Only closer EU-Russia links can halt Europe’s global decline
Russia shares many of the challenges and interests of the EU and its member states, says Alexey Gromyko, yet progress towards a closer and improved relationship is painfully slow. He warns that unless a new partnership is forged, both sides will lose out to the emerging powers across the world.
Europe is still firmly in the grip of the global economic crisis, and it is far from over. Its repercussions range from the precarious situation of the eurozone to Russia’s uncertain prospects of sustaining its return to assertiveness and self-confidence.
That the European Union and Russia have to confront serious problems is hardly new, both of their histories are littered with challenges and pitfalls. But they have demonstrated many times in the past their ability to weather these storms and keep going against all the odds. This should never lead to complacency, of course, as the histories of most successful countries and of supranational organisations too have been as much about fall as about rise. The credibility of EU and Russian hopes of consolidating their roles as major power centres in the 21st century will not depend on providence or good luck but rather on people taking concrete decisions at very precise moments of time.
The EU and Russia are very different in many ways, but they face quite similar strategic problems and it is doubtful that either can solve them independently. The EU’s share of global GDP along with its share of international trade is set to go on dropping thanks to the inexorable shift of power from west to east. The share of the world economy belonging to western and central Europe and north America has shrunk from 66% in 1990 to 58% last year. The Russian share of global GDP, meanwhile, has been on the rise, even though it is far from certain that it will even expand much beyond 3%.
The EU’s social and economic situation after its latest enlargement rounds has become highly uneven. And in Russia this sort of unevenness is deeper still. Europe’s capacity to push forward its borders is now almost exhausted, yet its enlargement mechanisms embrace more and more states even though there has been no proper long-term analysis of whether this would be of benefit to the European project as a whole. Post-Soviet Russia, too, has yet to tackle the problem of its own integrity. The difference is, of course, that while the EU will have to deal with overly powerful centripetal forces, Moscow has not yet managed the centrifugal forces that it must contend with.
Above all, though, it is now up to the EU to change its perception of Russia. The Russian Federation is no longer a country with a chaotic and crumbling economy in the early stages of capital accumulation, as was the case in the 1990s. Russia is now one of the top ten world economies, with its GDP expected to regain its pre-financial crisis volume by next year. For two decades, Russia has been building for itself a new development model that is in many respects different from the western European model. And for better or for worse, this is a situation that won’t change radically in the next 10 to 15 years. Russia may still be in a state of flux, but there are a number of elements that a clear majority in both the Russian establishment and society as a whole now see as fixed and unchangeable. Russia’s role as an autonomous trans-regional power centre with many of the attributes of a global power is one of them, so in the foreseeable future Russia won’t be looking for membership either of NATO or the EU. The EU and many of its member states recognise this, yet when it comes to practical politics, the EU-Russia relationship remains fraught with economic and diplomatic difficulties.
Russia also has to alter its own perceptions of the EU. Far too many misleading and harmful myths still exist in my country about the European Union, and it’s a poor excuse to say that many of these myths are also widespread in some of the EU’s own member states. The all-too-common perception is that the EU is an overburdened, overstretched and doomed organisation on the verge of collapse, especially when seen in the light of recent events in the eurozone. Others take an opposite view and imagine the EU to be a looming super state bent on banishing all national sovereignty in its members. Equally popular is the vision of the European Union as an economic giant but political pygmy. All these characteristics are false or half-truths.
Paradoxical as it may seem, in the wake of the Transcaucasian crisis and conflict with Georgia in August 2008, Russia and the EU in fact achieved significant progress in their relations. Moscow showed that it is serious about protecting its interests, and the European Union (led by some national capitals) demonstrated its political maturity and an ability to carry out crisis management in a balanced manner. For Russia and the EU base their foreign policies on similar general foundations; they share visions of the world as a polycentric and multi-lateral structure, and as well as emphasising the central role of international law and the UN, both have been calling for the modernisation of many of the most traditional global governance mechanisms. Both adhere to the principle of collective decision-making, and both rely primarily on their soft power resources rather than on hard power capabilities.
In terms of long-term Russian thinking, Europe is of paramount importance, and not only because of economic considerations; Moscow would like to have the EU as its strategic partner in security matters. Our continent has many challenges of its own, but they cannot compare in magnitude with either existing or potential external threats. To cope with these it is essential that we should first put our own home in order. That is why Russia persists in promoting a pan-European security project based on the twin principles of co-operative security and the indivisibility of security. But so far the western partners we want have been lukewarm about the idea. On the bright side, though, it’s an idea that has done much to stimulate discussion, and a certain amount of progress has nevertheless been achieved on a number of issues.
All the international organisations that deal to some extent or another with the politico-military dimension of European security are helpful, so nobody would want to dismantle any of them. But the bottom line has to be whether or not they have made our continent a safer place. The conflicts in Yugoslavia and more recently in Transcaucasia, together with the continued existence of frozen conflicts, along with growing disparities between Europe’s different security regimes as they are often not properly attached to each other, show clearly how imperfect European security still is.
NATO is the most efficient and powerful security player in Europe. But can it become a basis for pan-European security? Even the EU doesn’t think so, and therefore continues to develop its own security and defence capabilities, even if in close co-operation with the Atlantic alliance.
It would be impossible to provide adequate European security without the involvement of the United States. That doesn’t mean that Europe should forever rely on the U.S. as the main vehicle for delivering this. The U.S. would itself like to see Europe becoming more active and self-reliant in terms of its security, so there is a growing consensus that Europeans should take the initiative in discussing and promoting the modernisation of their own security.
Relations between Russia and the EU are thus strategic by nature and with great potential. Yet the pace of progress towards that is lamentable. In many respects – economic, security, political – the two sides genuinely need each other, but many hurdles remain. And Russia’s modernisation agenda does not always correspond with the economic interests of leading EU players. For example, 30 years ago there were globally only two producers of long-haul passenger aircraft – the USSR and the United States. Now there is still a duopoly, but in the hands of the EU and the U.S. Would Boeing and Airbus applaud Russia if its economic modernisation plans were to include a revival of its own long-haul aviation industry? The same applies to many other branches of the Russian economy, including motor vehicles, industrial machinery, agriculture and so on. It is a hard fact of life that in the past 20 years Russia has lost many markets and many industries, but it’s also true that foreign investors will increasingly see profits for themselves in Russia’s economic modernisation.
For the foreseeable future, it will in many spheres still be easier for Moscow, along with Washington, Beijing, Delhi and others, to promote its interests on a bi-lateral basis with European states rather than with the EU as a whole. And so far almost all steps forward in the EU-Russia relationship have been driven by Europe’s national capitals rather than by eurocrats in the European Commission. This will remain an unavoidable situation unless and until the EU’s supranational dimension gains the upper hand over sovereignties of its nation states. But this should not excuse the lack of political will on both sides to reach a new basic agreement between Russia and the EU. Hopefully in light of Russia's accession to the World Trade Organisation the new agreement will be signed in 2013. Neither is it acceptable that there are no robust existing mechanisms for the co-ordination of foreign and security policies. In the meantime, the vexed question of a visa free regime remains unresolved, although the EU-Russia summit, which was held in Brussels in December 201, made a step in the right direction on this issue.
So let’s stop deceiving ourselves – unless they can create comprehensive new strategic links, Russia and the EU will be doomed to slide into irrelevance. Instead of making itself a loosely united centre of power to be reckoned with, European civilisation from Lisbon to Vladivostock may find itself no more than a fading power that is dwarfed politically, economically and militarily by other more farsighted global players.
Alexey Gromyko is Deputy Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Europe. email@example.com