The magnet of Brussels: pros and cons

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part A (Russia)
April 28, 2004, Wednesday


SOURCE: Izvestia, April 28, 2004, p. 5

by Fedor Lukianov, chief editor of “Russia in Global Politics”

On May 1, the European Union (EU) will make the most important
breakthrough in the history of European integration. Never before has
the Old World been so close to fulfilling its dream of complete
unity, which has been promoted ever since the Renaissance by
philosophers and rulers of various nations. By admitting ten new
member states from the Baltic, Mediterranean, and East-Central
Europe, the EU will unite almost all the territory which is generally
considered to be part of European civilization, in terms of culture
and history. Switzerland and Norway, while not official EU members,
are actually integrated into the political and economic system of the
united Europe. As for the Balkans, it’s only a matter of time until
the EU swallows them up as well. Next in line are Bulgaria and
Romania, which have been promised membership in 2007. Romania is
considered a very problematic candidate, and Brussels does not rule
out that its preparation period may be extended; but the basic
decision to admit those two countries has been made.

Next are Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania; with the more distant
prospect of Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro. It’s worth noting that
Bosnia, which exists as a united state only on paper, has a better
chance than Serbia and Montenegro, which don’t wish to follow
European principles. In fact, however, the nations of the Balkans
have no other option: they have no room for maneuver, whether in
political or (more importantly) economic terms.

The Balkans round off the territory which has been traditionally
included in Europe’s zone of influence. Any further expansion would
mean the EU venturing out onto new and uncertain ground. Not
surprisingly, therefore, Brussels is much more cautious about the
other nations that wish to become part of the Greater Europe project.

The main problem which the ideologues of the united Europe will have
to resolve in the near future is Turkey. Ankara was promised EU
membership as far back as the 1960s, but no one seriously imagined
that there would ever be any question of Turkey actually joining the
EU. In recent years, Turkey has made gigantic efforts to carry out
the reforms demanded by Europe. In terms of politics and its economy,
modern Turkey is no worse than Albania or Romania, and no one is
questioning their right to EU membership. Off the record, many
European politicians are saying that Turkey will never be admitted –
because it’s part of a different culture and civilization; Europe
simply fears this large, rapidly-developing Muslim state, and prefers
to keep it at a distance.

Those who support EU membership for Turkey argue that a refusal would
alienate Turkey from Europe, and from Western values in general; it
would provide substantial impetus for pro-Islamic attitudes.
Washington is lobbying for Turkey to be admitted into the EU, since
Washington needs a powerful, strongly pro-West ally in the Greater
Middle East region. The decision on whether to open negotiations with
Turkey should be made at the EU summit towards the end of this year.
Even if the verdict is positive, the negotiations will take a very
long time, no less than a decade. It’s worth noting that Turkey’s
fate is of great interest to its northern neighbors: Georgia,
Armenia, and Azerbaijan. Georgia and Armenia have stated on more than
one occasion that they wish to become part of the European
integration process. A senior Armenian diplomat once told me that if
the EU is prepared to discuss membership with Turkey, then Armenia
ought to be a natural choice.

All the same, Turkey is last on the list of potential candidates.
After that, there are questions which directly concern Russia. Will
the EU cross the “red line” – the current borders of the CIS? And
what will be the basis of relations between Brussels and Russia in
the coming decades?

“Europe represents an attempt by small and medium-sized nations to
reach agreement in order to decide their fate together. A superpower
would be out of place among them, even if it is not an economic
giant, and perhaps even no longer a political giant. The common home
of Europe will not be built according to Gorbachev’s design; it will
be located to the west of the disintegrating empire and its heirs.”
When those words were written, all this seemd a distant and not
entirely obvious prospect. Even though the Soviet Union had less than
a year of life remaining, few believed it would fall apart so soon.
But less than fifteen years later, not a trace remains of the
erstwhile geopolitical architecture of the Old World. Only one aspect
has been unaffected by the changes: people’s impressions of where the
walls of that common home of Europe are, the home those former
ideological opponents appeared to start building together in the
Gorbachev era.

