particular with respect to intergovernmental agreements signed with third countries before the common EU regulations entered into force.
The most glaring manifestation of such unilateral and destructive actions is the situation with the EU Third Energy Package adopted in 2009, which envisages, inter alia, the ownership unbundling of vertically integrated energy companies operating in the EU market by various means – up to expropriation of their assets. As a result, serious problems have arisen for Russian companies (and not only them), for instance, in Lithuania which, striving to implement the Third Energy Package, grossly violated its obligations under the Russian-Latvian intergovernmental agreement on mutual promotion and protection of capital investments.
The Third Energy Package can not be considered otherwise than EU's unilateral abandonment of its obligations under the 1994 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement related to non-impairment of conditions for economic cooperation. By creating artificial investment risks for Russian companies, our partners in fact deliberately deteriorate their own situation, quite vulnerable with regard to energy. Besides, they do it at a rather inappropriate time for themselves, amidst the sovereign debt “wildfire” in the eurozone (while Russia, I repeat, directly contributes to providing its firewall) and against the backdrop of political turbulence in oil- and gas-abundant regions of the Middle East and North Africa.
The EU applies the same scenario seeking to extend the European Union Emissions Trading System to airline companies from third countries operating flights to EU member states. By this decision adopted in bypass of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the European Union, in fact, opposed itself to the rest of the world – Russia, US, China, India, Brazil and other countries.
Having said this, we are not inclined to overdramatise these and other problem issues. We shall further seek their resolution guided by the spirit of partnership and respect for each other’s interests.
We do have significant differences in our positions on application of sanctions against third countries. Regrettably, EU member states increasingly often (especially when it comes to human rights violations) automatically grip their stick in the form of sanctions expecting that it would modify the political course pursued by the country concerned. In our view, this is a short-sighted and, ultimately, a dead-end approach. History shows us that attempts to protect oneself from “problem countries” by means of repressive measures, suspension of diplomatic relations and ultimata seldom bring the expected results. In any situation the policy towards resolution of problems through dialogue and engagement is preferable to dictate and pressure.
A few words about human rights in our relations. On the whole, we positively evaluate the dialogue in this sphere. We develop on the basis of commitments adopted by collective bodies of the UN, Council of Europe and OSCE, applicable to both Russia and EU member states.
At the same time, we have quite a few questions to Brussels. First of all, we cannot accept our partners' selective approach to implementation of human rights norms whose priority they seem to define in a deliberate way (and even impose it on other countries). It is not clear to us, for example, why infringement of political and social rights of "non-citizens" in Baltic States is less relevant for the EU than respect for rights of sexual minorities, and by what criteria our partners are guided when they pay more attention to ensuring freedom of assembly in Russia than countering increasing manifestations of aggressive nationalism and Neo-Nazism, as well as racism, xenophobia and revanchism spreading in Europe.
We consider as counterproductive attempts to speak to us in didactic and categorical manner, and to pin labels, sometimes without even taking pains to look into specific problems. It does not contribute to dialogue based on mutual respect and simply does not seem fit for the notion of partnership.
We still expect the European Union to implement the provisions of its own founding documents and join the main legal instrument of the Council of Europe – the European Convention on Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Further delays do not speak in favour of the European Union.
The State Duma of the Russian Federation recently held a hearing on the situation with human rights in the European Union. We hope that this useful practice – positively considered in the EU and demonstrating the maturity of our dialogue – will be continued.
Finally, emergence of the Customs Union and the Common Economic Space between Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia in the post-Soviet space requires double efforts. Taking into account the pioneer role of the EU in developing regional integration processes, we act, if not on the model of the European Union, but still largely based on its best practices with regard to institutional and legal development.
Joint elaboration of appropriate mechanisms to link Eurasian integration to cooperation with the EU on a pan-European basis comes to take its place in the Russia-EU agenda. Common goals pursued by our unions – such as political stability, social justice and economic prosperity – make the Common Economic Space and the EU natural partners, all the more because the Eurasian integration is open and inclusive, fully in line with the concept of pan-European economic space.
Obviously, it will require continuation of diligent work with European partners, many of whom still have a stereotype-based idea of the post-Soviet space as a place for a zero-sum game against Russia. Time has come to finally stop putting CIS countries before an artificial choice between mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia and (quite vague, needs to say) prospects of EU membership. Our common neighbourhood should become a space for mutually beneficial and equal-based cooperation without dividing lines in the spirit of the Russia-EU Road Map on the Common Space of External Security.
In our view, implementation of this strategic goal will not only allow a new look at strategic partnership between Russia and the EU as two interdependent and synergetic world integration poles, but also bring us closer to the goal set by Russian President Vladimir Putin of creating "a harmonious community of economies from Lisbon to Vladivostok", a common continental market worth trillions of euros. Perhaps, this path might prove to be the most effective recipe for overcoming the current European crisis and an alternative vector of European integration, a concept widely discussed by many Russian experts, which would bring the historic reunification of Greater Europe to its logical conclusion.
Finally, I would like to once again express optimism both with respect to the future European integration project and the prospects of fruitful Russia-EU cooperation.
The European crisis and the problems remaining in our relations are not a reason to relax in developing a mutually beneficial, equal-based and future-oriented Russia-EU strategic partnership on the basis of the four Common Spaces. On contrary, it is today, when Europe enters a new stage of reflection on the fate of the European project, that we have an opportunity to get a broader, strategic look at our agenda, to overcome what hinders our advancement and focus on giving our cooperation a truly new quality.