“On his own initiative, Silvio Berlusconi has attempted to win
President Putin’s goodwill by promising him EU membership. This is a
short-sighted move. We should not hesitate to admit that borders do
exist. The European Union should not encourage hopes it has no
intention of fulfilling.” That is a quote from “The Borders of
Europe,” a book that came out in late 2003 and immediately became a
best-seller. Its author is Fritz Bolkestein, EU commissioner for
domestic markets, taxation, and the customs union; the person
responsible for the very foundations of how this enormous territory –
stretching from the Arctic to the Mediterranean – functions.

The key question the EU faces in post-Soviet territory is its policy
on Ukraine: a country which is undoubtedly European, and suited to
the EU in terms of its size. Kiev has announced its “choice in favor
of Europe” on numerous occasions: its intention to integrate itself
into European structures, eventually becoming a member of the EU. The
Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly expressed disappointment that
their sincere wish to become part of the West is not being met with a
worthy response from the EU. Ukrainian Senior Deputy Foreign Minister
Alexander Chalyi, responsible for European integration issues in the
government, has long been pestering people with this question: Why
has Russia been recognized as a nation with a market economy, even
though the European Commission itself admits that Russia’s energy
sector is not based on market principles and is heavily subsidized by
the state – but Ukraine has not been recognized, even though it has
long been paying world prices for energy?

Brussels says reforms in Ukraine are making slow progress, and points
to problems with the functioning of democratic institutions, freedom
of the press, and transparency during elections. Off the record,
European diplomats say the European Commission is trying to walk on
the razor’s edge in its relations with the “western CIS” nations:
Ukraine, Moldova, and (to a lesser extent) Belarus. In other words,
it is trying to motivate those countries to get as close to Europe as
possible, drawing them into Europe’s orbit, while refraining at all
costs from promising them EU membership (the Turkey experience has
been instructive). This is a very difficult task, since the leading
motivation for all transformations in Eastern Europe has been the aim
of fulfilling all the criteria for joining the “club.” In the absence
of that prospect, the will to make changes declines perceptibly.

Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova are officially called the EU’s “new
neighbors,” implying a special relationship. The form and content of
that relationship are now a topic of discussion within the EU, and a
new policy will be developed over the next year or two. One thing is
clear: the EU is serious about continuing to expand the “European
idea” eastward, and this idea will be the main rival to an idea now
taking shape in Russia: restoring the economic (for a start) unity of
post-Soviet territory. It should be noted that the EU, which until
now has been a weak, unskilled player in the global geopolitical
arena, is acting with precision, being goal-directed, not making any
mistakes – when it’s a matter of looking after its own direct,
immediate interests. The situation along the EU’s borders is
undoubtedly among those interests.

No one now disputes the fact that Russia has no intention of joining
the EU and the EU doesn’t want Russia as a member. Russia –
especially the kind of Russia being created by Vladimir Putin, with
the support of most citizens – will not share sovereignty with anyone
else (this being a cornerstone principle of European integration); it
has no intention of adopting Europe’s laws in any significant
quantity; and it will not make human rights a priority in its
policies. Both in Moscow and in Brussels, people are starting to say
that the model of relations set down ten years ago in the Russia-EU
Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) is no longer appropriate
for the current state of affairs. Back then, both the Europeans and
Russia’s liberals assumed that Russia would become similar to Europe,
even if this process was slow and difficult. The PCA was based on the
idea of gradual integration. But now it’s clear that Russia and the
EU represent different political-economic systems – and most
importantly, Russia is not developing in the direction that was
assumed at the dawn of Russian democracy. As a result, the PCA’s
emphasis on integration is tending to become a factor leading to
conflicts, rather than motivation for development.

What kind of problems will Russian-European relations encounter over
the next few years?

Firstly, there is Europe’s reaction to Russia’s domestic political
situation. The EU is a very ideology-heavy project, based on a system
of “European values”: the rule of law, the priority of human rights,
the ideals of social justice and civic responsibility. What’s more,
these concepts are not empty cliches for the Europeans, but real
factors influencing real-world politics. Thus, the undemocratic
phenomena that accompany Russia’s “authoritarian modernization” will
draw a negative response from Europe. Bureaucrats in the foreign
affairs ministries of EU member states and at the European Commission
might wish to turn a blind eye to events in Chechnya, or trials of
spies and oligarchs, but public opinion and the legislatures that
supervise them will not permit them to do so. This problem will be
exacerbated once the Baltic states and Eastern European countries,
with their habitual dislike of Russia, become EU members.

Secondly, the interest of the EU in post-Soviet territory holds great
potential for conflicts with Russia. Moscow reacts nervously to the
West’s activity in the regions which are important for it – in the
European part of the CIS and in the South Caucasus. The first direct
conflict took place last November, when the EU essentially scuttled
Russia’s proposal for resolving the Trans-Dniestr conflict and
accused Russia of acting unilaterally. Such conflicts will continue,
especially if we take into account the fact that the CIS countries
are becoming a priority for Russian foreign policy. Thus, Europe has
a negative attitude toward the CIS Common Economic Zone which was
initiated by Moscow, saying that such integration is incompatible
with striving for EU membership, for example, in the case of Ukraine.

Thirdly, there is a domestic European factor which will complicate
the relations between Moscow and Brussels. The EU is on the threshold
of a very difficult period. On the one hand, the process of
“digesting” of new members and, on the other hand, of intensification
of integration with conversion to the federative structure will
occupy the majority of the EU’s strength and energy in the near
future. The EU will be responsible for resolving various problems
after the entry of 10 new members. These are the economic
backwardness of the new members, labor migration from these countries
to more developed states, the situation in Cyprus, inter-ethnic
problems in the Baltic states, the growth of populist anti-European
attitudes in Poland, and so on. The series of referendums on a
European Constitution will lead to heated debates in old member
states. However, the main sponsor of integration – Germany – is
unable to emerge from economic recession. In this situation, it is
difficult to believe that relations with Russia would be among the
main priorities of Europe.

Finally, nobody can say today what the EU will be like five or ten
years from now. Its prospects depend not only on internal issues, but
also on the development of the global situation. The plans of today’s
united Europe – the plan for a territory of peace, law, and
prosperity – was drawn up before the era of new global instability
called the “war on international terrorism.” The “Greater Middle
East,” which the EU borders on, is a potential arena for operations
and it will be impossible for the EU to fence itself off from them.
The explosions in Madrid destroyed the glass dome which had covered
Europe. It is impossible to predict what tasks the EU will be faced
with in the near future.

Jacque Delaure, former chairman of the European Commission and
architect of the present phase of integration, expressed serious
anxiety about the future of the EU. In his opinion, Brussels has been
too hasty with expansion and admitted the countries which don’t
strengthen, but weaken the alliance. In other words, not “producers”
but “consumers” of “stability and prosperity.” Delaure fears that the
EU will die as an integration mechanism and will be turned into one
large free trade zone.

Only towards 2010 will it be clear whether the prophecy of the
patriarch of integration will come true or not. As for us, the fact
that the EU will be Russia’s main partner, largest neighbor, and
customer in the foreseeable future is the determining factor.

The key to success in Russian-EU relations is understanding the logic
and mechanisms of the EU’s operations. Moscow should learn to use all
possible opportunities and loopholes in the European Constitution in
order to promote, defend, and lobby for its interests – from quotas
and tariffs to the rights of Russians in Latvia. This requires some
significant increase in material and intellectual resources directed
towards Europe. Otherwise, Russia will always be too late in making
correct decisions in its relations with the EU and will try to solve
various problems at the last moment, when it is impossible change
anything. The more complex the partner, the more attention should be
paid to it.

Translated by Gregory Malyutin